By: Elana Muller  | 

Strength in Numbers

This past month, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came upon a post of a friend which read “Me Too.” That’s all it was, and, at first, I assumed that she had posted it by mistake. But then I noticed the large amount of comments. The first was a simple question “what is this?”, to which my friend replied with an explanation: that it was written as part of a movement to raise awareness and to stand up against sexual harassment, and that anyone who had experienced it should simply post #MeToo. Curious as to how it got started and the implications, I decided to look into the movement further. The most informative resource I found was the Jerusalem Post. It explained how the #MeToo campaign began with Alyssa Milano. Following the multiple allegations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment and abuse, she encouraged those who had experienced sexual abuse or harassment to post “Me Too” on social media. So far, thousands of women (and some men) have posted under #MeToo as they now feel empowered and confident to speak up and tell their stories.

Over the following week, “MeToo” popped up more and more. I was shocked to find that such a large number of my friends had experienced sexual harassment. There was a large range in their experiences as well, from unwelcomed comments at work, to harassment at high school parties, to molestation by family members. Every case disgusted me more and more, and I learned just how common an occurrence this sort of behavior was. Perhaps there is something within our human nature that makes this behavior inevitable, or perhaps our society allows this behavior to go unstopped. Regardless, something must be done.

Legislating for such incidents is hard, and while sexual harassment has been addressed via legislation since 1998 (why did it even take that long?), there is still much work to do. In some cases there does exist a “sexual harassment procedure,” but a formal process is rarely the go-to for woman in a school, a workplace, or even the US army. A recent study shows that one in six women who serve in the military have said that they have been sexually harassed, and perhaps there are even more who did not speak up. There are multiple reasons why formal procedures are rarely perused. Firstly, the victim may want the harassers to stop making inappropriate jokes or comments but not necessarily want to see them fired, ostracized, or labeled as a sex offender for the rest of their lives. The second and more common reason is that the victim fears repercussions if speaking out causes them to be perceived as “too sensitive” or “not part of the team.” They are worried that by reporting and fighting for this issue, they will exclude themselves from the group.

An article in Psychology Today by the name of “Pack Mentality” discusses why humans tend to place such great significance on social belonging. In the article, the author quotes Abraham Maslow, the creator of the Theory of Human Motivation. The theory identifies five needs that humans strive to satisfy. Those needs are, in order: Survival, Safety, Social, Esteem, and Fulfilment. According to this theory, it is, in some aspect, “human” to place one’s social status above their self esteem. This would then explain why it has been commonplace for women not follow the sexual harassment procedure in many of these cases. Another reason, which is more common in younger women or women who come from less stable backgrounds, is that they feel at fault for the situation, rather than the victim of a crime.

These stories cannot be left in the dark. When there is a clear case of sexual harassment, formal procedures should be initiated and, when the case requires it, reported to the proper authorities. In other situations, it may be that the victim can take matters into their own hands, or use an informal procedure amongst acquaintances. Education and training are key. Many habitual harassers, if asked, don’t actually understand the effect their actions have on people. But simply telling people not to say or do certain things in the moment, without explanation, will not often lead to any real change in behavior.

Only when people speak up, either in public or within the institutions responsible for handling these issues, can the conversation start. We must teach those that do not understand how to draw the line between a joke and harassment. We must make people aware of how their words and actions can cause more than just discomfort or unwanted attention. We must help women detect a threat before it becomes something more. It is our obligation to make a change.

For some, though, it’s too late, and the damage cannot be undone. For them, we can provide a safe place to express emotions and to give them support. Moving forward, it is important to acknowledge what goes on, and do everything in our power to prevent it from happening in the future. The greatest benefit of the “Me Too” campaign is that it gives women a chance to speak up, to expresses themselves, to know that they are not alone. To know that there are, sadly, so many others who have been through this too.

We are not supposed to nor do we have to suffer through the pain in shame and in silence. Those who abuse others should be shamed, not the other way around. This campaign shows that when we come together our voices become louder, allowing ourselves to be heard all over the world. And, in time, there will be change because, put simply, there must be. Together, we will make it happen.