It’s been a few days since actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the call to action for women to come forward about sexual assault and harassment with two little words: “Me too.” Since then, our timelines have been filled with harrowing stories and uplifting support from nearly everyone on your friends list.
But how successful was the #MeToo campaign, in all reality? Sure, it got a lot of people talking, but some criticized it for being just another instance of ineffective social media activism — it wasn’t about to change anything. As feminist activist and writer Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki wrote in her viral Facebook post, ” Men who need a certain threshold of survivors coming forward to ‘get it’ will never get it.”
But she also offered another solution: “[T]he focus on victims and survivors—instead of their assailants and enablers—is something we need to change.”
I have to admit she has a point. Even as women were screaming “me too,” some people (*cough* men *cough*) didn’t seem to take away anything except that they truly believe women lie about sexual harassment — or, worse, that they want it.
But it goes beyond that. Why do I, the woman who has been traumatized by what men have done to me, have to continue to retraumatize myself just so men “get it”? Why do women have to do the heavy lifting when gendered violence may be about them, but it’s not because of them?
Even famed educator and author Jackson Katz said in a Ted Talk 2013 (2013!!!!) that we put too much emphasis on the victims in the scenario and too little emphasis on the assailants:
“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.”
“So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them… Men aren’t even a part of it!”
Katz argued that even calling sexual assault and harassment a “women’s issue” made men completely disinterested in doing any of the heavy lifting it takes to overcome it, because they believed it was no longer their problem.
So the good people of the Internet have proposed new hashtags that are less about the vast amount of women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted and more about the men who did it to them.
Vox writer Liz Plank suggested we shift both the conversation and the feelings of shame from those who have been abused or assaulted to the abusers themselves, starting the hashtag #HimThough.
Some argued that #HimThough’s greatest flaw was that it put a gender on abusers, to which I have to say this — do women sexually assault others? Yes, of course. To only condemn men takes the blame away from the women who have contributed to the cycle of sexual violence. But you can’t ignore the overwhelming statistics that 99% of reported sex offenders are male, and taking men out of the equation completely would be ignoring the toxic masculinity that often causes sexual violence. In that respect, this is still a gendered issue, but perhaps less of a women’s one than we thought.
But #HimThough is not the only new hashtag that has emerged post-#MeToo. #IDidThat joined its ranks when comedian and writer Devang Pathak came forward with his own story — not of someone who has been harassed, but who has harassed others.
And though few people have come forward admitting what they’ve done, there are still those who have owned up to how they’ve contributed to the problem — and who, by doing so, hope they can be part of the solution.
These hashtags are nowhere near as viral as #MeToo — but that’s no surprise, given that few people want to admit they may have been a perpetrator once. However, these hashtags do look closer at the root of the problem than #MeToo did. Because yes, most (if not all) women will be victims of sexual harassment and abuse, as will many men, and while the hashtag may have showed the magnitude of the problem (which, arguably, most people already knew), it does little to solve it. What we need now is for past abusers and assailants to come forward and talk about their stories. What we need now is a shift in conversation.