#MeToo, welcome to the #YesAllWomen, #WhenIWas, #ShePersisted, #NastyWoman club.
The hashtag #MeToo, created in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal to spread awareness about sexual harassment, took off Sunday on social media. As of Monday evening, half a million tweets used the hashtag and 4.7 million people had used it on Facebook. Like its predecessors, it is inspiring women to tell often painful stories of harassment and assault, creating a community of support, while hoping to convince many men about the scope of sexual assault.
Perhaps based on numbers alone, #MeToo is a particularly successful hashtag. But can two words make a difference? How many sexual assault hashtags does it take to end sexual assault?
What good can come of a hashtag campaign?
Kristen Kurtis, 32, morning-talk-show host on WXPN, saw the hashtag Monday and immediately thought about the two times she was sexually assaulted and the countless instances of harassment she’s endured.
“It helps to know you’re not alone,” Kurtis said. “I was young and wasn’t as aware, and that can be a very isolating feeling.”
In high school, Kurtis was cornered in a school gym and forced to perform sexual favors on a classmate. In college, she was date raped and drugged — two horrific stories she shared on Twitter.
#MeToo. Cornered freshman year of high school. Drugged freshman year of college. Touched/harassed too many other times to count.
— Kristen Kurtis (@kristenkurtis) October 16, 2017
“I’ve had several men today tell me that this hashtag has shown them over the last 24 hours just how many people they know personally that this has happened to,” Kurtis said, “and they all seem to be shocked and saddened, and offered support.”
Even as she has grown older and felt more comfortable sharing her stories, “there’s still this element of shame, and these instances that have happened are something we carry with some guilt …,” she said. “We shouldn’t feel like we have to hide the truth.”
Kathryn Quigley, a journalism professor at Rowan University, said the hashtag empowers women to share their experiences. It made her think back to working at a Philadelphia restaurant where the cooks required waitresses to kiss or hug them before they could grab customers’ food. Quigley told the owner, who instead blamed the waitresses.
— Kathryn Quigley (@WriterChickNJ) October 16, 2017
“I needed money,” Quigley said. “So I kept working this stupid five-dollar-an-hour job.”
#MeToo is perhaps most effective in connecting survivors of assault, said Mary Ebeling, director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Drexel University. Beyond that, it’s a rehashing of an argument women have been making for years: Sexual harassment is real and pervasive and not going away.
“Men totally need to be a part of this. … I kind of can’t believe other men don’t know this has been going on, but if they find this appalling and so shocking, and they’re saying it’s time for us to stand up and put our voices against what’s happening against women as well … that is a good thing.”
Will this actually change anything?
“My initial reaction was just weariness, to be honest, because I’m just tired. It’s the same stuff, different day,” said Deborah Stanish, a Lafayette Hill writer and podcaster. “We did this with #YesAllWomen, and that seemed so groundbreaking. We got the same reaction. It was horrifying. All these men can’t believe this is happening.”
— Deborah Stanish (@DebStanish) October 16, 2017
Stanish is one of many women who have called for flipping the movement on its head — why put the onus on the victims to shine a light on the problem? Some suggested that a more powerful statement could come from people who failed to act: #istoodby.
But the solution, Stanish said, wasn’t a different hashtag.
“Keyboard activism is easy,” she said. “It is the ‘sending thoughts and prayers’ or ‘I’m here for you.’ They don’t have to do anything. It’s a lot harder when it’s in your face and you have to do something. You get a false sense of having accomplished something by expressing your support.”
There is, after all, a long tradition of hashtag justice: In 2014, the hashtag #YesAllWomen started to raise awareness of misogyny and violence against women; #ShePersisted started trending in February after the Senate voted to stop Sen. Elizabeth Warren from speaking in objection to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General; and #NastyWoman became a rallying call after candidate Donald Trump referred to Hillary Clinton that way during the campaign.
As unsurprised as women were, many men said they were shocked at the number of women they knew who had experienced sexual assault. They offered tweets of support.
— Joseph Brooks (@JosephBrooksPA) October 16, 2017
Are there downsides, then, to a social media campaign like this?
Pat Raccio Hughes, an author of young-adult books, who lives in Narberth, has some objections to the social media movement. Putting cat calls and sexual assault under the same umbrella, she said, is problematic.
“I don’t feel so much that they’re equating assault with harassment as that they’re equating harassment with being a run-of-the-mill jackass,” she said.
She also wondered how long the outrage would last, given attention spans in the internet age.
“I really don’t think the hashtag campaign will do anything but get people riled up on social media for a news cycle — until the next hashtag appears.”