For nearly two weeks, I have watched as outrage over Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct has been broadcast all over social media. The exposé published by the New York Times created a domino effect, leading one A-list celebrity after another to speak out about their experience having been assaulted or harassed by Weinstein. The brave testimony of one woman led to the empowerment of many—including myself.
Just when it seemed Weinstein and his sexual misdeeds were quieting down as the news cycle sped forward, actress Alyssa Milano started a revolution by tweeting, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘#MeToo’ as a reply to this tweet.” Since then, the tweet has received 47,000 responses, and countless others have tweeted or posted about it on their own. Some have allowed the words to stand alone, others have posted personalized stories along with it. Regardless of how it was shared, the movement has given women, like me, a platform to finally speak out and has alerted people to the commonality of sexual assault. It is forcing those who have been complacent to acknowledge that this issue is more widespread than they thought.
I normally don’t participate in social media activism. It often feels shallow and pales in comparison to getting offline and supporting a cause. But this one struck me as different. Women appeared in my timeline, young and old, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, from different religions, and of various races, all sharing their stories. Some stated they had been sexually harassed while wearing a hijab or while holding a child, others while they were in a professional work environment.
At first, I hesitated to participate. Like most women, I have my own complicated and painful history with harassment and assault, and so far I have only been able to share my story anonymously. However, when I did choose to post those two simple words, it felt as if a weight were released from my chest. I was finally able to say what I had been too afraid to share. The solidarity created by this movement made it less intimidating. It made me feel less alone and more willing to be open about my own experiences.
When I anonymously wrote for Verily about what it was like to report my own sexual assault, I wasn’t prepared to come out and admit that I had lived through this experience. The individual who assaulted me wasn’t a person in a powerful position like Weinstein, but his actions left me feeling small and worthless. My traumatizing experience made me realize that I had experienced years of harassment, emotional abuse, and belittlement from men—some of whom I knew or dated and some of whom were complete strangers—but I had remained complacent. I felt that my experiences were too common to complain about or that the shame should be all mine. The #MeToo movement made me feel less afraid; I suddenly felt emboldened, a little angry, and surrounded by a band of women who get the frustration and fear. For me, this was more than just a few simple words, it was like a call for action I’d been holding in for years.
It seems crazy that in 2017 we still have to convince people of the seriousness and ubiquity of sexual assault and harassment. The #MeToo movement is a reminder of how pervasive this issue is; it isn’t just a cause for those with a daughter, a wife, or a girlfriend. It isn’t just for women who have been assaulted, it’s for the men who have been complacent. It doesn’t allow people who stood by and let abuses happen off the hook—it’s a call that demands a response. It is a cause for everyone because sexual assault can affect anyone. So let’s not let the hashtag just be “trending,” let’s keep openly talking and making people listen.