#MeToo: What Happens When Women Speak Up About Sexual Assault and Harassment

On Monday morning, I woke up and checked Facebook immediately, like the good Millennial I am. The first post said only, “Me Too.” There was no explanation or context, but I could tell right away the post was responding to something that I’d missed while I was sleeping.

Sure enough, the following several posts included “#MeToo” and an explanation that women were sharing this status to show they’d been affected by sexual harassment and/or assault. One friend after another had shared their “#MeToo” status, some with additional comment and some without.

As someone who frequently and publicly shares her experiences with assault and harassment, I was shocked to suddenly see so many people—people I knew—doing the same. I was heartbroken they’d had these experiences, but I also felt less alone.

Initially, Alyssa Milano received credit for the concept of the viral campaign, which was a response to both the Harvey Weinstein allegations and Mayim Bialik’s New York Times op-ed about them. Milano tweeted that a friend suggested women could give people an idea of the “magnitude” of sexual assault and harassment by writing “Me too” as their status.


Tens of thousands of women around the world started sharing that status on social media. On Sunday alone, the #MeToo hashtag was used more than 100,000 times.

Like many things that white people have gotten credit for, though, the Me Too idea was actually started by a black woman about ten years ago. Tarana Burke started the movement to empower black women and girls who had experienced sexual assault and let them know they weren’t alone.

Women—and men—have been using the hashtag over the last few days to publicly state that they too have been affected by sexual assault and harassment. Not everyone wants to or can share their story, but sometimes doing so can provide a small amount of catharsis. Beyond that, though, what do viral campaigns like this actually change?

The truth is, we don’t need women to share their stories of assault and harassment to know it exists. We should not require that of women. We already have the data. We all know the numbers. But for some reason knowing that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime isn’t enough. Nothing changes.

So women feel that in order to be convincing, to compel change, we have to speak up and speak out. We have to share our personal traumas so maybe someone will finally care.

But this is not our problem to solve. We already know just how terrible assault and harassment are; we don’t need convincing. Men do.

Up until now, though, the numbers haven’t done it and the stories haven’t done it, so what will? What will it take for men to not only “care” about sexual violence but to actually do something about it? How many more of us have to suffer?

Of course, men are not the only perpetrators of violence and women not the only victims, but violence is predominantly a male problem. If factual and anecdotal evidence aren’t enough for men to actually make a change in their behavior, what is? Maybe empathy isn’t the right emotion to work with. Maybe it’s fear.

In his gross but not unsurprising response to the Weinstein harassment allegations, alleged child molester Woody Allen said, “you also don’t want it to lead to a witch-hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself.”

Allen doesn’t want men to live in fear that they’ll have to face the consequences of their actions. Allen and men like him don’t want women speaking up and they definitely don’t want us to believe women when they do. These men hope we stay silent so they can continue to abuse us without repercussions.

Obviously, speaking up is not always an option and as we know, it is not always effective. Not all victims of sexual assault and harassment are in a position to report it or to tell their story. All too often, victims who come forward do not get the justice or even the support they deserve. Men like Woody Allen and Casey Affleck are still working and winning awards, despite the allegations against them.

But look at Harvey Weinstein now. Look at the power speaking out can have, when it works. Look at Weinstein’s life and career going up in flames. Women did that. Women’s voices lit a dozen little fires that finally burned him down.

More and more women are refusing to stay silent and men like Weinstein and Allen and the Afflecks are getting scared. They’re scared they’ll finally be held accountable for their actions, and they should be. They should be afraid of us and our voices.

Sometimes speaking out and sharing these stories can feel very hopeless. And tiring. But I believe they have a cumulative effect; each story is a lit match and when you start putting them all together they burn brighter.

So I’m going to keep lighting these little fires until all this shit—the harassment, abuse, violence, stigma, all of it—burns to the ground. Let me know if you need a light.

Image credit: Unsplash

103 comments

j m
j mabout a month ago

thank you me too

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Mike R
Mike R1 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R1 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R1 months ago

Thanks

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Chad A
Chad A2 months ago

I am ready to shut up and listen.

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx2 months ago

It is still difficult for a woman to speak out, when her chief is harassing her. Sometimes, we fear of loosing our jobs, as I did, and luckily I was married, and got another job very soon. But these were the "golden years" even before the first oil crisis. When nowadays, you are a single mother with 2 or 3 kids, and you are harassed, then it is more difficult.
My Chief of the department tried to persuade me for having sex with him, and I had several times told him very clearly : no way !! But, one day I was alone in the elevator, and he just jumped in after me. He tried to touch my breasts and I gave him a good slap in the face. Next day, I had to come to the big boss. Result : a couple of weeks later, they allegedly found I had made an error, and I was dismissed. So, it is not so easy for ALL women to stand up for their rights and to cry out !! As long as males are the dominant people in offices etc..., either we look for another job, or we shut up - regretfully !!!

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx2 months ago

Marianne C : I was really blown away by this tale of the kid-boy being looked at his winkie by a girl, somewhat older than he was. Men !! That must have hurt !! I can not figure out how he still believes this is worse than a young girl or a woman being raped. That's a total moron !!

Luckily, such stories hopefully do not occur any longer. Well, at least not with my children. When they were still children, my sons and daughter played nude in the garden in mid summer, with the water hose. And more than once I have showered them with 2 or 3 at the same time. Despite this "free" education, when they got about 12/13 years, they got ashamed of their bodies. We have talked at length about it, but I think the changes in their body were so dramatic to themselves, that showing it to their brothers or sister was totally out of the question. We were not nudists. But, when we had really hot weather, or when we took a bath or a shower, we never have forbidden our children to enter the bathroom.
We don't need to be ashamed for our bodies. May be when we parents should stop hiding us, curiosity of pre-teens would not be that big, and "accidents" or full harassment or rape would diminish with young people. Adults committing rape are really either mentally ill, or real bastards.

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Renata Kovacs
Renata Kovacs2 months ago

Thank you for sharing..

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Jaime J
Jaime J2 months ago

Thanks you!!

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