Sunday 20 January 2019

#MeToo fools us into thinking we've solved problem of abuse

Women should come together to tell stories but men should be forced to admit blame

'Nothing will change until the consequences, social or legal, are too great for men to risk it.' (stock photo)
'Nothing will change until the consequences, social or legal, are too great for men to risk it.' (stock photo)

Ciara O'Connor

My Facebook timeline is usually an interminable list of other people's weddings, babies, Prosecco and passports at airports. Last week it became a gruelling litany of sexual assault with two mundane little words: 'me too.'

Conceived of 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke, this went viral when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: "If everyone who had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too', we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem."

It quickly became a meme, and then a movement, as millions of women added their names to the list. The conversation may have started with Harvey Weinstein, but the message is that it's much bigger than him, than Hollywood; it always has been.

The rise and rise of #MeToo has shown us indisputably that there's a problem; social media has fooled us into thinking that we're solving it. Raising awareness of an issue has become synonymous with fixing it. We see it with mental health, bullying, abuse, cancer. But talking about a problem doesn't make it go away - we can't make ourselves better from trauma, abuse, depression without resources, without institutional back-up.

Several countries have already made verbal sexual harassment, like catcalling, a crime. Portugal punishes offenders with a €120 fine. In Belgium, catcalling has been illegal since 2014 and penalties include a one-year jail sentence and fine of €1,000.

Misogyny cannot be legislated away, but we can do better to show women that it's not 'trivial', and to show men that it won't be tolerated. Nothing will change until the consequences, social or legal, are too great for men to risk it. But there is power in solidarity. The history of women's fight for equality has been one of coming together and telling stories.

Many women felt a sense of catharsis sharing their experiences and knowing they were not alone. A part of me couldn't help feeling angry and depressed. Because me too. Except I couldn't bring myself to write it. I've done it before, I've told my story and poured my heart out to make a point about assault and power. I am so, so tired of it.

Why do we have to show our wounds to be seen as people? I have nothing more to give; I am bled dry. I did it when Trump said 'grab her by the p***y', I did it when a boy at my old university wrote a complaint about 'consent workshops' on the campus that my friends and I were assaulted on.

I am exhausted. I don't want us to be forced to keep outing ourselves as victims; I want them to be forced to out themselves as abusers. Indeed, people did try to make #IDidThat and #HimThough take off, but uptake was slow.

While there was a small sense of catharsis and validation, what was I supposed to do with those feelings? I know why I really told my story: I wanted him to see. I want him to see it now - I want it to keep him up at night and make him feel sick like he made me feel sick. Perhaps that's what we all hoped for when we posted 'me too': some kind of justice.

Realistically I know the guy who would have raped me will be 'liking' his female friends' #MeToo posts and feeling a bit glum. But guilty? Probably not. Probably he thinks harassment is something other men do. Here's my worry: men don't see themselves in the stories. They see monsters, Harvey Weinsteins, hooligans.

I've seen #MeToo posts by men I know to have been harassers in the past. They talk about their shame at having overheard violently misogynistic things from other men and not spoken up - but I've seen them grope, have their hand swatted away, and grope again. I've seen them ask a woman a few too many times to come home with them. I've heard them say violently misogynistic things themselves.

A man I knew to have no grasp of consent posted an article on the importance of enthusiastic consent, to virtual pats on the back from his Facebook friends.

Men across the internet are promising to call out other men on their bulls**t - but they should start with themselves. Every man is not an abuser but every man can do better. After expressions of solidarity, came the 'PC gone mad!' brigade. Is everything harassment now, they pontificated, will good men be criminalised for looking at a woman?

If some men now think that the opposite sex can't be trusted, that they might be misunderstood or their actions misconstrued, forgive me if I'm not sympathetic. Welcome to being a woman.

Sunday Independent

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