After the media fallout stemming from the accusations of sexual harassment, abuse, rape, and coercion by Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood personalities, social media began to see the #MeToo movement. Women who have been sexually oppressed in any manner have been posting the hashtag “#MeToo” on the internet. Some followed it up with a brief explanation of its purpose to spread awareness, some went into detail on their personal experiences, and some simply typed and posted those two words.
The #MeToo movement itself is credited as being started in 2006 by social activist Tarana Burke, encouraging MySpace users to post. Eleven years later, the movement received a rebirth from actress Alyssa Milano, on more updated social media platforms. I gathered with a small group of colleagues to sit down and discuss their thoughts and experiences with sexual oppression, as a means of getting a better understanding and spreading awareness on the topic. This series chronicles that discussion.
With all of the outpouring of claims of sexual oppression from celebrities and politicians at the tail end of 2017, the number of stories— and their details— can be overwhelming, and downright sickening. One may wonder, is there hope for progress at all? Can we as a society diminish, if not end generations of abuse and harassment?
Arguably, we can, and the #MeToo movement may have already started that.
Of the social media movements, very few amount to anything, but “#MeToo” has been the little hashtag that could. Ever since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came out in the media during October of 2017, the #MeToo movement grew its wings and took off. Since then, there have been almost weekly reports of celebrities and politicians who have allegedly targeted and oppressed at least one, if not a number of people throughout their lives.
This media coverage seems to be the hot commodity, especially when it involves people in power. As a result of the avalanche of media coverage, these allegations are being taken very seriously, and action is being taken. We are seeing celebrities losing their jobs and/or endorsements, politicians stepping down from office and/or losing elections. It seems that for the first time, sexual oppression is finally getting the recognition it has needed for some time, and the entire nation is bearing witness to the consequences.
Through much of this coverage, we have found out that politicians have spent seventeen million dollars of taxpayers’ money to settle various claims, including sexual harassment. In many of these claims, the money has acted as “hush money” to keep the plaintiffs quiet, so that these politicians can go about their business, maintaining the status quo— at least in the public’s eye. For many of the survivors, although they may have reaped financial gains from their misfortune, their trauma and memories cannot be erased by dollars. An underhanded political band-aid at best, this has kept survivors from spreading awareness, and kept attackers in positions of power. Now those politicians are being brought into the light and not only are being interrogated for their sexual attacks, but also for the number of tax dollars that have been spent to cover up their crimes.
Will This End Sexual Oppression?
Not completely, no. Human nature is fickle, and no matter how many people are publicly held accountable, and no matter how serious the punishment, there will still be people who violate others. On the bright side, though, the amount of coverage will likely begin to diminish the amount of sexual oppression in our society. Just like any form of public shaming or laws put in place, there will be plenty who might have committed these acts that will now think twice before they do it, for fear of the consequences.
Such heavy coverage will also likely bring a strong increase in bystanders who will step in to help someone avoid or escape these situations. People who see someone getting too drunk-and-handsy at a party may now greater understand the gravity of the situation and step in to thwart the would-be attacker from ever committing an act of sexual oppression. Or, perhaps bystanders who see the harassment of a total stranger— those who might have previously been quiet and minded their own business— will now feel the urge to step in and ask the harasser to back off or to join the conversation and not let the stranger and their potential attacker be alone together.
Movies and Television
Aside from social media and the news, the media offers another form of hope in diminishing sexual oppression: the strengthening of women in entertainment media. Recently, we have seen female characters become stronger and more independent in movies and in television. The CW network now hosts the show Supergirl, as well as a variety of other shows that feature women with skills that make them crucial to the show’s plot, and make them far more than just a “love interest.”
In the last several years, Disney Studios has released films like Frozen, Brave, and Tangled. Warner Bros. Studio has released Wonder Woman; Universal Studios released Bridesmaids, and Sony Pictures released Ghostbusters. All of these movies have featured strong women, and all pass the Bechdel Test.
If you are unaware of the Bechdel Test, it is a simple test that most forms of entertainment tragically fail. In order to pass, a piece of work must have two female characters (who are named in the production, not just extras) have a conversation together about a subject that isn’t about a man. It seems easy, but you’d be surprised how many of your favorite films don’t pass. For more information on the Bechdel Test, and a list of movies that pass it, go to https://bechdeltest.com/.
In sports/sports entertainment/athletics, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is another form of media that has gone through what they call the “Women’s Revolution” within the last two years. Through this revolution, women’s wrestling has become less of a display of sexuality and more focused on the actual athletic skills of the competitors. As part of this revolution, women are now called Women or "Female Superstars,” as opposed to their previous moniker, “Divas.”
Physically, the WWE Women’s Title looks more like the men's’ Heavyweight Championship instead of a caricature (trust me, Google “Divas Championship Belt” and see what an offensive joke it was). Women’s wrestling attire has become far less objectifying, and barely any of the Female Superstars have had breast augmentations (which used to be an unofficial “requirement.”) Women are given more air time and have more technical wrestling matches than ever before, and have been featured in main events of both television and pay-per-view performances.
The Trickle-Down Effect
Parents and mentors have a huge impact on young people. As the conversation on sexual oppression grows, many adults and children or adolescents may start conversing on the topic in a way that helps young people understand the problem without scaring them, much like “stranger danger.” Through this kind of communication and understanding, young people can become more open about sharing or reporting if something were to happen to them or their friends. These conversations could end up saving lots of young people from being victimized.
Many sexual oppressors were attacked earlier in their lives, causing psychological scarring and often leading them to grow up to become oppressors themselves. As the media coverage grows, the more conversations on the subject are had. The more people speak out publicly against their attackers, and thusly (hopefully) the numbers of attacks diminished, fewer people will suffer from attacks. The hope is that this will interrupt the vicious cycle and ultimately lead to less sexual oppression in future generations.
With that being said. I encourage everyone to please join this conversation. Even if you feel uncomfortable about it, share why it makes you feel uncomfortable. By simply talking about sexual oppression, and keeping it relevant, we can plant the seeds of awareness and severity on the topic, and help prevent it from happening in the future. Even one less person who has to go through such an experience makes a difference and is a step in the right direction. We can help diminish these heinous attacks and help people live their lives with less mental damage.
For more resources about Sexual Assault, Violence, Victim Assistance, and other forms of Sexual Oppression visit www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones or call (800) 656-HOPE (4673)
The #MeToo Movement series concludes on January 3rd, 2018.
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