What started in 2006 by Tarana Burke as a grassroots campaign to create awareness against sexual violence, became an international movement, MeToo, in 2017. In October 2017, several women accused powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse and rape. #MeToo became a viral hashtag when Alyssa Milano and other women began using it to tweet about the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse cases. Very soon MeToo became a global phenomenon when millions of women started sharing their stories of sexual assaults. In October 2018, the New York time published how the MeToo movement brought down 201 powerful men in the United States. The majority of these men had harassed and assaulted women for many years and probably never imagined they would ever face any consequences. Read this post to know how MeToo helped dismantle victim blaming.
We have seen in the last few years that so many men in power and fame were accused, proven guilty, removed from their position, or sentenced as a consequence of the MeToo movement. MeToo shifted the narratives of sexual assaults by destigmatizing and empowering survivors.
“I think only when we can shift the shame from the victims to perpetrators, the change will start there.”- Dr. Denis Mukwege
Shaming and Character Assassination to Silence Women
Women and girls have been subjected to sexual abuse and violence by men in every country in the world forever. Unfortunately, patriarchal society has historically been an enabler for men not only to sexually violate women but also to vilify them when they tried to speak up. It is the perpetrator, not the victim who received the support and sympathy of institutions, media, and the general public, especially if they are famous and powerful. It is not only about gender but also about power, how we respond to power as a society, and the systemic failure to protect the less powerful people.
Women were petrified to speak up against sexual harassment because of victim blaming, and the stigma and shame associated with it. Either nobody would believe, or victims would be silenced by blaming, shaming, and retaliation. This strategy was used by men across countries and cultures to abuse, assault, or harass women. Whenever women tried to fight or speak, they were attacked and shamed so that no one would dare to do it again.
Take the historical testimony of Anita Hill, an African-American law professor who accused US Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, as an example. Hill had to testify in front of an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, who demeaned and dismissed her allegations, challenged her credibility, and questioned her mental stability as the entire nation watched it on television. One member of the Committee expressed his suspicion that she had borrowed the idea of allegation from the horror novel “The Exorcist.”In the end, the Senate voted to confirm Clarence Thomas as an associate justice of the Supreme Court by a 52–48 vote. Joe Biden, the Senate committee chairmen said Thomas “be given the benefit of the doubt”.
Anita Hill’s testimony and her subsequent humiliation by the committee was an iconic example of how women are silenced by the institution. Women remain silent not because they are weaker, but because they are scared about the ramifications. This is why these celebrity actors, directors, politicians, sportspeople, doctors, and scientists were so confident for years about their impunity.
The abuse of power and systemic privilege was also evident when Ambra Gutierrez, an Italian model, reported sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein in 2015. Despite recorded evidence of Weinstein confessing sexual misconduct, the New York district attorney decided not to press charges against Weinstein due to ‘lack of evidence’. The media shifted its focus on Amber’s controversial past. She received immense negative press, stopped getting modeling offers, and eventually had to sign an NDA with Weinstein. But, just after a couple of years several women came out in public and accused Weinstein of rape and abuse. MeToo movement was born causing Weinstein to be prosecuted and convicted.
Victim shaming is a powerful weapon used against women time and again to dismiss and destroy them. The trauma, humiliation, and stigma women endure after disclosing their sexual abuses are just horrific. Therefore victim survivors choose to shut down, block the memory, or live with the trauma for the rest of their lives. This has remained the biggest weapon for men against women for centuries.
How MeToo helped dismantle victim blaming
The Justice system has failed women time and again. MeToo sparked a public reckoning that pushed countries to reform laws, policies, and cultures. MeToo also shifted the focus to accountability and responsibility of all actors who are potential enablers of sexual harassment of women by men of position and power. There has been another major cultural shift – how MeToo helped women dismantle victim blaming.
Women who come out against powerful men still face public humiliation. But, MeToo provided immense power to survivors to dismantle these narratives. The age-old tactics of shaming women for being assaulted are not working anymore with the success of #MeToo and similar movements. Women are ignited to speak out about the abuses they endured, sometimes maybe years ago, but decided to block the experience as a survival strategy.
MeToo shook the entire world and was able to alter such a popular notion that a sexual assault victim should be ashamed, but not the predators! Now men would probably be more cautious in how they treat women, as women are less likely to remain silent. While sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct remain systemic problems, the MeToo movement has given a voice to survivors to validate and destigmatize their experiences.
MeToo was revolutionary in creating a survivor-centric movement and was a historic tipping point in addressing sexual assault and violence. But, we can not expect a true, long-lasting change unless we address the root cause of the problem. We need to close the gender power and wealth gap. That can only be done by having more and more women in decision-making roles in public and private offices. Unfortunately, only a handful of the countries have reached parity in this aspect. We need more women elected officials, heads of the states, and CEOs to have true gender parity.