how MeToo helped dismantle victim blaming
Around The World,  Violence Against Women and Girls

MeToo: A Movement Helped Women Dismantle Victim Blaming

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 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”. 

 

Watch Anita Hill’s full testimony here.

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 that they would never be caught. 

 

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.


Read: In Search of a Safer Place for Women

 

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 is another major cultural shift really empowered women – how MeToo helped women dismantle victim blaming.

 

Read: Women’s Safety At Work in The Post Me Too Era

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. 

 

Read- Guideline and Resources about Healing for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Author

  • Swagata Sen

    A clinical researcher by profession, I am an advocate of gender equality and women’s rights. I have created Rights of Equality to dismantle institutionalized gender discrimination and harmful social practices through systemic changes. Over the last few years, our contributors from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds were able to voice their concerns about a range of issues that are oppressive to women across the world. We are hopeful that our efforts will help promote awareness and contribute to changing mindsets and shifting cultures about gender roles and norms.

21 Comments

  • sjd68

    it was amazing to me when these allegations began to come out about how many men abused their power. I am raising daughters and often tell them to speak up and do not let your power be taken away from you. This is a great article and important in today’s day and age. I’m glad I get to see some of this change in my lifetime.

  • Despite Pain

    You are so right, the #MeToo movement did shake the world. Rightly so. Women who’d been abused had been afraid to speak out for so long. They had been living with shame and trauma while their abusers carried on with their lives. I am so glad that some of those powerful abusers were brought to justice.

  • Nominal Nomad

    The evidence of #MeToo doesn’t show that women need to triumph over men. Rather, it shows that a world in which sexual abuse and workplace harassment are not tolerated, and in which a respectful approach to consensual, mutually pleasurable sex is the norm, is a better world for men and women both.

  • Trish

    The MeToo movement has given many people who felt so isolated by their experiences a solidarity with others, and posts like this one help to build on the empowerment. Thank you.

  • mayurisjikoni

    A great post on women empowerment Swagata. The Me Too movement has also started in India and other parts of the world so hoping that more women come forward to speak up.

  • travelwisesr

    This movement should inspire women all around the world to shed their fears & apprehensions and tell the world at the first instance.Unless these crooked men are punished women would encounter many more.This menace needs to tackled with priority.

  • Luna S

    Well written post. It is heartbreaking hearing not only the stories of the incidents themselves but of how people treat the person afterwards and how many people do get shunned or treated like crap.

  • karilife

    I think in cases like #metoo, the people who really ruin the true spirit of the movement are those who use it as revenge. In a lot of cases I’ve seen, victim shaming came about because of the questions of whether or not the person was being truthful or just trying to bring someone down. The few (those seeking revenge for something else) are ruining it for the many out there who are true victims of sexual abuse. If I’m being honest, there are times where I find it hard to believe. It also makes me scared for my husband (who is a minister and prominent member of our community) and my future sons. We have to be so careful so as not have him in situations where anyone could make accusations. It’s such a sad world we live in that anyone would have to endure abuse or that anyone would be lied about in that way.

  • tcleland88

    It’s so important for women to know that they aren’t alone, that there are others who have experienced the same types of assaults, and that they should be encouraged to share without being blamed or shamed. The #metoo movement has been very empowering for women, even if only to show how very many people have experienced these types of behaviors.

  • honeybunnytwee

    I hope that one day society can move beyond victim blaming and place the blame solely on where it belongs on the perpetrators! #metoo has certainly empowered women who have stayed silent to start feeling like their voices are being heard for a change

  • ashleeunscripted

    The #MeToo movement was one of those bittersweet things for me. While I was so happy that more women were coming out and speaking their truths, no longer terrified of not being heard or their experiences not being validated, it also made me so very, very sad that this was the case. That there were so many who had experienced assault etc on any level. Assaulters need to learn that their behaviour is not accepted and must stop all together.

  • Nina

    I think the #Metoo movement has empowered a lot of women and of tremendous help in many forms. It’s a shame whenever society resorts to victim shaming!

  • aword84

    It is so important to raise awareness about the many ways in which women still don’t have the same rights as men, all over the world. And when it comes to the use of violence, the state of the art still shocks me – as a woman and as a mother of a girl. We need to keep talking about it, and acting towards a real empowerment. Violence, of any form, shouldn’t be justified so easily I believe. Great work Swagata !

  • Erica (The Prepping Wife)

    I am proud of this movement because I learned a lot about people I knew. It gave them a platform to share their stories more freely and speak out. My biggest issue though is the idea that women should automatically be believed when they claim sexual assault. I feel a big part of victim shaming is the small amount of women who lie about these kinds of things. They can ruin careers, college educations, and so much more. All because they expect to automatically be believed when they yell rape. That’s a problem for me. Because it allows women the ability to blackmail men and hold the threat of yelling rape over their head. I would love to see the day when men do not assault women, as well as the day when all women will be honest about it too.

  • Debra Roberts

    I hope that women can be empowered to speak up and not suppress themselves any longer. It’s sad that men have such power and instill so much fear. As a nurse, I have been trained to spot victims of human trafficking and assault and in the world of obstetrics, if that is going to be revealed, it’s then…when women are most vulnerable.

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