Viral movement reflects changing tides in conversation around sexual violence
Jessica Lio // Online Editor
In the wake of so many sexual assault allegations coming to the forefront of recent public conversation, waves of support for women and survivors of sexual violence flooded social media platforms, mostly centred around two simple, yet potent words: “Me Too”. Despite well-intentioned concerns about whether the viral movement was answering the right questions about sexual assault and harassment, we can’t deny the momentous, real-life impact it has already had on our society’s perceptions of rape culture and sexual violence.
The words Me Too have been hailed by many as a “powerful rallying cry” for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. While the conversation millions of people have now engaged in was ignited by a celebrity tweet encouraging survivors to share their experiences using #MeToo on social media, their origin can be traced back more than a decade ago to activist Tarana Burke. Since the 1990s, Burke has fought to support young women of colour and heal survivors of sexual violence using “empowerment through empathy”.
Just as with any movement pushing for social change, concerns and criticism were also brought to the table. Was it fair to put the burden on survivors to proclaim #MeToo in order to prove how prevalent rape culture and sexual violence is in our society? Why not demand accountability from those who actually commit assault and harassment? Was there space for men and non-binary survivors in a movement that was so centred around men inflicting sexual violence on women? And why do we only pay attention when wealthy white women speak, even though women of colour have been fighting these issues for centuries, only to be met with silence?
These questions raised valuable points and gave depth and nuance to our conversations, but they don’t by any means conclude that the “me too” conversation was somehow misguided or that the focus veered off course from the real issues at stake.
Never has a spotlight been shone so brightly on sexual predators and those who use their positions of power to perpetuate sexual violence, yet we have only witnessed the beginning of what Quartz’s Lianna Brinded called the “paradigm-shifting power” of the Me Too conversation. To echo Brinded, speaking out is only the first step, and I too have hope that we’ll soon move beyond the passive voice of Me Too towards a pointed demand for accountability.
No sooner had we collected our thoughts about the blast of sexual assault allegations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein when more allegations came to light, adding Ben Affleck, George H.W. Bush, Hollywood director James Toback, Vox editorial director Lockhart Steele, ABC News political director Mark Halperin and many others to the list of powerful men accused of sexual harassment.
The Telegraph has since reported that Condé Nast International finally blacklisted Terry Richardson, the flagrant fashion photographer who has been accused of sexually assaulting multiple women over the past decade, due to renewed public scrutiny.
Even more recently, Anthony Rapp’s allegation of Kevin Spacey’s unwanted sexual advances towards him when Rapp was 14 years old has broken news, resulting in Netflix announcing a halt on the production of House of Cards. Spacey’s hideous attempt at deflecting serious allegations by claiming no recollection of the incident, yet conveniently using his “apology” tweet to come out as a gay man, has drawn fire from all corners of the internet and the public’s response suggests that the era of tolerating sexual predators is truly no more.
We are seeing a profound change in the public conscious and people are taking action in real time – whether it’s reporting assaults, speaking out about their experiences, acknowledging their complicity, or simply vowing to call out rape culture when they see it. The impact of Me Too doesn’t lie solely in its ability to illustrate the pervasive reality of sexual violence – at its heart, what has given this movement such momentum was the strength of women and survivors who believed their voices could hold power and demand real change.
Survivors don’t owe anybody their stories. We can heal collectively, on our own time and on our own terms – but what we’ve witnessed from the Me Too movement is that when survivors choose to speak, we will be heard.