You Owe Them Nothing
Scrolling down, I saw post after post scattered through my timeline: #MeToo. Some of the estimated 20 million women who have experienced sexual assault and the countless other who have experienced sexual harassment, were coming forward. Through a simple hashtag, numerous individuals were stepping forward and identifying themselves as survivors. Started by Tarana Burke and popularized by Alyssa Milano, the campaign was meant to bring light to the magnitude of sexual violence.
Yet this same visibility is also one of the critiques of the viral awareness campaign. The foundation of #MeToo assumes that people are not aware of an issue until they personally know someone who has been affected. While reinforcing the toxic mentality of “It doesn't matter until it affects me,” it puts focus in the wrong place. The hashtag asks for survivors of trauma to reveal and share their stories; it places a spotlight on these experiences and the burden of proof on the survivors. #MeToo, while honorable in its intentions, is flawed in its means of execution.
The pressure to come forward with the #MeToo campaign is enormous. It can be painful seeing others post their own stories. Not only does it surface difficult experiences, but seeing posters applauded for their courage can often internally shame those who choose not to reveal themselves. As the copy/paste has been going around, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of magnitude about the problem.” But not all women can come forward. Maybe the trauma is too fresh, it’s too close to home, it’s still too painful. There is no wrong reason. Your story is your own and your healing process is individual.
It should not be the duty of survivors to fix an epidemic. Names exist, stories have been documented, statistics have been assessed; we know the magnitude of the problem. It is unfair of us to thrust this responsibility onto survivors. There is a way to stand with those who come forward without guilting those who do not and this is not it. Simple awareness will not fix anything and to ask people to relive their trauma to try and reveal its scope is a cruel pipe dream.
Many have chosen to participate in #MeToo and this is not a critique about them. This is a reminder that solace in solidarity is admirable, but not feasible for many. Strength and bravery does not come only from sharing your story. It can also come from just making it through the day.
For all of those who posted: I see you, I hear you, I love you.
For all of those who didn’t: You don’t owe the world your story. You are strong and you are loved regardless.
For those who are asking what can be done: Ask how you will change. Start calling out predatory behavior. Start believing and sympathizing with stories. Start looking at your own actions.