It is 28 days since actress Alyssa Milano’s infamous tweet that sparked a social media debate about men’s behaviour towards women and globally engendered power imbalances. The #MeToo campaign has since been attributed to Tarana Burke’s 2006 grassroots campaign on MySpace, which was aimed at creating ‘empowerment through empathy’, particularly among women of colour from underprivileged communities. #MeToo is no doubt very different to what Burke envisaged in 2006, with less of a focus on race and privilege and more concern with sexual harassment and assault. Her campaign dealt with a different but no less important form of discrimination, however without major celebrity support failed to gain the same level of public attention as the more recent #MeToo.
The conversation about sexual harassment in its current online form goes back much further than the #MeToo campaign. After all, #MeToo came about on the anniversary of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which US president Donald Trump bragged “when you’re a star, they let you do it”. The response to Trump’s misogynistic comments in 2005 was similar to that of the recent Harvey Weinstein revelations and resulted in the #NotOkay campaign.
So, what has changed between #NotOkay and #MeToo? First, the effects of #MeToo have been visible, not only in the ramifications for Harvey Weinstein but for a number of other men. Sam Kriss, a journalist for Vice, Rupert Myers, political correspondent for Vox Media and Lockhart Steele, editorial director at Vox Media were all fired after sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations came to light as a result of the campaign. Perhaps actions do have consequences after all.
Second and perhaps most encouraging is #MeToo’s male representation, response, and engagement. A factor mentioned in many articles discussing the campaign is the detached representation of men as supporters. This is not to deny that the majority of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases are perpetrated by men and suffered by women. Neither is it to shift the focus of the campaign away from empowering women to become more vocal. But if the purpose of the conversation is to truly change some men’s behaviour, then we need to enter into a meaningful dialogue with them, by acknowledging, involving and challenging them to discuss.
I will be the first to admit that it is very difficult, as a man, to accept there will be men I know who have committed acts of sexual harassment or even sexual assault. Although they are not representative of all men, there is more we can do as men to challenge these aggressors and stand with women. And there are men that have done just that. Benjamin Law, an Australian journalist, and screenwriter responded by taking to Twitter and create a brothering hashtag to #MeToo entitled #HowIWillChange.
Not all reaction to the #HowIWillChange hashtag was positive, however. While a number of men began to tweet how they would change their behaviour in support of #MeToo, others saw this new hashtag as an attack on their personal characters and values. They began tweeting responses:
“#HowIWillChange – I Won’t. I’m not a bad guy. I won’t be forced to feel like one.”
I can’t help feeling that these men are involving themselves in a campaign they do not fully understand.
They are not the only misguided commentators within this discussion. Margaret Wente, a columnist for Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, among other simplistic comments wrote “The vast majority of men are not violent sexual abusers… and to sort of tar the whole male gender with this problem is very unfair to men”. There have been many responses to #MeToo, but it is difficult to evidence an indiscriminate tarring of the male gender. If men feel similar to those referred to above, that they are scrutinised under the same behavioural microscope as women are daily, then I say good. Empathy is an important lesson.
While it is optimistic to think that the #MeToo campaign can change an entire oppressive system, what it has provided – for me at least – is insight into the scale and frequency of the oppression women face daily through stories from women in my life. What the campaign hasn’t done is reveal the full extent of the problem. I’m well aware that there will be many women out there, probably some of whom I know well, who didn’t take part in the campaign for various personal reasons. But what they should know is that should they choose to speak, they won’t be alone. It isn’t their fault. It’s the man’s fault. And if they stand up to him, I and other men like me will stand with them.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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