The #MeToo movement has taken the idea of inclusivity and, through social media, inspired thousands of men and women to come forward with their own personal narratives of sexual abuse to demand change. In 2006, Tarana Burke utilized the phrase “Me Too” in a MySpace post made to empower women of color to share their stories of sexual violence they have encountered throughout their lives (Chicago Tribune, 2020). Her own personal anecdote sparked emotion with her audience, showcasing how common sexual violence is amongst women in our society and what little has been done to prevent it from happening.
Burke’s original demographic quickly expanded to women of all backgrounds, social classes, races, and cultures as it took power-dominated industries such as entertainment, business, and politics by storm. Soon, men who have also experienced similar instances in their own lives came forward as well, most notably, actor Terry Crews. Almost 10 years later, huge Hollywood big-shots such as Harvey Weinstein and his conspirators, were being exposed for their usage of coercion, asking for sexual favors in exchange for a role in a movie or television show.
The credibility, or ethos, of this movement comes from the numbers. A-list celebrities such as Ashley Judd, Lupita Nyong’o, Cara Delevigne, and Gwyneth Paltrow were now coming forward sharing their horrific encounters on social media and news outlets. Social media as a vehicle aided directly in the mass spreading of this movement, allowing it to be seen on multiple platforms and gain recognition quickly. Soon stories of Jeffrey Epstein, Larry Nassar, and many other powerful male figures were shared, creating a call for social action.
This current and ongoing movement attracts the attention of many oppressed women and men, after recognition of a common theme in their own personal lives. This movement that started as a hashtag quickly adapted to and followed the Social Movement Model, (Larson, 2013) allowing it to become recognized and maintain relevance for so long.
The connotation of the phrase “Me Too” implies a shared experience. When Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist and founder of a women’s empowerment non-profit, coined this phrase in her MySpace post, it was meant to be a declarative statement that women could find solidarity within. (Grant, 2019) She appealed to the “Love and Belongingness” stage of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by attracting those who share symbolic convergence with her experience. Decades of work by Tarana Burke, such as events and lectures, created a social environment that progressively prepared society for the massive change it needed to make. Her outspoken nature created a dialogue among survivors of sexual abuse, with this newfound feeling of unity. The question was how does this non-institutionalized, large group of society promote lasting social change.
“The genesis and continued growth of Me Too provide a background consideration for the new movement against sexual coercion.” (Mckinney, 2019) On October 5, 2017 American media mogul and film producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment by well-known actress Ashley Judd in an article by the New York Times. Judd released her testimony stating that Weinstein invited her to the Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel for what was meant to be a professional business meeting. Upon her arrival, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower. (Kantor & Twohey, 2017) Women, especially in Hollywood and entertainment industries, were made to feel as though they owe something to these men in powerful positions for “getting them where they are in their career.” Daniel Otero, an investigative reporter, states “Me Too” is a historical and social event which needed to happen; moreover, it needed to happen in the workplace to assist women all over the world. It further needed to occur. Why? To stop the misogynistic behaviors of men in the film industry.” (2018) This is a perfect example of the rule of reciprocity. This story, coming from such a popular channel like the New York Times, amplified the importance of this movement. Whether they were walking home from the store or being considered for a promotion at work; whether it was a family member or a complete stranger, women were coming forward and publically confronting their attackers. The background of Burke’s lectures and events, in addition to a celebrity influence or external change agent, produced the momentum needed to bring visibility to sexual violence as a critical issue.
The “#MeToo” movement does not only inspire women to share their story, it also presents a call to action for political leaders and society as a whole. In the 21st century, the best way to call others to action is to use a medium in which a large population partakes. In 2006, in the case of Tarana Burke, that was MySpace. Over a decade later, that changed to social media agents like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
The declarative statement “Me Too” was transformed into a hashtag by actress Alyssa Milano on October 15, 2017. The star tweeted “if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.'(Chicago Tribune, 2020) This tweet alone prompted thousands of responses, giving the element of social unrest through visible, quantitative and qualitative data. Three days later, on October 18, 2017, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney tweeted that she was assaulted by former team doctor, Larry Nassar. (Chicago Tribune, 2020) At the time, Nassar had just been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. This pivotal moment in the movement, launched a dialogue that bridged the gap between upper class, white, celebrities coming forward and “average” women who may feel their story does not matter as much compared to the others. This aided in the solidarity factor that drives the #MeToo movement. Social media users took advantage of storytelling as a tactic to increase involvement.
Not all responses to the hashtag were positive. Victims faced horrific amounts of negative feedback implying that these testimonies could not be accurate. There was now a mutual agitator and discontentment found in power dynamics. (Grant, 2019) Another negative connotation given to the movement was based upon the semantics of the hashtag. When reading the hashtag symbol aloud along with the phrase “Me Too,” a joke came about that women using the tag were really saying “# (pound) Me Too.” This degrading association tampered with the credibility of the hashtag, allowing accused men to state that just like the hashtag says, women were asking for it. A newfound goal was to change the concept of “victim shaming,” or blaming the victim for the acts of violence they have faced. In order to achieve this goal, systematic change as well as ownership and accountability of action is necessary. (Grant, 2019)
The height of social unrest can be seen by the 2017 cover of the Times Magazine. This cover featured the “Silence Breakers,” or notable figures who have come forward and shared their stories in association with the #MeToo movement. Celebrity influencers such as Terry Crews and, the originator of this movement Tarana Burke, were featured stories. The Times Magazine’s legitimacy gave this social movement a platform along with the momentum it needed to penetrate society as a topic needing discussion. This tactic gave way to mobilization, sparking global rallies, protests, and vast media coverage. Victims of sexual assault now had the power to take down political leaders, Hollywood big shots, co-workers, as well as family members through the power of word-of-mouth and the usage of various channels such as print and social media. The emotional appeal this movement provided opened a dialogue between all social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. This feeling of solidarity held the power to pass laws that would require consequential actions.
One of the most influential groups that derived from the suppression of these victim’s stories was called “Times Up.” This coalition of over 300 women from Hollywood advocated for anti-harassment laws to be made, acting as high profile sponsors to showcase how often sexual harassment has occured in their industry. (Chicago Tribune, 2020) There was no option of avoidance in this movement, as awareness increased so did symbolic convergence. The power of storytelling heightened the awareness of this movement, it called for compliance and participation from both the victims as well as those with the authority to enact change.
Trustworthiness of the “#MeToo” movement stemmed majorly from the celebrity supporters behind it. At the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards on January 7th, 2018 stars wore all black along with a pin designed by Arianne Phillips to stand in solidarity with the Time’s Up coalition. The celebrities seen on the red carpet are agents of cultural influence. The Golden Globe Awards were no longer a fashion show or an awards show, it was now a protest. Through social proof the movement had taken off, ad populum took full effect allowing watchers of the show to share their stories after seeing artists, actors, and influencers that they have looked up to for so long share their narrative. Oprah Winfrey, a social commentator and well respected figure in American culture, took the stage at this revolutionary event to accept the Cecil B. Demille Award for lifetime achievement. Her speech became one of the most memorable tactics in the “#MeToo” movement as it was broadcasted to thousands of viewers across the nation. She stated within her acceptance speech that she was “ inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.’ She continued, ‘But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics or workplace.’ (Chicago Tribune, 2020) Oprah utilized both pathos, prompting the audience to sympathize with the women involved in the movement, and ethos, being that she is a victim of sexual abuse herself as well as a recognized public figure. The speech was a pivotal moment of recognition of the “#MeToo” movement. Over the past decade, the movement had only grown bigger. What began as a blog post on MySpace, transitioned to a hashtag on Twitter, and has now been supported by Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes.
The thematic dimension behind her words emphasized the idea of inclusivity, “They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”(Barber, 2018) Now recognized as not only a national, but a global issue, the #MeToo movement became the voice of humanity.
On January 20, 2018, the anniversary of Donald Trump’s oath of office, millions of people stormed the streets in a non-violent protest named “The Women’s March.” This march focused on the disapproval of Trump’s administration, policies, and encouraged the public to vote. This event not only showcased the impact the movement had on American society, but also became a perfect example of how the American population protests. Driven by fear of the future for themselves, for their kids, and for generations to come, the power of storytelling and symbolic convergence brought together three times as many people than Trump’s inauguration that had taken place the year before. (Roye & Katz, 2018) The participation in this event had no demographic or ethnographic preference, women and men of all ages, races, jobs, etc. all joined together the common goal of change.
As more stories flooded the media over the last few years, a recognition of how common sexual violence has been accepted, ignored, and in some instances normalized in American Society. Political figures like Brett Kavanaugh, timeless celebrities like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, as well ass college students in fraternities like Brock Turner were being exposed and facing consequences for their unimaginable acts of sexual violence. Not only were men being exposed, women like Southern California Representative Katie Hill were being forced to resign from their positions for their heinous actions. The inclusivity of men intensified the need for this movement, showcasing that this can happen to anyone at any time.
The longstanding woman’s woman stereotype has left a painstakingly large stain on women’s roles in society. “Social pressure and experiences force the realization that women’s lives are meant to work primarily in service of the maintenance of life (reproduce and raise children) so that men can produce new possibilities for human existence.” (McKinney, 2019) The perception that women are made to cater to men by being homemakers and vessels of reproduction has created an element of compliance that men feel they are owed by women. This dynamic between the two genders has positioned women as being seemingly inferior to men. The ideas of power, control, and reciprocity have been engraved in the minds of men since they were born. This lead to conditional syllogisms being taken to the workplace, such as “if you do this for me, I can do this for you,” allowing so many women to feel they have no other way out but to comply. It has been nothing short of an uphill battle for women involved within the “#MeToo” movement. In an environment built to silence the truth, proof of suppression came to light with the elements of storytelling and belongingness. Through a multitude of different media channels including television, print, and social media this social movement has escalated greatly from it’s origin.
Although it began over a decade ago, the “#MeToo” movement is still very much in it’s maintenance stage. There will be no termination of this movement until there is capitulation from lawmakers, oppressors, and opposers of this movement. Victims of sexual violence have gained validity and recognition from the public. There is data that warrants action from a higher power, and with the backing these victims have provided both quantitatively and qualitatively, there is no argument that this critical issue needs to be addressed. Women will no longer accept the ideology of the woman’s woman as an excuse to conform to a patriarchal society. “The movement highlights our cultural tension of desiring power dynamic shifts while also valuing the voices of persons occupying identities of power and sidelining those within the margins.” (Grant, 2019) The impact of numbers and the coming together of thousands, no matter the background or social class, demonstrates how effectively this movement has persuaded the public to call for action. Social media along with a collective dialogue created a global feeling of solidarity that will not cease until action is taken towards justice.