18 Oct 2017

#MeToo: Because this is the world we live in

10:40 am on 18 October 2017

#MeToo. #MeToo. #MeToo.

My mother, my sister, my best friend. School friends, female colleagues, acquaintances. Pretty much every woman I know.

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Photo: 123RF

In response to the sexual assault and rape allegations made by an ever-growing number of women against film producer Harvey Weinstein, the words "Me Too" are trending on social media around the world.

On Twitter, US actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to write these words if they had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted, to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

Me? I've been grabbed, groped, fondled, followed and catcalled more times than I can count. By employers, landlords, men old enough to be my grandfather, "friends", and complete strangers.

I was 12 when a boy at my school - only a little older than me - called out, as I biked past: "Imagine your bicycle seat is my face!" I hopped off my bike and walked the whole way home, feeling sick and confused.

This situation played out countless times; different settings, different boys, different words.

After the first few times, I stopped being shocked. I grew up figuring this was just what it was to be a girl in the world.

In my early 20s I started fighting back. I've punched men in the face who have grabbed me roughly, violently, in public - and twice I've had to run from them. After the last time, where I was chased across a bridge and had to leap into a taxi to get away, I stopped hitting them, scared about what might happen the next time if I was caught.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I've never experienced extreme sexual violence. I've never spoken about my experiences before because I guess I felt they weren't bad enough since I managed to escape with my clothing intact. And doesn't this just happen to girls and women all the time, anyway?

Because this is the world we live in.

An American president boasting about grabbing women by the p****. "The Greatest Television Dad" Dr Huxtable accused by more than 60 women of sexual assault and rape spanning decades. Stanford rapist Brock Turner receiving a six-month jail sentence (later reduced to three) because a longer sentence would have had a "severe impact" on his life. Closer to home, actor Rene Naufahu indecently assaulting women during acting classes he was teaching.

And on, and on, and on.

Women continue to be demeaned, objectified, intimidated and assaulted by men who feel entitled to do just that. It is systemic, ingrained, insidious and unbearably, heart-achingly, common.

Like many social media campaigns before it, #MeToo is not without its critics.

Some are worried that it will minimise those who have suffered severe sexual assault (as opposed to more minor forms of sexual harassment); others have said that women shouldn't have to be cataloguing their assaults in order to raise awareness (a potentially painful and triggering experience, and for some, legally problematic) - that the onus should be on men to start the conversation and to stop the predatory behaviour.

One friend suggested that the perpetrators of sexual assault should be the ones writing #Idid as their status updates.

#MeToo isn't a call to action, nor is it launching a campaign of speeches, protests and marches (at least not yet). It's simply giving a platform to those who have long kept quiet about their experiences, to encourage women, and men, to speak up and to show just how prevalent sexual harassment and assault is.

There is much work to be done. But there is hope, at least out there in the social media universe.

On one Facebook page a challenge was issued to men: List one tangible action you will take to end rape culture. The responses are heartwarming.

It's a start.

* Felicity Monk is a freelance print and digital journalist with a particular interest in social issues, sub-cultures, trends, arts and culture. Also, a heroic wrangler of two small humans.

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