Vedanth Govi dissects the effectiveness of the #MeToo campaign in addressing both the harrowing truths and the wider implications of sexual violence.
When the actor Alyssa Milano suggested that anyone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted use the hashtag #MeToo on Twitter, she could not have foreseen its impact. She started the hashtag to convey the enormity of the problem, and may have unwittingly highlighted the difference between the words ‘enormousness’ and ‘enormity;’ ‘enormousness’ is a word that denotes large in size or number. ‘Enormity’, as many custodians of the English language will insist, is particularly loaded. Apart from being a qualifier of size, it refers to extreme wickedness and evil monstrosity, both of which are characteristic of Harvey Weinstein and his ilk, as the reporting of several American news agencies would have us believe.
The onus to bring forth the nature and extent of the violence unfortunately lies on the survivor of the violence
As interest in the story has peaked, the mainstream media has disappointingly reduced the #MeToo campaign to an Oedipal parable of the fall that will eventually come for men like Weinstein who have used their power to prey on vulnerable women. However, this take barely scratches the surface. Many horrific #MeToo accounts of abuse, harassment, and molestation point towards the fact that more often than not, the abuser does not have to be a man in a position of power. Surveys on sexual harassment in the workplace show that over 50% of women are harassed by male colleagues who are of the same rank in the office hierarchy. In other words, while one can be prematurely reactionary and triumph over the fact that the #MeToo campaign has coalesced into a beacon of light illuminating the darkness of predatory sexual behaviour, a deeper investigation reveals that it erases the complexities that emerge from these testimonials.
These complexities, which inhibit conversations around sexual violence, are difficult to explore. This is not only because of the pain, trauma, and misery that make for the bedrocks of a wider malaise, but also because hashtag campaigns act as an opium that can temporarily placate us in how we read sexually predatory men. Are the abusers men in power like Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby? Are they the men that we meet every day, our best friend’s father or the local plumber? They are both. These are men that are embedded in our everyday in ways that are immediate and local but can also feel distant, and still very much rooted in the social and cultural imaginations of the society we inhabit.
The question then changes to why has the #MeToo campaign etched itself into our collective memory as a singular narrative that focuses overwhelmingly on the workplace harassment of vulnerable western women? The answer lies in analysing the social cost of such campaigns. The onus to bring forth the nature and extent of the violence unfortunately lies on the survivor of the violence. While one can argue that the #MeToo campaign has helped release a floodgate of emotions that has proven to be cathartic, one must not forget for a single second that the act of coming forward and providing a testimonial overlooks the truly silent voices. The wording of the #MeToo hashtag makes it appear like a confession, when we must recognise that there is more to the idea of honesty than a confession.
More often than not, the abuser does not have to be a man in a position of power
Additionally, the campaign creates the illusion that sexual violence is episodic. In celebrating the voices that have come forward, #MeToo must make for a provision in its conscience to acknowledge that sexual violence is ongoing, repeated and not as transient as our Facebook and Twitter feeds. If one has to make an honest estimation of the success of any campaign, they have to look at the legacy it leaves in its wake, especially for those it represented. The grim truth is that the generality of a social media campaign does not allow us to locate the position of the problem.
In conclusion, the general public could sit reading one op-ed after another about the power of #MeToo without thinking of the women in their lives, and whether this campaign would help them navigate the mental calculations they make on a daily basis. The bitter pill that we must swallow is that #MeToo will not stop your best friend from looking over her shoulder every time she goes for a jog late at night. A girls’ night out will still be incomplete without untoward sexual advances from drunken men, and she may still rather take the stairs than enter a lift full of men. Until hashtags and social media campaigns recognise the constant threat of sexual violence in every seemingly mundane scenario, #MeToo will remain a confession that dies inside the confessional.