Long before the accusations that would ignite the flame of the social-media-based wave against sexual harassment in the film industry, the idea of #MeToo was born.
#MeToo’s real origin story begins long before 2017, in 2006.
Tarana Burke coined the term in 2006 and created a MySpace page for the movement that same year. The term Burke intended to be a slogan of solidarity between black women who’d faced sexual assault would later be co-opted by white celebrities and countless women nationwide.
This is somewhat bittersweet. The rallying of so many women against a problem that’d been prevalent but unspoken for so long was moving and certainly necessary. However, it also overshadowed the work Burke had been doing for years to help black women fight against overpowering forces.
And then there’s the better known origin of #MeToo; the name that started it all, that woke anger and fear and unrest in so many women’s minds.
On Oct. 5, 2017, Ashley Judd levied heavy, atrocious accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein, and was quickly corroborated by other female celebrities who had similar claims — that Weinstein had used his position of power in order to take advantage of vulnerable women for his own sexual gratification.
This outcry was followed by some vague sentiments made by industry professionals that this sort of thing was an unspoken but factual reality of the entertainment business — that these abuses of power had been going on for ages, that Weinstein was not the only one, that there were others. And it could’ve stopped there.
But it didn’t.
Women who’d carved out their careers in this toxic environment used every ounce of the power and influence they had gained to make their voices heard, and the list of names grew longer: Oct. 29, Kevin Spacey; Nov. 10, Louis C.K.; Jan. 11, James Franco; Jan. 14, Aziz Ansari.
Suddenly men who had taken their power over women for granted were forced to consider the consequences of abusing it. Their wealth and status were no longer enough to keep them untouchable. In a day, as the case with Weinstein exemplified, their comfortable standing could be torn out from under them by one woman’s voice.
There was something equally exhilarating and sickening about the weeks the names poured out. Many of us, more than once, got out of class only to check our phones and find out some household name we’d heard of from a friend or in a commercial was now inextricably linked to a disgusting sexual crime and inexcusable abuse of power.
But those are celebrities. What about everyone else?
“Incidences are highly underreported,” said Jasmine Louie, a sophomore at UW and officer of the Greeks Take Action initiative.
“Even when we do hear about it through the UW Alert, we don’t really hear any follow up. It’s really brash, in a way. You read it, and then you forget about it. They don’t really include resources for victims or how to be a good ally.”
Greeks Take Action has instituted a point system for all houses in the Greek community, intended to keep track of how compliant members of each house have been with attending, participating, and cooperating with anti-sexual harassment instructions and lessons and seminars.
“Our goal is to have the points be public, so as people are deciding to join these fraternities, they can be like, ‘Oh, this house really cares about assault prevention,’” Louie said.
A link to the list can be found here.
“Even if you’re not committing sexual assault or you don’t think you are, it could be your friends or your [fraternity] brothers,” Louie said.
“I have a friend who, it wasn’t until this Me Too movement that she realized something that happened in the past was sexual assault,” Louie said. “It took a while, just because she thought everything was normal and that it was normal to feel uncomfortable, which it really isn’t supposed to.”
But she acknowledges the #MeToo movement is still not perfect.
“I think another challenge of the Me Too movement is distinguishing between legitimate sexual assault cases and just ‘I was uncomfortable,’” Louie said.
Dr. Nancy Kenney and Tomás Narvaja are studying the gray area of compliance and unwanted but consensual sex (i.e., when one party agrees to have sex when they don’t really feel like it in order to please their partner). Their survey, which opened at the beginning of January, already has more than 2,000 student responses. You can fill it out here.
Even those who have their doubts about the longevity of the movement must acknowledge that it’s started conversations we should’ve been having a long time ago.
“Things happen not gradually, but in these really amazing steps, and to have a topic like sexual harassment in the workplace being talked about so publicly as it is now, even six months ago it wouldn’t have been that public,” Kenney said. “You might have been able to talk about it with your friends but it’s not on the front page of the New York Times every day.”
And with social media, the number of participants in these conversations is larger than ever. #MeToo has made it impossible to turn a blind eye to these atrocities and has removed the ability for skeptics to claim these experiences are less prevalent or severe than the feminist killjoys would want you to believe.
“It’s only when you have so many cases of similar individual experiences that people start to go, ‘Maybe that’s not an anecdote, maybe that’s a real thing,’” Kenney said. “It’s no longer going on behind closed doors, it’s out there. People are like ‘Woah! That’s a lot of “she saids” out there.’”
While the majority consensus seems to be that the #MeToo movement has been a promising step, the opinion on whether this will lead to more strides forward is divided.
“It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Since the ‘80s, this has oscillated back and forth between this sort of outing men and firing men and getting men expelled and back to ‘nobody really cares,’” Narvaja said. “Then these really high profile cases [come up] and then it becomes another movement, whether it’s ‘no means no’ and next time it’s ‘yes means yes,’ and this time it becomes ‘me too.’” Narvaja said.
It’s yet to be determined whether #MeToo will have the staying power to result in a permanent change in attitudes.
“I’m concerned that before things change, people will get bored with it,” Kenney said. “It’ll just be another one of those. Don’t we know that all men are like that already? I’m really worried about people getting bored with it before coming up with an actual plan about how to fix it.”
“What’s happened is a massive shift. Where’s it going to go? I don’t know,” Kenney continued.
I don’t know for sure whether we’ll remember this movement in a year. Whether or not, in a decade, I’ll be able to recall why the name “Weinstein” makes me mildly nauseous.
But we don’t have to let it fade. Now comes the hardest part: keeping the movement alive and relevant, keeping the consequences for sexual harassment at the forefront of every potential harasser’s mind.
Reach Arts & Leisure Editor Cameron Eldridge