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#MeToo is the Global War Cry Against Sexual Violence – But It's Problematic, Too

#MeToo is mobilising survivors to share their stories. And FYI: it was founded by a black woman

Trigger warning: this article discusses sexual violence and harassment 

‘Suggested by a friend: if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. #MeToo.’ This is what actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, and the world answered.

The Atlantic reported that a spokesperson from Twitter confirmed the hashtag has been tweeted nearly half a million times. With over 20,000 re-tweets, 43,000 likes on Twitter and 12-million Facebook posts around the conversation, survivors are coming out in their thousands to share their stories. Among them are celeb voices, including Gabrielle Union and Lady Gaga.

Although Milano is credited as the founder of this movement, the grassroots activist Tarana Burke has been spearheading ‘Me Too’ for over a decade. So let’s start by giving credit where credit is due: you are amazing, Tarana – as are all those before us who have highlighted, spoken up about and campaign against sexual abuse and violence. But following the Weinstein rape and assault revelations – not to mention the sentencing of local muso Brickz for the rape of his niece – the #MeToo movement is having a necessary, viral moment on social media.

Thousands of women and those identifying within and outside the gender spectrum have confronted deep trauma to let the world know survivors deserve to be heard. In the wake of some disturbing responses to the Weinstein scandal – including The Big Bang Theory‘s Mayim Bialik’s misguided op-ed piece in the New York Times that implied what you wear could solicit a sexual attack (FYI it’s never the victim’s fault), the movement has spawned a narrative of solidarity and validation.

#MeToo is an important step in dismantling rape culture. Rape culture reinforces silence around the brutality of sexual abuse and normalises the acceptance of violence in any of its forms – from catcalling to intimidation to unsolicited touching. #MeToo is necessary because it allows for survivors to reclaim their pain through vocalising it, whatever form of sexual abuse or assault they’ve experienced.

But it’s important to remember that framing #MeToo in relation to bravery or as a prerequisite for validating your abuse has its own problems. Some people cannot and will not share their stories. And they shouldn’t have to. But they shouldn’t be erased as survivors. It’s a challenge many have questioned on Twitter in response to #MeToo:

We need to be careful that responsibility isn’t put on survivors to put their trauma on display for the public as a means of awareness. Survivors must never be made to create a spectacle of their pain in order to be heard or understood. It is not up to survivors to convince you that sexual abuse deserves your attention.

The #MeToo movement is cathartic for those in the position to tell their stories and as a way of acknowledging and highlighting the impact and horrifying prevalence of sexual violence. But let’s not forget the people who can’t put their trauma in words or who can’t let their hurt be shared – you matter, too.

Have you been affected by sexual abuse? These helplines can offer care, legal advice and counselling:

  • Rape Crisis: 021 447 9762
  • TEARS Foundation: *134*7355#
  • POWA: 083 765 1235

Read Harvey Weinstein Embodies Everything That’s Wrong with the Patriarchy

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