On October 15, 2017 the hashtag #MeToo broke out on twitter and was retweeted nearly a million times in the span of 48 hours. Incited by actress Alyssa Milano tweeting “if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” the MeToo movement is an anti-sexual assault campaign started in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke. The hashtag, and original movement, seeks to give women who have been affected by sexual violence a platform to discuss their experiences, and provides a medium through which women can stand in solidarity with other survivors.
When I, an admittedly conservative white man who is skeptical of modern feminism, first saw this tweet I became instantly suspicious. To me it seemed farfetched that in modern times, in a country with stringent rape laws and in a society where women have equal rights, that the inordinate number of women who tweeted could actually all be victims. Quickly, however, I realized that my gut reaction was not based on reality, but rather a method for my mind to cope with what I was witnessing. Even if half of the women were lying, which is highly doubtful, there would still be hundreds of thousands who were not.
I personally feel that, both in law and in society, we do not live in a rape culture. Our laws do not allow rape and when rapists are convicted they are generally punished harshly and admonished publicly. Moreover, I strongly respect due process; nobody should be considered a rapist until a jury of their peers has convicted them. Withholding judgement of both alleged victims and assailants is crucial in maintaining civility. Unfortunately, many victims do not feel as though they can even come forward. Although I personally have no stigma towards survivors, modern society does. For fear of pity or blame, women remain silent for decades, and this is evident in modern media.
When the news is nothing more than a stream of sexual assault allegations of prominent figures such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey it becomes clear that the MeToo movement is necessary. Although all people are, and should be, considered innocent until proven guilty, the platform can help to protect all current and future victims of assault. It does not matter how long ago the crime happened or how powerful the assailant, justice needs to be distributed and this movement helps to make that happen.
While the purpose of the movement is pure, its adverse effects can be harmful and a balance must be struck. Men can be severely harmed by this movement if women file illegitimate claims. While the movement is important to give women the confidence to come forward, showing restraint with public allegations is a better alternative. While most men are not offenders, and this problem is not unique to women, as a nation we must allow those who are victims to speak while still protecting the innocent.
Time magazine, which annually picks an influential individual, movement or object for their Person of the Year award, chose “The Silence Breakers” as the 2017 recipient. These are the women who came forward to fight against sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Time does not give this award lightly, and does not necessarily pick popular, positive or moral people as winners, with past recipients including Hitler and Stalin. Time, historically, chooses those who are truly transformative such as Gorbachev and Zuckerberg. The Silence Breakers represent a new era in American culture where men and women who have been the victims of these crimes can come forward.
When men in positions of power such as Larry Nassar, Al Franken and Roy Moore are committing these crimes, and judges such Aaron Persky let perpetrators such as Brock Turner off with three months of jail, it is important for everybody to take action. Disavowing non-disclosure agreements, creating harsher punishments, and streamlining courts are all actions should consider to help victims. It is imperative that we support movements like MeToo so that all members of our society feel comfortable reporting crimes against them. The movement is a positive step toward a better American culture, but it is by no means the end goal.