It would be remiss of us to talk about International Women’s Day without reflecting on the biggest trend occurring in western media affecting women: the #MeToo movement.
#MeToo was actually started 10 years ago by Tarana Burke to give a voice to those affected by sexual violence and harassment. However, it didn’t gain widespread, international recognition until actress Alyssa Milano tweeted in response to the allegations coming out of Hollywood, most notably against Harvey Weinstein. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
What followed was an onslaught of responses that detailed incidents from serious sexual assault and abuse of power to sexual misconduct, harassment, threats and peer pressure. The sheer scale of responses and diverse experiences showed the breadth of the cultural problem that exists not just in the film industry, but across modern society globally.
The #MeToo movement was born out of the accessibility that the internet provides. Not only does it allow women to share their individual stories, but according to Catherine Lumby, a gender studies professor at Macquarie University, #MeToo has gained international success because it has allowed women to speak about the issue “with a collective voice”. After all, how many women do you know who haven’t experienced some sort of harassment from the opposite sex?
The #MeToo campaign is not being run by an organisation or a company; rather, it is a grassroots, user-run campaign that continues thanks to our ability to reach a broad audience on social media and share a relatable story. The power of an individual or a collection of individuals to cause such a disruption to the narrative, all from the comfort of their homes, is a testament to the often volatile world of social media.
The movement is accessible because of the availability of social media, however the recent focus online on women’s issues, especially harassment and abuse against women in the workplace and on the street, empower women to speak out when they feel uncomfortable or that their safety is in danger.
The Role of Men
Again, recent social justice movements have made clear to the population the differing standards that men benefit from, and men are becoming more aware of how their seemingly innocent behaviour can affect women.
#HowIWillChange is a related campaign started by Australian journalist Benjamin Law. It is an interesting progression of the narrative as it calls on men who witness or conduct unwanted sexual or predatory behaviour to own up and speak up to encourage the behaviour change of other men. Asking men to take responsibility for their past actions is an important step in including them in the discussion around sexual behaviour; after all, cultural change comes from a collective want for change.
With domestic violence rates still so high in Australia, there is no better time to focus on this issue. Publicity from the rallying around of Hollywood celebrities helps to keep people’s focus on the movement; however, we need to not let this issue fall by the wayside, men and women need to use the power that social media can give them to continue speaking out about an issue founded on solidarity.
The irony that this is facilitated through a social media platform that too often is dominated by trolls, sexual harassment and threats has not dampened spirits and has brought a global population of women together to say ‘No more’.