Rowen Nicola Ball

Women are writing ‘Me Too’ to highlight sexual assault. What are men doing?

Me too. These are two of the most comforting words in the English language. You think you did badly in that maths test? Me too. You’ve been feeling kind of down lately? Me too. You were sexually assaulted? Me too.

The #MeToo movement was originally created by organiser Tarana Burke in 2007. Burke recently told Ebony Magazine that she created the campaign as a grass-roots movement to reach sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities

A few days ago, Alyssa Milano tweeted a suggestion for women to use the hashtag as a status on social media if they’ve ever been sexually harassed or assaulted to show people the magnitude of the problem. This came in the wake of a number of allegations of harassment and sexual assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, our feeds have been flooded with ‘me too’.

There’s something bittersweet about this movement. As always, seeing ‘me too’ on my timeline is comforting; it says, ‘you’re not alone and it’s not your fault.’ It’s admirable to see women speaking out about their experiences. It’s also heartbreaking. And, crucially, it’s not entirely surprising.

You see, I don’t think women have ever had any doubt about the magnitude of the problem. We know that sexual harassment, rape and violence against women is endemic. We’ve heard the stories from almost every single woman in our lives. We’ve lived our own stories, too. We know that the majority of women could write ‘me too’ not just once, but in many, many statuses.

As if the anecdotal evidence weren’t already compelling enough, let’s look at some statistics that touch on the depth of the problem of sexual assault, violence and rape. In the last year in the UK alone, almost 4,000 calls per week were made to Rape Crisis Centres with 93% of the calls made by women.

When writing on the issue of sexual assault and violence, the outstanding journalist Nicholas D. Kristof said: “Women worldwide ages 15 to 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.” Men get assaulted too, and women do participate in domestic and partner abuse – that is important and should be acknowledged. But the scale of the male-on-female abuse seems to far outweigh the scale of female-on–male abuse.

Rebecca Solnit writes in an excellent essay named ‘The Longest War’ about the sexual and physical violence of men against women. She said: “Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity gets a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women […] constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.”

The ‘me too’ movement attempts to abolish the notion that people like Harvey Weinstein are anomalies, and it’s successful at showing that. It’s more difficult to ignore the ‘background wallpaper’ of sexual assault and violence against women when your family and friends are telling you about their experiences of it right there on your timeline.

But ‘me too’ doesn’t actually show the magnitude of the problem. Not every woman who has experienced sexual assault or harassment will write ‘me too’. They shouldn’t have to. Victims don’t owe you their stories.

We frame sexual assault, harassment and rape as things that happen to women. They’re women’s issues. We talk about how many women were assaulted but we don’t mention who assaulted them. We expect women to come forward with their stories, whilst men stay in the shadows.

Some men are tweeting #hearyou in response. Well, I’m glad some of you are listening now. Because we’ve told you ‘me too’ before. We’ve said ‘me too’ to friends, partners, family members, school counsellors, the police and to the men that hurt us. Some of us are too tired to do it again.

Other men are using the hashtag #HowIWillChange with suggestions ranging from teaching younger generations to treat women with respect to calling out rape culture in their everyday lives.

Perhaps the best thing we can all learn from #MeToo is summarised succinctly in a tweet by Will Redd. He wrote: “What men should take from #metoo campaign is not that the women in their life need more protection, but that the men need re-education.”

After all, rape and sexual assault aren’t caused by women’s issues. They’re caused by men’s.

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