Triggered by one of the biggest stories of 2017, the #MeToo hashtag, tied in with the story of Harvey Weinstein’s negative behaviour within Hollywood circles, I had a chat with David Peek from the UCB News Team, shortly after Time Magazine picked ‘the silence breakers’ of the #MeToo hashtag as ‘Person of the Year’.
So, here’s some of my notes in preparation, drawing on ideas from friends on Facebook, and some online research!
The movement began on social media after a call to action by the actor Alyssa Milano, one of Weinstein’s most vocal critics, who wrote:
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.
*Note that this ranged from cat-calling to rape – all demonstrating the bigger cultural problem.
Highlighted an imbalance of power – with celebrities joining the movement, other women (and some men) felt empowered to speak out (whereas maybe fear of retaining job, etc. kept them silent before).
Nearly 68,000 people have so far replied to Milano’s tweet, and the #MeToo hashtag has been used more than 1m times in the US, Europe, the Middle East and beyond. The French used #balancetonporc, the Spanish #YoTambien, and in Arab countries the hashtags ????_????# and ?????_????# were predominant.
FB: over 12m posts, comments, and reactions, nearly 5 million people.
That’s what #MeToo represents, it’s happened to pretty much every woman you know. I think it’s really important that we don’t allow this to become a story about this one bad guy who did these terrible things because he’s a monster, and to make it clear that actually, it’s not just monsters … it happens in every country every day to all women, and it’s done by friends, colleagues, ‘good guys’ who care about the environment and children and even feminism, supposedly.
Most of these stories, inc #YesAllWomen, #BringBackOurGirls, etc. – have a story that begins before it reaches social media, but social media has a connecting and empowering aspect to it. Things that had accepted as normal, realised were not OK…. [despite the typical kick-backs from others online … whether trolls of those who just don’t understand.] Over 10 years before Tarana Burke, began the hashtag, though Actress Alyssa Milano kickstarted this particular event.
See e.g. Emlyn Pearce’s Facebook insights into people confusing him for a woman, and what that says about our expectations…
Cultural change is typically slow, because we have normalised a lot of behaviours, and it looks ‘ridiculous’ to speak out against them – The movement has also inspired a series of offshoot hashtags used by men, including #IDidThat and #HowIWillChange, in which men have admitted inappropriate behaviour. Have to look at how we respond to people admitting things too – if we jump on them – just going to retreat … so online interaction = trigger fingers = needs thought.
It’s not all public status updates: private messaging and offline action
Note that a lot of these actions have ‘behind the scenes aspects’ too – it’s not all happening on public social media. Once it reaches public, it’s probably happened behind the scenes for months already – e.g. spreadsheets passed around secretly re: reputations of men in a particular industry (e.g. Hollywood).
Within the corporate sector (so not specifically gendered) there is a “hugely supportive and influential workplace WhatsApp group which has empowered some people in taking on managers who have been dealing unfairly.” Important of understanding that this is going on out of the public eye, but that knowing you are not alone is really important [Partly why I think more churches should talk about this kind of thing in sermons, etc.]. “Yes. Employees who were being picked off one by one were able to find each other with a nod and a wink, and share information. There are now about 200 members and it hasn’t leaked. The management know it exists, but they don’t have access to it. It needed a trusted individual as admin, but the rest is easy. V powerful.”
All very well being aware of this kind of stuff – but need to know = going to be action, and that the rise fast/fall fast nature of social media doesn’t mean we get ‘clicktivism’ or ‘slacktivism’ = we join in, and then nothing happens. Have seen that some men have been sacked off the back of the campaign (wonder if any women have suffered for speaking up) – but see CNN on the possible legacy: “But experts say it’s going to take a coordinated effort between antiviolence organizations, the media and Hollywood as well as concrete actions from each and every one of us, especially men.” Calls for men to take responsibility (though know are those that complain that then speaking for women, but I personally happy to have someone else take the effort). Charity going for #IWillSpeakUp and #SupportSurvivors as hashtags, again drawing on celebrities, etc. Know that it’s unusual for something to happen without something behind it – e.g. friend Rachel Collinson was behind one of the early trending campaigns to get Aung Sung Sui Chi released – involved weeks of work to get the hashtag trending on the day + work with other organisations to make sure it meant something more than a ‘trend’ without action. As with WW2 posters (my original PhD topic) – don’t work alone – needs other layers of action.
“Keyboard apathy is such a problem in fundraising that in 2013, UNICEF Sweden tackled it with a hard-hitting poster and video campaign: “Like us on Facebook and we will vaccinate zero children against polio. We have nothing against likes, but vaccines cost money.”” sociologist Jen Schradie, who studies digital activism for the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France.”Based on my research, the movements that are most successful are those who have an organizational infrastructure in place: a network, a coalition, a united front of a group of celebrities or established organizations,” she said. Keeps the story in the public eye, needs proactive organisations, including churches. See example of e.g. Deliveroo workers last year who forced change at a head office level (likely been using WhatsApp, etc. need to know is enough people to feel safe taking action … know it’s not risk-free, but want to FEEL safer)
Support for people in a similar condition
I guess I’m then also thinking about e.g. breast cancer groups, where the agreement is ‘what’s said here stays here aside from generic advice that can share more widely’, etc. feels empowering inc in asking medical professionals for certain things.
Note that the #metoo campaign spread to #churchtoo (similar to schools not wanting to admit bullying – problems can’t be dealt with unless the problem is acknowledged). Need to believe stories, take action (not just praise bravery of men who admit it), purity culture means not enough knowledge about what happening.
Another church campaign this year was #thingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, kicked off by Sarah Bessey, where the Bible is used to justify terrible things, but then #ThingsChristianWomenShouldHear was started encouraging women to speak up, not be submissive, etc.
“It’s knowing you are not alone and that your voice can join the masses. It feels safe and less vulnerable a position. Also through 38 degrees, Parliament petitions and Change.org I think there is a growing culture of ‘we have a voice, we will use it’.
Subversive Hashtags & Subversive Action
So it is possible to subversify hashtags – for good or evil – e.g. when Sadiq Khan became Mayor were anti-Muslim sentiment hijacked by others – #LondonHasFallen – 2016 was also the year of #catsagainstbrexit – cats, the internet, humour – all a way of making a point without being too in your face … has pros/cons… This year, when we’ve been asked so many times to #KeepCalmandCarryOn – in the face of terrorist attacks – #BritishThreatLevels shows ‘the British spirit’
At the beginning of this year we also had the Women’s marches – with huge numbers of women feeling they could ride upon the power of the hashtag to attend a physical event – one of many hashtags… similarly anti-Trump rallies (seem to have postponed Trumps visit), and when the EDL says it’s going to visit somewhere, social media rallies to get people marching against them – a lot of this is about how the news story is presented – e.g. the 2011 riots lots was made of the fact that Blackberries allowed people to organise to riot, ignoring the fact that the hashtags were trending later, and then demonstrated that people were using hashtags to organise a clearup, etc. Need to look at the data!
Another church based initiative = Project 3:28 – taking note of male/female speakers at Christian conferences and publicising them over past few years, but also looking at positive ways to make this different – e.g. this year a database for Christian women speakers is being developed so organisers who say “we don’t know any” can feel more confident in who they can invite …
Thanks to those on Facebook who helped with my thinking, and there’s a really interesting paper produced by University of Birmingham on the topic.