Oppressed Women Around the Globe use #MeToo Movement as Source of Empowerment
By: Jenny Braverman
In October 2017, a five-letter hashtag sparked a revolution around the world. Actress Alyssa Milano coined the phrase “MeToo” by tweeting it after the sexual assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein emerged. Borrowing the meaning and phrasing from activist Tarana Burke, Milano aimed to empower women and others to speak up, band together, and eliminate victims feeling the need to be silent after being assaulted. While explaining her intention in creating this phrase she says, "It wasn't built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow…It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible." This powerful message inspired women who have felt alienated from society and unable to speak their truth about personal abuse. Within seconds of Milano tweeting, thousands of survivors began posting and today over 4.5 million people in 85 countries have posted #MeToo. The hashtag created an open, accepting space for people to finally express themselves.
Sexual assault affects people all over the globe, no matter their nationality, religion, sexual orientation or gender. About one in three women worldwide will be affected by sexual assault at one point throughout their lives. Violence from a woman’s domestic partner causes almost 50 percent of murders across the globe. In the United States, men are held accountable for sexual assault by law. The Violence Against Women Act makes sure of this by providing counseling to women affected by domestic violence and educating professionals on how to best help a victim after sexual assault. However, in other countries, authorities and assaulters create an environment of fear that makes women reluctant to be open with interpersonal violence to the point that women have little to no rights. These countries have lower levels of education, different social norms for gender roles, disparities in wages between men and women, and higher rates of violence, the possibility of a woman being sexually assaulted is even higher. The fact that Milano and other activists used social media to create an avenue for discussing these problems, allowed people all around the world to be included in the movement. Not only did it cultivate an online community, but it directly contributed to change in attitudes and consequences around the globe.
In Britain, responses to the movement were similar to those in the United States. Women felt comfortable enough to tell authorities about their abusers because they had less fear of being ignored or accused of lying. In most cases there were just ramifications. After being accused of touching women inappropriately, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon resigned. He even stated that his behavior towards women had "fallen short,” proving that the #MeToo movement encourages certain people to finally admit that sexual assault is in fact a significant issue. International Trade Minister Mark Garnier was forced into an investigation after reportedly using profane language when speaking to his assistant and asking her to purchase him sex toys.
After seeing the global phenomena reach dozens of countries, Iranian women joined the movement, defying the extremely fixed social norms dictating that women remain submissive and restrained. The culture in Iran contrasts greatly with many other countries. Women are required by law to cover their hair by wearing hijabs (veils), are prohibited from watching men’s sports in stadiums and are not allowed to leave the country without their husband’s permission. In a country where women are extremely oppressed, it is surprising and inspiring that the #MeToo revolution has empowered Iranian women to speak out. Women tweeted about how they have been groped in public places such as the bus and metro. Actresses have opened up about how film producers try to force themselves into their houses during the middle of the night. While they are largely silenced in the news and although officials attempt to deny the issue, many turn to their own voices--and computers--to create genuine change.
In Africa, officials have predicted that 80 percent of women believe that sexual assault is acceptable. In some countries, people are taught that they must be submissive and accept sexual violence. The #MeToo movement started to break down those standards and allow women to question assaulter’s actions. It allowed them to see that women all over the world are saying that enough is enough; harassment will not be tolerated. Seeing powerful female figures come out and openly discuss their personal experiences has encouraged other people who have been silenced their entire lives to finally take action. In January in Kenya, hundreds of people gathered to protest after people accused staff of assaulting new mothers at one of the most prominent hospitals in the country. The hospital denied these allegations. One protester named Okerosi stated, “Rape is stigma in itself, even in our homes and even in our estates. When someone is raped, it is so hard for even somebody to go out because at the end of the day when you go out to report, it’s like you are being raped again because you are reliving the experience.”
The French use the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (meaning “snitch out your pig”), Italians tweet #QuellaVoltaChe (meaning “that time when”), and individuals in Latin America chant #YoTambién. Across the globe, people have used similar phrases with strongly correlated meanings in hundreds of different languages as a call to action. They have used a saying that transcends borders and through social media, a saying that unites the afflicted and despairing. Ultimately, “Me Too” has allowed people to know that they are among many others going through a similar experience. Although using this expression has not solved the problem of women being sexually assaulted or the fact that in some cases they are too afraid to speak up about it, it has fostered unity and support around the world.