Living in an Age of #MeToo

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
Posted May 8, 2018 from Trinidad and Tobago

With the rapid expansion of the previously existing #MeToo movement, there seems to be the semblance of a heightened state of unification among women which crosses national borders as the majority of women across the world identify with one or more aspects of this movement.

Family members, friends, work colleagues even strangers focused their gaze on social media platforms with great anticipation as they waited for the next woman to shout #MeToo. Women removed their mask and became vulnerable to reclaim their voice, agency and control as they made the conscious decision to publicly share their narratives, speak truth to power even when their voices cracked and their fingers trembled at the keyboards. 

For many claiming a space to shout #MeToo, to be heard, believed, and acknowledged and to release the pain felt like the only justice they needed at that moment in time. As this movement continues to evolve it brings with it many challenges, supporters and antagonists alike. Supporters applaud the bravery of women who keep the hashtag trending and lobby for policy and legislative changes while many antagonists fear the change and fight to maintain the status quo. It may be that those who fight to maintain the status quo feel like they are losing relevance.

There are no limits to the extent to which an individual may go. To remain relevant, maintain power & hold to the belief that they are entitled too because of their privilege. Politicians, Perpetrators, Elected & appointed Public Officials, the Business Owner, Employee, even the person next door all want to be and remain relevant. The question is at what cost? Does the end justify the means? Will the process of remaining or becoming relevant condemn, injure, or discredit the person you categorise as ‘the other’ or would it encourage peaceful coexistence and respect.

The fear of backlash looms over the movement. And some women silently communicate their fears while some developed strategies and tactics to counter the backlash from antagonistic groups and from some women who challenge the movement, and many often wonder what form the perceived or real threat of a backlash would take. 

Would the backlash be the new creation or re-surfacing of dormant ideologies about male privilege and supremacy? Would it be a plan to subtly infiltrate the thoughts of women to subconsciously become antagonist and combative against the movement? Would it be the creation of token spaces and appointment of women to leadership positions? Or would it be men using their hidden powers, privilege and influence to maintain certain systems which enable gender-based violence, discrimination and violence against women and girls? Or it may be the controlling of women’s access to public and private resources and opportunities.

Yet even in the face of such threats, women across the world continue to #PushForProgress. As if feeding on an unseen umbilical cord which gives sustenance and renewed vigour, women are charging ahead feeling empowered with new visions of hope for their own lives and the women around them.

Some individuals are of the view that the #MeToo movement is enabling the polarization of women. Widening the social class divide between women of power, privilege and economic means and women who are marginalized, socially excluded, and disempowered. These individuals are also of the opinion that the movement does not fully nor effectively capture the multidimensionality of the lived realities and intersections of women on the bottom end of the social strata. 

Many are asking, what then? When the emotions die down and the dynamism of the movement begins to fade, what then? And many speak of previous movements which started with a bang and eventually faded without leaving any tangible sustainable outcomes. Save for the opening of wounds for the world to see and victims fall deeper into depression after the euphoria dies down life for all moves on. Sadly some move on worst than how they began.

Some are of the opinion that this movement is all bark and no bite pulling down a few men in its path. While others believe that authentic and lasting change for gender equity and equality can only occur and be maintained when change happens across individual and systemic/institutional levels, and formal and informal domains. Some people ask about the tangible outcomes and impacts of the movement while others ask, where are the men and boys?

Despite the questions, queries and concerns the movement is moving warp speed ahead and it continues to bring women together via social media platforms, through the organization of private and public meetings and establishing such things as resources for women to receive some type of support and a month does not go by without a public male figure facing the wrath of #MeToo and #TimesUp

The social movement evokes feelings of comradery among many women. Overlooked barriers of race, language, nationality, immigration status, sexual orientation, religion, and class to allow women to take action, express empathy and support their sisters and the #MeToo movement enabled the embodiment of another’s pain.

The biases held by some women and were sometimes expressed to each other went on the back burner as walls which were erected due to social stratification were broken down. The appearance of strength and cohesion seems to be present as women come together for a purpose greater than their own individual differences. In the face of painful struggle, threat to human dignity and violation of human rights, the undermining of social and gender justice and the existence of prevailing economic, social and political inequality often give rise to the creation of unlikely allies and memorable social movements such as the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.A, the pro-democracy movement which lead to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China, and the Black Power movement in Trinidad and Tobago.

In the age of the #MeToo movement, many women feel confident enough to seek private, public and legal redress for the trauma and pain which they experienced due to gross acts of sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination. Some have filed civil and or criminal complaints turning to the individual courts in their countries for justice with the hope that Lady Justice does not become blind and victims are vindicated and gain some sense of closure.

Some women with the support of legal counsels have chosen to call for and accept financial compensation, Should they be faulted for this? Way too often women’s experiences and actions receive harsh judgements in the public courts of society’s own conscience. While financial compensation cannot equal nor negate the damage caused as a result of the heinous acts of sexual assault and harassment it allows for some type of closure on the part of the victim. And gives the appearance of ownership of the act which was perpetrated by the perpetrator.

Others found solace in naming it, shaming it, and publicly calling out the perpetrator(s) and the systems and institutions which enabled them. They spoke truth to the power holder in their life during the periods of their abuse. However, some women silently break their silence with family members, loved ones, friends and colleagues because the burden of bearing such a secret debilitates the mind, body and soul over time and may contribute to the masking of attitudes and behaviours which many may class as negative or self-destructive. Sadly, a large majority of women still remain silent, for some the thought of publicly shaming the victim keeps them silent, for some its the lack of resources, for others the re-victimizing and re-traumatizing processes of civil and criminal justice systems across the world does not help to encourage them to come forward and publicly shout #MeToo

Some women see the #MeToo movement as encouraging consciousness-raising among women at all levels in society, as it expands their knowledge about who they are, their purpose, the value of their voices, presence, abilities and creative and innovative capabilities. More than ever before women are investigating their choices and the systems and beliefs which constrain their choices and control their access to resources and opportunities. They are intensely questioning their social, economic, health, and political agency, and women are critically analysing the contexts which shape their lives and the realities in which they live. 

As this consciousness-raising process is taking place, many persons question if the present #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are inclusive as it is being perceived as a 'popularity' movement for women who are on the higher end of the social stratification spectrum who have been victims of gender-based violence, sexual harassment and or sexual assault. Unfortunately, mainstream and social media companies often validate this perception as they concentrate on what and who is popular and trending as they are profit oriented and driven.

It’s funny how some of the common threads which link many women are often overlooked in favour of the voice, face, finger, and experience which seems more ‘popular’, more newsworthy, and more sellable by daily newspapers and television managers; and the ‘popular’ faces and voices become the trending posters and ambassadors for public, private and non-profit organizations alike as each organization seeks mileage and a moment of fame and publicity, riding the backs of the issues which they speak out against. In such times media takes a bias point of view which ultimately excludes the voices of those who are looked upon as ‘the other’, but then again, isn’t society built up and functions on deep-rooted ladders of oppression?

Women who experience any form of abuse and sexual violation should be acknowledged, believed and supported, and the media can play a pivotal role in objectively reporting on the issue. While the media continues to focus on women belonging to the higher end of the social strata and often presents them as the voices for the majority of women not only in the United States of America but around the world.

Sadly a large percentage of women are being left behind, made invisible and feel intimidated or compare their own experiences and realities with those who receive immense publicity and some women have resorted to feeling that their narratives and abuse are not important enough. Their cases non-deserving of justice, and many have sunken deeper in despair as they see no way of advancing due to the intersections of their experiences and life. Some wonder if it's because they are at the bottom of the social strata and society, declares that such persons are the Invisibles. Then again what is not seen cannot be acknowledged so invisibility works for society at the expense of human faces, touch and experiences.

The perceived or real polarization of women enables generalizations which are built up into stereotypes unfortunately for women on both sides of the divide. However, women who are underserved, marginalized and poor experience greater hardships and adversity as they try to shout #MeToo and make sense of their experiences and move forward with their life even in the face of severe socioeconomic challenges. As this movement moves forward the women at the top ought to take time to consider those who are being left behind, those who are labelled as ‘just another or the other’, those whose name is just a number and labelled by public and private institutions as a statistic in their reports, and those who remain invisible due to systemic/institutional structures, cultural norms and practices. 

Women and girls ought to be encouraged to create and own authentic, inclusive, and collaborative spaces. Where they can speak their truth, debunk the single stories around their lived experiences and activate an action-oriented rippling effect for constructive social change across the board.

As the world and its residents move towards the 21st century Public Private Social Partnerships should be developed to drive substantive social, economic and political change. And create re-education and awareness programs to encourage individuals to inspect their attitudes, values and practices as these often lead to the creation of sociocultural norms, beliefs and practices and norms inadvertently become drivers for the creation of formal laws and policies with the support of hidden and visible power holders.

The program activities and advocacy processes of social movements ought to address individual and systemic levels and formal and informal domains of change in society. Why are the voices of some women heard and other voices are left out? Why are some women invited to sit and participate at the decision-making tables and others are not? What are the hidden and visible powers at work and who are the drivers of these powers? Who makes the decision to invite women to the decision-making tables and who decides which voices should be heard? Women, who are on the lower end of the social strata are they invited to the decision-making tables if not why and are they receiving substantive opportunities for self-development and advancement? Such questions should be explored in the pursuit of women’s advancement.

Who holds women accountable for their destructive actions against others? Or should women remain, mum, because the offender or perpetrator is a woman? To choose silence means that we are not averse to such behaviours when it’s perpetrated by women and this message in itself paints a damaging picture. As women clamour for men to be removed from their positions of power and authority because of their practices of discrimination, sexual and physical violence against women. Women must also hold women accountable and call them out for hindering the movement and advocacy processes due to their own overt or covert violent acts and the perpetration of emotional, sexual and physical violence and abuse against women and men inclusive of making false accusations of being sexually violated or abused.

Men and boys should be encouraged to become active consistent allies, investing resources towards the creation of new masculinities for themselves and their sons and the men in their lives. They ought to develop innovative ways to challenge the ideologies of entitlement to women’s bodies, the patriarchal systems which enable gender inequality, and men and boys should create new sociocultural norms, beliefs and practices. Women and men need to work together for gender equity and equality and for the elimination of gender-based violence as these social issues are not women only issues they are human issues, have human faces and affect human beings.

As women continue to expose sexual perpetrators. The doors for repeating the behaviour remains open. Rehabilitative and restorative programs and activities to work with perpetrators to acknowledge the destructive elements of their behaviours, to own it and change it should be supported. Society ought to create strong responsive State, private and non-profit mechanisms to close the gaps which encourage recidivism using multidisciplinary and interdependent approaches. As the passing of time may be one of our worst enemies, time gives way for memory to fade and history takes on a life of its own, people forget and unfortunately many times people begin to accept the only version available. Sadly, it may be the version of a sexual perpetrator.

In an age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, when millions of women add their voices to publicly naming and shaming acts of violence against women we ought to remember that victims are human from all walks of life. In a time when women add their voices to the conversation for social and gender justice and in a time when the global community began honouring women’s voices and their rights. We should remember that gender equality and equity, social and gender justice and the elimination of gender-based violence is not a woman only issue. It is predominantly a Human Rights issue, it is, in essence, a global issue and demands global attention.

Policy and lawmakers ought to put a human face to all institutional and systemic structures and work towards cultural, social, economic, and political change at the individual and systemic levels and across the informal and formal domains. It is the right of every human being to pursue healing, speak their narrative without fear or condemnation. It is the right of every human being to become whom they envision themselves to be, having equal access to private and public resources and opportunities to advance, be present, accepted, respected and acknowledged. 

Society should begin pushing beyond empowerment, sex and gender paradigms and acknowledge all citizens of the global community as Humans who have a right to be here, as humans with innate individual rights, and as humans who require adequate, non-judgemental, and unbiased support at certain moments in time. Maybe if we do this we would be able to build a better world where peaceful coexistence is possible and where none is left behind, because another world, attitude, behaviour and context is possible. All that is needed is human beings who desire constructive change and are present in the building of another world. Until then, let us continue to add our voices and support to social movements for change. Let us help those whom society believes are ‘Born to Fail’. Let us help those who are unable to help themselves even when help may be present. Let us give hands up and overturn hands out. 

Until then, let us all hope that movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp are sustained and maintained even when the emotional euphoria calms down, even in the face of information fatigue, frustration with bureaucratic systems and processes and even when expectations fail.   For there will always be voices that whisper #MeToo until then.

Written by Sherna Alexander Benjamin

 

Comments 7

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jlanghus
May 08, 2018
May 08, 2018

Hi Sherna. Thanks for sharing your well written and thought out account of the #MeToo and related movements. I totally agree that this is a human rights issue and more, global awareness and attention is definitely needed. I feel like we are going in the right direction, don't you?

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
Jun 04, 2018
Jun 04, 2018

Hello Jill,

Yes, we are moving forward with some bumps and hurdles but we continue because it must be done. Now more than ever should our voices unite and collaborative efforts should be made towards change. I appreciate and admire your gently pushing. Continue the work which you are doing my sister

Sherna

jlanghus
May 24, 2018
May 24, 2018

Hi Sherna:-) I agree. Ha. Good way to put it:)

Thank you!!! You, too. Namaste.

Lisha M
May 09, 2018
May 09, 2018

Dear Sherna,

Wow! Wonderfully written piece. So proud of your efforts.

Keep up the fantastic work.

Regards,
Tilz

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
Jun 04, 2018
Jun 04, 2018

Thank you Lisha!
Truly your words mean a lot and thank you for the energy and love. Let us use our voices to continue supporting each other and women across the globe.

Sherna

ARREY - ECHI
Jan 31
Jan 31

Dear Sherna,
Thank you for your post.
I got this as I read and I couldn't agree more...'Supporters applaud the bravery of women who keep the hashtag trending and lobby for policy and legislative changes while many antagonists fear the change and fight to maintain the status quo. It may be that those who fight to maintain the status quo feel like they are losing relevance.'
Those who have a status quo to protect are always the ones to put up a wall against any positive movement for change.

Elizabeth Brewah
Feb 14
Feb 14

This is amazing. Do you have or work with an organization?