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#MeToo campaign allows women to share their stories. Will it matter?

Among the many women who have spoken out against Harvey Weinstein in on-the-record reports that detailed claims of sexual abuse are, clockwise from top right, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Alyssa Milano and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Among the many women who have spoken out against Harvey Weinstein in on-the-record reports that detailed claims of sexual abuse are, clockwise from top right, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Alyssa Milano and Gwyneth Paltrow. AP file photos

In the end, will it make a difference?

Women are using the phrase “me too” on social media and sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault. My Facebook feed this week has offered a glimpse into a society where women are groped by strangers on street corners and are encouraged to ignore inappropriate comments because “he’s harmless.”

Women are opening their hearts and souls to the world, and the saddest part of it all is that we won’t see any real change, at least not right away. Thousands of women will be harassed at work today, and more than 100 women across the country will be raped. In Raleigh, at least two people will report being raped this week.

But the #metoo campaign is giving women a platform to talk about their pain, anger and resilience in a way they might not do otherwise. That’s what it’s about – empowering women to speak out, or to not speak out but feel comforted by those who do. Feeling violated can bring us to a lonely place in the world, and it’s helpful to know we’re not the only ones there.

We can use this campaign of sharing, prompted by accusations against Hollywood movie executive Harvey Weinstein, to think about what we can do differently to change the narrative. To shift blame to the men who stand a little too close, who let a casual touch linger too long, who use their bodies to intimidate and violate.

“That’s my question: How do we change awareness to action?” said Monika Johnson-Hostler, who leads the Wake County school board and serves as executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Her advice to all of us: “Now that you know better, do better.”

When we hear men catcall a woman or make inappropriate remarks, we should speak up, Johnson-Hostler said. We should “flip the conversation” and find out why some men do bad things to women. We should stop putting children in “boxes” that lead them to believe toy trucks are only for boys and Barbie dolls are only for girls.

Like so many women, I have tried to push bad memories away. During a work meeting to discuss coverage of the #MeToo campaign, I said I had never experienced sexual harassment in the work place. It wasn’t until hours later that I realized I endured months of weird interactions with a man who seemed to think I owed him something for helping my career early on.

How could I forget that? Why did that not come to mind immediately?

For some, the most painful memories stem from childhood, when abuse and assault can mix up a young girl’s ideas about men, femininity and self-image. It’s a lifelong struggle.

I realized years ago that the way I dress, especially for work, is a reflection of life experiences. Always wanting to be judged by talent, intellect and ambition instead of appearance, I’ve never been one to spend an hour in front of a mirror every morning.

It’s so ridiculous, really, this notion that women shouldn’t look too nice because they might bring unwanted attention to themselves.

“It’s impeding the way we live our lives,” Johnson-Hostler said.

Even so, sharing our stories on social media probably won’t result in any real change. I do think, however, that women like my sister will bring change. She is raising her children to respect other people’s personal space and bodies.

They’ll know better. They’ll do better.

In the meantime, let’s keep talking about it. All of us, too.

Actress Alyssa Milano got an idea from a friend of a friend on Facebook to elevate the Harvey Weinstein conversation. She took the idea to Twitter, posting: "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." T

Sarah Nagem: 919-829-4635, @sarah_nagem

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