A Scale that Spills Over, Exposing Sexual Assault through #MeToo

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Keshia Lynn Mcclantoc

Queer feminist rhetor and aca-fan trying to save the world one hashtag and subversive fanfiction at a time.

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As I scrolled through Facebook Sunday afternoon, I noticed that a few of my friends were posting something that started with the phrase “me too,” a status update urging women to repost if they had experienced sexual assault in any form. Without even thinking, I quickly scrolled past, not wanting to face the pressure to repost.

Throughout the day, every single time I got on Facebook the post appeared again. The original post had changed to include all people who had been sexually assaulted, rather than just women. Female, Male, and Non-binary friends on my Facebook page were sharing the status. People had also started making it more personal, adding what had been done or said to them. Others added more to the original posts, telling people it was okay not to share if they didn’t feel comfortable doing so. A few of the friends who didn’t repost made statuses apologizing and asking what they could do. It became impossible to be on social media without seeing the #MeToo status and I knew that I couldn’t continue not thinking about it.

I was five years old when I was first assaulted, by a teenage boy who thought I was too young to realize what was happening. I say first because I have lived a life where time(s), not time, describes how I remember sexual assault. I spent middle school and high school drowning in sexual comments and implications, and people who thought they always had permission to touch my body. When I was older, I experienced assault at the hands of someone I called ‘boyfriend.’ Even last week, a drunk man waved a hotdog in my direction, and yelled jokes about oral sex at me. These events, I realized, were not singular, but merely pieces in a tipping scale of sexual assault. I took a deep breathe, wrote out “me too,” and hit share.

After sharing, I decided to do a little research on where #MeToo had come from. The hashtag turned status originated from the current allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer who more than a dozen high profile names have accused of sexual assault. #MeToo started first with Alyssa Milano, who posted the call for women to share sexual assault stories.

The amount of people who have shared this status is incredible. Hundreds of thousands of voices, of all genders, from all over the world are sharing #MeToo. The New York Times, CNN, and BBCNews have all done reports on the trend, reposting statistics and other hashtags that developed in response, like #IWill or #WomenWhoRoar. With two words, we have shown that the scale of sexual assault in overflowing, and most of us know that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Many people who have been sexually assaulted are not comfortable sharing and that is okay. What is not okay is that we keep allowing sexual assault like this to continue to happen.

Whenever trends reveal the significant amount of sexual assault in the world, we are reminded that the world is not the nice place we imagine it to be. Events like this remind people to pay attention to the world around them and make efforts in noticing the trauma that others have gone through. Rarely, however, do these events make reliable suggestions on how to stop sexual assault. We acknowledge that we live in a society permeated by rape culture that allows for this kind of sexual assault, say ‘wow, that’s bad,’ and then move on until another trending hashtag forces use to realize the daily traumas that other people face.

But what if we didn’t move on? What if we not only acknowledged rape culture, but also made efforts to stop it? Understanding how to do this comes on both a macro and a micro level. In many ways, rape culture is simultaneously systematic and upheld through every day acceptance. Although it seems hard, we can change both the macro and micro levels of rape culture.

On a systematic level, rape culture is maintained by both education and law. Educational institutions, both lower and higher, enforce the repressed dichotomy of ‘sex as bad.’ Sex education programs are needed not just to teach safe sex, but also to teach consent. If sex education is too scared to talk about sex itself, then it becomes impossible to teach consent. Teaching consent in education is important because education is what enforces things like laws. Laws becomes the just punisher of sexual assault, yet many laws are still full of victim-blaming rhetoric.

We can shape education and laws by electing officials who support good sex education, get involved in (or start!) community programs that teach sex education, and demand a higher standard of teaching within school systems.

On the micro every day level, we accept sexual assault as a commonplace thing. The fact that I wasn’t surprised to see so many of my friends sharing #MeToo statuses is a bad thing. Sexual assault should be shocking, not common. On a micro level we can combat rape culture by calling out sexism and assault, by sharing our stories, and by refusing to accept a reality in which a hashtag about sexual assault is the number one trending topic on Twitter.

Exposing sexual assault does not need to happen when the occasional trend reminds you that it is there. Exposing sexual assault needs to be something that we make a priority in our everyday lives, so that eventually #MeToo becomes the rallying cry of those who have stopped sexual assault, not those who have experienced it.