On October 15, Alyssa Milano tweeted a picture reading, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The phrase blew up overnight, with people replying to her tweet, tweeting and posting their own statuses, and coming forward to share their own stories. Me too became a simple, powerful way to add a voice to the flood of people demanding change.
Many people also stepped forward as allies, plastering social media with angry messages calling for the need to respect women, believe survivors of assault and shut down the culture of silence that surrounds issues of sexual misconduct.
But the first time I saw the hashtag #metoo, the context wasn’t solidarity with victims of sexual harassment or assault. It wasn’t in a thoughtful piece of writing analyzing the various power differentials that prop up a culture that ignores abuse. Instead, it was in a Facebook post, written by a man, mocking the idea that everyone who has and will post #metoo has been taken advantage of. Even when reading the stories of strangers, someone always finds a way to doubt the validity of their claims. Someone is always willing to play devil’s advocate and say that awareness of sexual assault will only lead to more lies.
This is where the real issue resides.
Me too is a powerful phrase, but even so it is a symptom of rape culture. There’s a reason why it’s “me too” and not “you too.” Every person who comes forward is helping raise awareness, but it is not the responsibility of the individual who was catcalled on the street, or groped on the train, or raped at a frat party to make themselves vulnerable. It is not my responsibility to tell you why I don’t find your joke funny. It is not my responsibility to say “not all men” because a stranger on the internet doesn’t understand that the threat of sexual violence is more important to publicize than the possibility of hurting someone’s feelings.
It is not my responsibility to say “it happened to me” because someone else refuses to say “I did it to you.”
Increased visibility can help solidify our understanding of the shocking frequency of sexual harassment and assault, and everyone who attaches their name to this movement is helping drive home the reality of daily systematic victimization.
However, what is more important is changing the target of conversations surrounding sexual assault from the recipients to the perpetrators. Rather than investigating whether every accusation of sexual misconduct is true or not, the media should focus on those who commit sexual crimes. It shouldn’t matter where they worked or what sport they played, it shouldn’t matter who was drunk or how long they knew each other. It is a matter of taking personal responsibility and changing the way sexual assault is viewed. Furthermore, it is a matter of being critical of the way people are treated in our daily lives, and how that treatment perpetuates an environment where it takes media coverage, a trending hashtag and the relative anonymity of the internet to present ourselves as strong allies.
To every school administrator who tells girls to cover up because they are dressed distractingly, you are part of the problem. You are helping to foster a culture of passive objectification, which excuses active violence in the future.
To every man who says that he cares about sexual assault because he is a father of a daughter, you are part of the problem. By using your child as a springboard to care about social issues you are implying that if it’s not your child, it’s not your problem.
To everyone whose first instinct when scrolling through your newsfeed is to skip past the posts that say #metoo, you are part of the problem. By allowing yourself to become so desensitized to the issue of sexual violence that everything is just one more retweet, one more shared news article, one more rant, you are part of the problem. Don’t just let yourself care about the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. Don’t just care when it happens to someone you know. Instead, ask yourself if you, too, can do more.
Sesha Kammula ’19 is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.