For many, the #MeToo Movement might be just flash in the pan. A fly-by-night headline that goes viral for a while and then vanishes with yesterday’s tweets. But not for me.
Just like a giant game of “telephone,” this movement has become so widespread and muddled that many of us don’t have a clue where it started or what it really means.
Here’s the pop culture version: On Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter encouraging all women who have ever been “sexually harassed or assaulted” to post #MeToo as their status. This came after a news flash involving several allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood tycoon Harvey Weinstein.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
In less than a week, the hashtag appeared more than 1.2 million times on Twitter (Dupre, 2017). And that statistic doesn’t even include Facebook, Instagram, blogs, news articles, and other social media platforms where the hashtag has been showing up.
Connections Throughout Society
It’s difficult to grasp the spectrum of those who consider themselves part of the #MeToo Movement. After all, what do “sexual harassment” and “sexual assault” entail? Is it a slap on the rear or a cat call? Are we talking about rape? Or all of the above?
As is customary in our culture, everyone has an angle. There are those who “get it” and those who don’t. There are those who would make this into a sexist issue or turn it into something political. And of course there are the haters, who get their jollies by poking fun at the whole thing.
In reality, the hashtag wasn’t the beginning of the movement at all. And originally the meaning of the term was quite specific. “Me Too” was actually conceived in 2007 by a black woman named Tarana Burke as a catchphrase for survivors of of sexual violence–particularly young women of color–to communicate a sense of solidarity with each other.
“It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow,” Burke told Ebony magazine. “It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone … “[I was] trying to find a succinct way to show empathy … Me too is so powerful because somebody had said it to me and it changed the trajectory of my healing process once I heard that. Me too was about reaching the places that other people wouldn’t go, bringing messages and words and encouragement to survivors of sexual violence where other people wouldn’t be talking about it” (“Alyssa Milano concedes,” 2017).
I love Burke’s words. And although I am not a young black woman, I feel that solidarity in deep places. I feel the power of her original intent, and like so many others I have been stirred by her spirit and vision.
Although I have struggled to post in the #MeToo arena–typing and deleting, sitting with pounding heart and sweaty palms staring at the screen–I have attempted a few brief comments on social media over the past few weeks. After all, as leaders in the Movement to End Sexual Exploitation, many of us feel this is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.
We spend our lives spreading awareness about human trafficking and pornography, protecting children and families, and trying to pass legislation that will make a difference. Now suddenly our agenda is center stage online, in the news, and even in Hollywood.
You’d think this would be a slam dunk. But even in the face of #MeToo, I have encountered dissenters who feel the need to mock or create contention–usually in a feeble or transparent attempt to justify their own porn use.
The two most common arguments I’ve seen are:
- “Sexual assault is a totally separate issue and has no relationship to pornography. Porn does not hurt anyone.” Actually, hard core pornography portrays and glorifies graphic violence. Also, porn directly fuels the commercial sex trade. It’s supply and demand, plain and simple. Many would prefer to live in a fantasy world where porn, rape, assault, prostitution, and trafficking are not interrelated, but that’s just not the case. Get the facts at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and Fight the New Drug.
- “You are overreacting.” Am I? Please walk in my shoes. Survive through childhood sexual abuse, a shattered marriage because of sex addiction, and countless other life experiences that have resulted along the way, and then you are welcome to judge.
As promised, the magnitude of the #MeToo problem is staggering. We have all gotten a sense of that. But what kind of an effect is this movement having on us as individuals?
I have laid awake at night trying to understand where I fit, and whether it even makes a difference.
And the truth is … for me, this is not a flash in the pan.
Sexual assault isn’t a here-today-gone-tomorrow topic in my life. It has formed me. Shaped my attitudes, my life, and my work. It has made me who I am. So perhaps that is what I have to contribute to the conversation.
Burke hit the nail on the head in an interview when she said, “Imagine your social media timeline is filled with sexual violence and you, too, are a survivor … That is traumatizing. … If you make something [like this] viral, you have to be prepared to help people deal … You have to give people something else besides the disclosure” (Wellington, 2017).
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Right now, social media is a minefield for me, full of psychological triggers. But it’s also a great opportunity to get people to do something about sexual exploitation! It’s an interesting conundrum, but that’s my life.
I was robbed of my innocence at a very young age. That changed the lens through which I experience the world. Safety. Confidence. Peace. These are things I still struggle with. It’s all too easy to retreat into guilt and insecurity.
Like many who have lived through trauma I reached a point where I had to make a choice. I choose not to be a victim. I am a survivor. And now I fight.
Bad things happen to all of us. If nothing else, the #MeToo Movement is a testament to that. But we get to decide how to move forward after the storm.
It’s true that I’ve been shaped and formed by sexual assault. But I’d like to think I’ve been changed for the better–that I’ve been sandblasted and refined into something crystalline and beautiful. Granted, I’m a work in progress. But I’m getting there.
Like many survivors, I have chosen to make my mess my message. I’ve learned to transform my anger into energy for good. I hope my example will shine as a light for others so they can see that there are are better days ahead.
I’ve also made it my mission to give parents, families, and communities the tools to deal with this mess. That’s what my work is all about.
#MeToo PREVENTION: Teaching Our Children
#MeToo has helped millions of survivors find a voice. But why stop there? Awareness is great, but action is better.
Burke’s comment that we need to “give people something else besides the disclosure” reminds us that those 1.2 million tweets translate into a huge responsibility for society (Wellington, 2017). We can’t just tell these traumatic stories and then walk away.
It’s beyond a hashtag. It’s the start of a larger conversation and a movement for radical community healing. Join us. #metoo
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) October 15, 2017
So what do we do next?
As parents, we sometimes underestimate our impact on the rising generation. We hesitate to approach topics like pornography, drugs, sex, coping with technology, setting limits, and other discussions that might upset our kids. #MeToo and sexual assault fall into this category too.
But it’s imperative that we have these hard talks at home, while we’re in a safe, controlled environment. It’s our job to educate and protect our kids. We can help in the fight against sexual assault by working on PREVENTION.
An easy way to start the conversation is to read Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. together. Near the end the book is a list of five safety rules that directly address topics tied to sexual abuse and sexual assault.
Like it or not, abusers use porn and tech to groom kids for abuse. These five safety rules can help us teach our kids what to look for and how to fight back!
- If someone tries to show you bad pictures or videos, look away. Remember to Turn, Run, and Tell!
- If you ever see a bad picture or video, never show it to another child.
- No one should ever take pictures or videos of you without your clothes on. If someone ever tries to do that, tell your mom or dad or a trusted adult right away!
- Never take pictures or videos of yourself without clothes on.
- If you see a bad picture or video and it keeps popping up in your mind, go and tell mom or dad or a trusted adult.* Say, “I need your help to make the bad picture go away.”
Sadly, many of the things in these five rules are now considered “normal.” I have attended enough digital safety meetings with educators, school administrators, and law enforcement to know that sexting and taking nude selfies are now mainstream practices among teenagers.
In fact, in the county where I live, the judge will not even press charges if the nude images exchanged involve only boyfriend and girlfriend. The offense has to involve a third party before the court will even look at the case. Do we realize what this means? Our kids are creating custom child porn for each other, and it’s considered to be just “normal” teen behavior.
So buckle up, mom and dad! Get there first! Teach your kids that porn and sexting are gateways to abuse, assault, and exploitation. Teach them to treat others with kindness and respect. The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. You CAN make a difference!
#MeToo RECOVERY: Getting Help
The fact is, our children won’t know what’s “normal” and what’s not until we teach them. It’s our job to instill values and teach safety while our kids are young–before peers and other influences get there first!
Incidentally, because I was sexually abused at such a young age, there were many things in my life that I considered “normal” that actually weren’t. In fact, it has taken many years–into adulthood even–to set these things straight. But awareness wasn’t enough. I had to take the next step and begin RECOVERY.
Once in my early thirties, I came across a list of common symptoms among adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Actually, a friend shared the list with me because he suspected I might have a problem. He was right.
Here is the list. Please read it carefully. It might change someone’s life. It changed mine.
It is important to remember that each individual’s reaction to trauma they’ve experienced is unique. If you are a sexual abuse survivor, you may or may not experience some of the symptoms or events listed below. Seek help from a professional to discuss and work through these symptoms.
- Frequent sleep disturbances (insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, sleeping too much)
- Dissociation or losing time
- Difficulty managing emotions
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, powerlessness, shame, or feeling “dirty”
- Anxiety, panic attacks, and hypervigilance
- Suicidal thoughts and attempts, feeling destructive
- Cutting, self injury, or self mutilation
- Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and/or compulsive overeating)
- Body image issues
- Difficulty with or avoiding relationships, automatic lack of trust of others
- Avoidance of appropriate and consensual sexual intimacy
- Addictions and compulsions (alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, spending, pornography)
- Body memories, somatic symptoms
- Poor boundaries with others (too permissive or too rigid)
- Difficulties nurturing yourself or caring for yourself appropriately
As I scanned the list, I was amazed. I checked off almost every item. All my life, I thought these things were “normal.” I never suspected they were interrelated or that they were indicators of a deep, dark problem like sexual abuse.
At a time like this, when everyone from bloggers to mainstream media are buzzing about #MeToo and sexual assault, we experience a thunderclap of awareness. But as I said before: awareness is great, but action is better. If you or someone you know has a problem, please take this opportunity to follow up. Share this list of warning signs. Listen to their story. But then stop. Make a plan. And please, seek help.
Here are some great resources to assist survivors of sexual abuse and/or sexual assault:
Counseling. Talking helps. I know. I’ve been there. Find a religious leader, a psychologist, or a licensed clinical social worker. It’s good to talk to a friend. Friends can listen and provide support. However, friends and family members might not have the tools required to make lasting changes. Real recovery requires work, and there are plenty of professionals out there trained to help! Many counseling centers offer online/anonymous services these days. Look into it! If you need some guidance, leave me a comment. I would be happy to help point you in the right direction. Also, check out the links below.
Medication. Don’t be afraid to find a good psychiatrist (different from a psychologist, who can talk to you but can’t prescribe meds) or to talk to your primary doctor about behavioral medicine. Medication doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Look at it this way: If you were stuck in the bottom of a deep, muddy pit and kept slipping each time you tried to climb out, it might be helpful to have a foothold. That’s what medication is. It helps give you the balance required to start the real work of recovery. You might be able to move on further down the road and ditch the meds. Or you might not. Either way, who cares? It’s better than sitting at the bottom of a muddy pit!
Support groups. You are not alone. Find a group and meet up with others who are traveling the same path. Many organizations offer a hotline or can provide a sponsor you can call anytime during your recovery. Some of the links below include support groups.
Just Be Inc. – Tyrana Burke’s youth organization “for the health, well-being and wholeness of brown girls everywhere”
WINGS Foundation – Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse
RAINN – Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network
ASCA – Adult Survivors of Child Abuse
Male Survivor – For Survivors of Male Sexual Victimization
SIA – Survivors of Incest Anonymous
Sexual Abuse – Help to Recover
Support for Partners – Resources for partners of adult survivors of sexual abuse
Love is Respect – Educating and empowering youth to prevent and end abusive relationships
National Center on Sexual Exploitation – Resources for Survivors of the Sex Industry
NOVA – National Organization for Victim Assistance
National Sexual Assault Hotline – 800.656.HOPE (4673)
(If you know of additional resources, let me know and I will add them to this list. Thanks!)
Many people worry that reaching out for help shows weakness, but actually the opposite is true. It takes great strength to admit that we have a burden we can’t carry alone. And it takes courage to embark on a path to healing.
So, if you are a #MeToo and you are suffering, please don’t just stop with telling your story. Please seek help.
Potential for Change
At the end of the day, it’s really our choice what we do with the #MeToo Movement.
We might read about it, shed a few tears, and then forget. Or we can allow it to penetrate our hearts and motivate real change.
If we choose to take this moment in time to seriously reflect on the meaning of sexual assault and its connections throughout society, talk to our children, and get help for those who need it, we have the potential to make lasting changes that will affect generations to come.
Melody Bergman is a mother and step-mom of three awesome boys and founder of MamaCrossroads.com – Positive Parenting in a Digitally Saturated World. Melody has a bachelor’s degree in communications and has been writing and editing since 2002. She is also head of the Digital Safety Committee for her local PTA and a leader on the Prevention Task Force for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
Alyssa Milano concedes the ‘Me Too’ campaign was originally created by a black woman. (2017, October 22). Retrieved from http://thegrio.com/2017/10/22/alyssa-milano-concedes-the-me-too-campaign-was-originally-created-by-a-black-woman/
Dupre, E. (2017, October 19). Alyssa Milano Advocates for #MeToo to “Go Beyond Just a Hashtag Movement.” Retrieved from http://www.eonline.com/news/888044/alyssa-milano-talks-metoo-on-gma-it-has-to-go-beyond-just-a-hashtag-movement
Wellington, E. (2017, October 23). Me Too movement can’t end with a hashtag, its founder says. Retrieved from http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/elizabeth_wellington/philly-me-too-movement-founder-tarana-burke-20171023.html
#MeToo–10 Ways Predators Are Grooming Kids – Protect Young Minds
#MeToo Movement an Opportunity to Teach Our Kids – Educate & Empower Kids
Every Female In America Is A #MeToo Including Your Mom, Wife, Sister And Daughter – Something to Stu Over
Yes, Me Too – Lessons From the End of a Marriage