#MeToo floods social media as survivors share stories of sexual harassment

Olivia Gomez, Staff writer


Across social media platforms, in academic settings and in interviews conducted by journalists from national newspapers, “pervasive” was the word most commonly used the past two weeks to describe sexual harassment in American society.

The trigger was a cascade of revelations alleging sexual aggression and coercion over many decades by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet calling for all women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point in their lives to post a “Me too” acknowledgement. The point, widely embraced, was to demonstrate how frequently women are affected.

Since Milano’s post, #MeToo has been tweeted more than one million times, according to Rolling Stone magazine. The movement quickly spread to other social media platforms, leading many Linfield students to encounter it on Facebook, where survivors posted “Me too,” sometimes following up by sharing personal experiences.

Junior Adrian Iu, who is minoring in gender studies, said sharing the hashtag is a way for survivors to validate their own experiences. Although it provides a platform for that sharing, he said, it does not create an obligation for people to also share details they may not be comfortable having out in general circulation.

The hashtag and other kinds of “Me too” posts have aided in dismantling some stereotypes about who is affected by sexual harassment, according to Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a professor of English and gender studies. By spreading those two words, people are helping “break down the notion that only a certain type of woman is vulnerable,” he said.

He said the Harvey Weinstein allegations also serve as a reminder that relationships between bosses and employees are “inherently unequal,” and thus can readily be exploited.

But some observers think the use of #MeToo may put survivors on the spot, coercing them into sharing when they may not actually wish to, according to mass communication professor Susan Currie Sivek. Critics further argue the movement puts the burden on women, as they are most often the victims of sexual harassment, she said.

Sivek also noted that sexual harassment is about more than just gender and power, that class issues also play a role. For example, she said, women dealing with harassment at work may lack the economic security to leave their jobs.

The “Me too” slogan actually got its start with black feminist activist Tarana Burke in 2007. Founder of the nonprofit Just Be Inc., Burke was looking for tools to support victims of sexual harassment and assault when she hit on “Me too.”

Women of color have complained about the lack of acknowledgement Burke has received from white feminists. In an interview with CBS News, Burke noted that Milano had responded by reaching out to her, telling her she admired her work and was attempting to be true to it.

The conversation turns now to a question asked by Pollack-Pelzner: “What are we doing that creates a culture in which these acts are so pervasive, and how can we change it?”

When he thinks the “Me too” movement has fostered increased awareness, Iu favors more focus on educating people about the issue and developing systems that encourage survivors to report transgressions at the time.

English professor and gender studies minor coordinator Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt echoed Iu’s sentiment, saying people’s attitudes have to change before anything else can.

“In order for any change to occur in a broader cultural or societal level, there needs to be mass education, change in policies, legal interventions, and a vibrant discourse that challenges toxic masculinity and rampant misogyny,” she said.

Actress Lupita Nyong’o expressed a similar view nationally in an Oct. 19 opinion piece appearing in The New York Times. “What I am most interested in now is combating the shame we go through, which keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue to be done.”