Those two words have been sweeping across social media in the wake of the revelations of repeated sexually inappropriate conduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Accusations of unwarranted and undesired sexual touching and even rape have left his career in tatters and the question of just how pervasive these actions have been in everyday, normal life now open for discussion.
Over the past several days I have seen a number of women I know post “Me Too” on social media. While they have been of all different ages, walks of life, careers, and personal preferences, they all had that unfortunate same experience. It’s been heartbreaking to see women come forward with their stories because they are all vibrant, intelligent, and amazing women who deserve so much more than what those stories have revealed about their pasts.
In some ways, it felt like it was just a matter of time before this came to the forefront because of the election of Donald Trump, who has been caught many times on tape making lewd comments about women. From the infamous comments that if you’re famous women let you “grab ‘em by the pussy”, to his saying that it’s okay to refer to his daughter Ivanka as “a piece of ass”, his misogyny is well-documented.
With the most powerful man in the world having a documented history of making unashamed comments about women, we as a society have been forced to confront a long-standing elephant in the room: is this behavior acceptable?
I work primarily in the film industry. To say the world of filmmaking is rife with misogyny is an understatement. To prove this, all I need to do is type two words and let your imagination fill in the blanks: “casting couch”.
The levels the film industry takes it to are almost surreal at times, such as male co-stars being lauded for taking pay cuts so the lead actress will have equal pay to theirs. With the amount of money spent on films, and the amount they earn back through theatrical runs, home video sales, TV rights, etc, paying the lead actress a salary equal to her male co-stars from the get-go wouldn’t negatively affect the studio’s bottom line one iota.
I remember when I was growing up and it was announced that Demi Moore had just become the highest paid actress in Hollywood history, and the first to cross the 10 million dollar threshold with a single-film salary of 12.5M in 1996. What a triumph for equal pay in Hollywood!
What wasn’t part of all the articles about that was that actors such as Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson had all eclipsed the 10M mark several years earlier, with Cruise being paid 20M for that year’s “Jerry Maguire”. Oh, and Moore’s record-breaking role: A single mother who works as a stripper in “Striptease”. Ugh…
The reason I pointed that out was that this systemic abuse seems to be ingrained in us as being, at least somewhat, acceptable behavior.
My wife works as a psychologist, and often sees people who’ve been the victims of sexual abuse. I work with at-risk youth, usually ages 16-22 and sexual abuse is one of the most prevalent topics of discussion, partly because many of them have already experienced sexual abuse in some form by the time they’re able to join one of the programs I’m involved in.
One of the saddest experiences has been to sit down with these youth, start to talk about things they’ve gone through, and hear those two words again and again: “Me too.”
As discussions like this have previously made their way into the public’s eye, I’ve heard many men say that they want to speak out about the actions of men like Weinstein, Trump, disgraced CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, but when they try to, they are told that because they are men, their opinions don’t count because they, by virtue of being men, are part of the problem.
Many of the men I’ve seen attempt to decry sexual violence and assault are upstanding, moral, and horrified at the thought of sexual violence, let alone actual actions. They think about their wives, mothers, daughters, nieces, girlfriends, friends, and co-workers and the idea of any sort of violence or abusive behavior towards them is abhorrent.
Being told their opinions don’t matter only exacerbates the problem: if men are told their opinions aren’t valid, we’re setting things up to fail, because eventually the only outcome of that attitude is apathy, a “why should I even try” mentality, which is essentially telling abusers “Go nuts. There’s no consequences for you anymore”. It’s silencing those who would stand up and say “no more”.
There are consequences… very well-documented ones: using statistics from Rainn.org:
- 94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the two weeks following the rape.
- 30% of women report symptoms of PTSD 9 months after the rape.
- 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
- 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.
- Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.
Another aspect of this social conversation is that I’ve seen a number of men I know write “Me Too”. Some of their stories I knew about previously, but that doesn’t lessen that impact to me. I also know that there are many other men out there who have been victims of sexual abuse, but who will most likely never say it publicly for fear of shaming.
According to Rainn.org, 10% of men have experienced some sort of sexual abuse, dispelling the myth that it’s only something that happens to women. In the talks I’ve had with male friends who’ve experienced sexual abuse, there have been very common threads that they’ve never felt comfortable talking about it because it made them question, and in some cases still so, their own sense of masculinity.
What I’m trying to say here is that this affects all of us. Chances are you, the reader, know someone very close to you who has been sexually assaulted or abused.
In discussing all the “Me Too” posts I’ve been asked rather pointedly if I’m guilty of ever making a crude comment about women. I felt like the question was asked more to make a “Ah ha! See! You’re no better than all the others” type response to negate any moral weight my words might have.
My answer was “I have. I am guilty.” That I am guilty shouldn’t automatically destroy any moral weight my words might have, but instead should show that I have had to learn to be better… that I can be better.
If we are to truly face this monstrous spectre of misogyny, then we have to do it together, seeing each other as equals in this fight.
Seeing all of the “Me Too” posts and the stories that went with them, I was reminded of a quote by Carl Jung:
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
Let us choose to be brave and to do the right thing, no matter the difficulty.
For more information on sexual abuse, please check out Rainn.org. It’s a great resource that helps shed light on a very dark subject.