By: Grainne Rhuad
I’ve had a minute or two to think about the #MeToo campaign hitting social media everywhere this week. For those in the future or those who don’t spend their days on the internet I’ll break it down quickly.
Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer, a man in power over other people’s ability to make money, recently had charges of sexual harassment levied against him. As a result, he was “fired” and gave a backwards apology stating he didn’t know it was wrong to grab other people in the genitals, or make lewd gestures.
As usually happens when someone with money and power are called out, people came out on both sides of the issue. Many women wanted to show solidarity and support by stating they too had been sexually harassed. Men as well came out and spoke about their harassment experiences. The confessional that gained the most media attention came from Terry Crews, an ex-NFL player turned actor, whom nobody expects to be sexually harassed. However, it happened and he talked about it HERE.
Like a flash, the slut shaming started as well. Women and men who had already been traumatized now are facing the crowd saying, “It’s harmless flirting.” Or “Everyone takes everything so seriously.” Or even worse, “Who cares if a man is harassed, it’s about time the shoe is on the other foot.”
Just ask Corey Feldman about that. He spent almost a year doing interviews about the abuse he and now deceased Corey Haim experienced and nobody cared. Why? Likely because of his eccentricity. Also, probably because of his friendship with the late Michael Jackson who himself had been accused of sexual misconduct.
So back to the ‘Me Too’ moment, or movement or whatever you want to call this strange attention seeking behavior the internet breeds. The whole thing reminds me of a book I had as a child. I keep hearing the title in my head, ‘Me Too Iguana‘ It tells a story of an Iguana who wants to be just like everybody else and goes about trying to make it so. Never noticing that she was strong and beautiful without all the grandstanding and re-making.
This movement feels like that. It feels less like a cleansing or supportive act and more like an Ice Bucket Challenge. A reason to stand in front of YouTube or type on Twitter/Facebook/etc. And that makes the whole action feel exploitive. Almost like we are asking people who have already been through a hardship to hurt themselves again for our entertainment.
It should not get lost in the celebrity fanfare that #MeToo was birthed in 1996 by a Social Worker Tania Burke, who wanted to help a 10-year-old girl who had no point of reference for what was happening with her stepfather. She needed a way to show this girl things definitely weren’t right but also, that she was far from alone in her pain.
This is how she describes the encounter on the Just Be site:
The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it abruptly forced closed again – it was all on her face
“For the next several minutes this child … struggled to tell me about her ‘stepdaddy’ or rather her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body. … I was horrified by her words, the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut, and I listened until I literally could not take it anymore … which turned out to be less than five minutes. Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and immediately directed her to another female counselor who could ‘help her better.’ ”
Burke said she never forgot the look on the girl’s face.
“The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it abruptly forced closed again — it was all on her face,” she wrote.
“I couldn’t help her release her shame, or impress upon her that nothing that happened to her was her fault. I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured. …
“I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper … me too.”
Tania Burke goes on to say, “I think the one responsibility we have as survivors — once we get to a place where we can — is to create an entry point to healing for other survivors,” she said. “For years I couldn’t figure out what that would be for me and then ‘Me too’ became that thing.”
But I don’t believe we have a responsibility to do so as survivors. As survivors we have a responsibility to care for ourselves first. Then, if we can, we reach back. But it shouldn’t be mandatory.
I have watched as some people debate whether to say anything at all. People have expressed great anxiety at not being enough of a support person or example for those out there who may be currently going through a sexual harassment situation. It causes them empathetic pain to not use their story to help, and yet it doesn’t seem right to be asked to share intimate parts of their lives in a compulsory manner. In addition, nobody can help or protect you from trolling once you share your story online. In essence people are being pressured to be part of the crowd but have no support afterwards.
Other people are not yet completely healed and are, for lack of a better phrase, triggered by all this talk of #MeToo Yes, they can stop reading things and step away from the internet, but let’s be real. Would you? Could you? Most of our lives are managed via internet nowadays. People who have been scarred shouldn’t have to miss out on more of their life because some activist think everyone should be open when called upon.
It’s the same idea as outing a LGBTAQ person. Nobody should be hassled to share their story, their choices, their life when they aren’t ready to do so. It’s exactly this kind of mind think that keeps people from seeking help when they need it. It’s also why I don’t believe in group therapy for everyone. Some people are re-traumatized by the pressure.
Before we go much further, and I get the naysayers pointing at me saying I don’t understand, I should disclose, I too can say #MeToo Although it wasn’t at work, it was my OB/GYN which set up its own weird dynamic which made me unsure about what had happened. I mean an OB/GYN is supposed to be up in your business, right? But I was pretty sure they aren’t supposed to be alone in a room with you and commenting on how pretty your lady bits are. It is confusing when it happens to someone, I know why it doesn’t get reported. I personally didn’t say anything, just stopped going to that Doctor. The Doctor was later suspended from practicing medicine so it ended up a good outcome.
The thing is, I don’t owe anyone that story. It’s not my duty as someone who was harassed to make anyone else feel less alone. It’s my experience and I get to do what I want with it.
Nobody else should feel pressured to disclose anything they don’t feel comfortable with either. Just because someone is able to move past an unpleasant and even abusive experience, does not make them spiritual guides for anyone else. Some people feel a calling to help others and that is a great and wonderful and brave service. But nobody owes anyone their trauma.
For most survivors, a lot of work is done to get past the confusion and guilt and even embarrassment. Once that peace is won, social media and the advocates and activists don’t automatically get a piece of it.
There is also the danger of #MeToo fatigue. Social fatigue is something that happens at an alarming rate in these times of instant sharing. The problem with fatigue in this area is when people stop being able to hear about sexual harassment, they stop caring about correcting those who are harassing.
Fatigue makes us lazy and uncaring. It happened in #gamergate and it will happen with this too. Where there is an overwhelming abundance of outcry humans have a tendency to throw up their hands and declare, “What am I supposed to do.”
Moral outrage is a hungry beast and it requires new food daily. As such, our outrage will move to something different, bacterial laden pumpkin patches or flaming tap water… wait, we already did that one…see what I’m getting at? When was the last time you thought about flaming tap water?
Mostly what I want everyone, women, men and gender-neutral people to know is that they matter and their feelings matter. And let me reiterate; yes, the men too. I have already seen angry feminists asking men to “sit this one out.” Nope, nobody gets to devalue a person’s experience based on gender or anything else.
Don’t give your story away to those who only want their Ice Bucket moment. Save it for something and someone important. You will know when you are ready and the time is right. And, you can still stand in support of people without telling the secret private parts of yourself. It’s okay to just be supportive.
I like the end of the ‘Me Too Iguana’ story where her friends tell her ““You have the loveliest, greenest color,” smiled Stork. “You have the longest, bumpiest tail. Congratulations! We all think you’re wonderful just the way you are!”