Trigger warning – Rape, sexual harassment, sexual assault*
Most conduct is guided by norms rather than by laws. Norms are voluntary and are effective because they are enforced by peer pressure. — Paul Collier
I don’t think anyone has failed to notice the traction that the #MeToo hashtag recently gained as women around the world rallied behind it; to say that they, too, have been sexually harassed our assaulted. The hashtag went viral as Alyssa Milano, in the wake of the articles about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual assults, posted this on her Twitter account:
”Suggested by a friend: if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Following her Tweet, the hashtag #MeToo was trending No 1 the next morning. Notable however is the fact that, Tarana Burke was the hashtag’s original creator, a woman and activist who has worked for years trying to create a space for rape survivors.
The ‘me too’ status spread like wildfire and here in Sweden I watched my Facebook and Twitter feed alike fill with these two words. While heartbreaking, I wasn’t all that surprised. What surprised me more was the unwillingness from certain men to believe this reality. The reality almost, if not every woman is living, myself included. What started as a rally behind the #MeToo hashtag, the words ‘me too’ flourished in Sweden far beyond that. What might have started as a campaign, or a movement has now reached the proportions of a revolution. Soon different subgroups for different professions emerged, where the actors, journalists, doctors, teachers, students (just to mention a few) rallied behind their respective hashtags to show how sexual harassment and assaults are happening in their respective professions and fields. This proved, among other things that, sadly, this phenomenon isn’t excluded to the industry in Hollywood where men and the likes of Harvey Weinstein has ruled. If anything it has shown that sexual harassment and assaults are a structural, wide-spread problem. There IS such a thing as ‘Rape Culture’!
I’ve been wanting to write about this ever since the hashtag gained the traction that it did. It’s a topic that I feel has been readily discussed and analyzed by far more prominent and talented writers than I however, so how can I do it justice? It’s also a very vast topic and reading all of these stories along with articles, I fear I might be in over my head, it’s honestly difficult just to gather my thoughts on the subject. Where do I even start? — I guess what I really want to say is that we NEED to talk about this and when I say we, I mean women AND men. In my experience men tend to shy away from discussing sex when the focus isn’t about conquest and/or pleasure. Yes, I know I’m generalizing, but it’s what I’ve seen. When the focus is rape or unwanted advances, suddenly sex and the ”way to get there” becomes a difficult topic to talk about. A friend of mine said that men are sexual beings and if you happen to be a little ”clumsy” or ”awkward” in the interaction with a woman nowadays (post ‘me too’) , you’re suddenly labeled as an harasser. No. Just no! It really irks me, the way that some men are now seemingly upset and hurt about the fact that ”all of a sudden you can’t even harmlessly flirt with a woman without the fear of being called out for sexually harassing them.” Honestly, if you’re really having such a hard time distinguishing between harmless flirting and untoward advances — don’t ”flirt!” Sure, I get that awkward moments happen, especially if there’s alcohol involved. That’s not the same thing though. Everyone can say clumsy things, but you don’t just ”happen” to grab a woman’s ass (no, you don’t!). Seriously, if men’s biggest problems right now is about thinking once or even twice before they act when they’re around women, I say good. Do it. It’s obviously needed.
I want to circle back to what I mentioned earlier, rape culture. As friends of mine shared their #MeToo stories, it became evident that a lot of them were quite surprised when they realized that, yes, they too, had been victims even of sexual harassment even though they had not been raped. To most of these women rape in itself seemed to be the sole epitome of sexual harassment and assault. It’s not. These same friends, me and women all over (if you’ve followed the discussions on social media), seemed to realize how much we, as women have put up with. How much we’ve been told and fed with lines like ”boys will be boys”, which in many respects have excused these untoward behaviors. As a girls we are taught that if a boy is mean to you, or even hits you, it’s only because he likes you. Some even add that these boys just don’t know how to express it, so what, that makes it fine?! No. As we get older we’re told that we must have, surely, sent these men signals that they must have misinterpreted. The blame is on us. That’s part of the rape culture. It’s so prevalent in our everyday life that we sometimes don’t even notice it until someone else points it out. Even when we do know, it’s sometimes easier to just let it slide. Why? Because somewhere along the way we’ve taught boys that it’s okay to act demeaning toward girls. We’ve taught them that females are the lesser sex, ‘lesser than’ and so on. We’ve let these kind of behaviors, starting when we had our pig-tails pulled as a pre-schooler to when we had our asses grabbed in bars, to slide over and over again. It’s sick!
It’s both sad and tiring to always, and basically only, see accounts of how women should dress and behave in order to not risk falling victims to harassers and rapists (which is utter crap). Again, this is about victim blaming and slut shaming even. As women we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be too drunk, because somehow the responsibility has fallen on us to protect ourselves against these monsters. Why is it that the focus is mainly on women and what we can do? Why isn’t it about teaching young boys what’s right and wrong and teach them about the consequences of their actions to the same extent? Why are there countless of articles about how new gadgets and strategies are going to help save women in situations where they are scared or might fall victims to rapists? Such as a razor contraption you insert into your vagina (ouch!) or what drink to order in a bar to signal to the bartender that you might be scared and/or in need of help. We need to shift the focus. Please. I’m not saying these gadgets or strategies are stupid, they’re not. If they help, good. It’s just tragic that they’re needed and that time and energy seem more readily spent on these aspects, rather than on educating boys and men on how they should act (appropriately, that is). Again, evidently it’s needed.
A few men that I’ve spoken to about this has claimed that they don’t want to step into the discussion (regarding ‘me too’) as they want to leave room for the countless of women who are bravely baring their souls and sharing their stories. In a way, yes I get it. However, offering support, listening and raising awareness about rape culture and what can be done to help obliterate it; is, in my eyes, not encroaching on our space. I feel like I could write more about rape culture, however, I think I might have gone on for too long already.
Just to add, yes I know that there are female sexual harassers and even rapists. I know there are male survivors too. As a female myself however, this was the focus I chose for this text. I also felt like I wanted to highlight that our societal norms are excusing a lot of this ”typical male” behavior, allowing a lot of these men to escape any consequences regardless of the degree of sexual harassment or assault.
Until next time.