EDITORIAL: Me too
With that simple status update or tweet, thousands of women have been letting their friends and family know that, yes, they have been the victim of sexual assault or harassment.
For many, that's all they're ready to say. But some are telling stories of the co-worker who continued pressing for dates even after meeting a woman's husband, of a man trying to lure a girl into a car at the bus stop, of being followed and groped while walking down the street.
With the fall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein catapaulting sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood to the forefront, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted this on Sunday: "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet."
By Tuesday, that tweet had 61,000 replies 45,000 likes and 21,000 retweets. According to Mashable, the hashtag #MeToo was used almost 110,000 times just on Sunday, and more than 1 million people have been talking about it on Facebook.
Women and some men are speaking of being assaulted or sexually harassed as children, teenagers, students, young workers, older workers, parents. The stories flow in about bosses, friends, acquaintances, strangers, family members, neighbors, politicians, priests, fellow members of the military.
Some are as seemingly minor as whistles, catcalls or staring, others speak of violence and rape.
Many people are asking why these incidents weren't reported before, how could this be happening to women of all ages and circumstances without anyone noticing?
The replies: We did report it. Supervisors brushed "complaints" under the rug or turned against the women who spoke up. Police asked "What were you wearing?" Parents didn't believe it or didn't think it was a big deal.
And there are many women who are speaking out for the first time after thinking the harassment was their fault, that it was just how things are in the business world, that they need to be more careful about not being alone at night. After all, our culture has conditioned women and girls to believe that if they become a victim of sexual assault, it's their own fault.
Maybe #MeToo will get the conversation starting on changing that attitude. Once women see how many other people have had these same experiences and that it's not OK, maybe they'll feel more empowered to step up and say that they deserve better treatment. Maybe men will look at the behaviors that women are speaking up about and realize that their own actions could be seen as harassment, not just persistence. Maybe people who see someone being harassed will be more likely to help the victim get out of the situation safely.
There needs to be a next step to take now that everyone has seen that so many of the women in their lives have been in situations where they were not safe, where men who held some form of power over them, physically or professionally, pushed for their own sexual gratification against the wishes of the woman.
There are lists going around now of things people can do:, including not commenting on a woman's appearance or telling her to smile in public, not trying to get a woman drunk or drugged, not pressuring or coercing anyone to have sex, not laughing at rape jokes, not standing by and watching as others behave badly.
Getting the word out that these are experiences that so many women and men have had is a good first step toward challenging the rape culture and making a real difference in the lives of women.
The fact that there's a long list of things that our culture has taught men are acceptable when they're really not is appalling. But the fact that men are reading the lists and pledging to stop those behaviors is a good second step toward a cultural shift.
The next step is to make sure that those rules continue to be enforced so that the next generation of girls, boys, women and men will read about the harassment and abuse people didn't speak up about as ancient history that won't be repeated.