For some women, the #MeToo discussion is feeling all too familiar.
Alyssa Milano helped amplify the discussion about sexual assault on Twitter on October 15 by tweeting: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
Hundreds of thousands of people responded, and on Twitter the #MeToo hashtag had been tweeted nearly half a million times as of Monday afternoon. More than 600,000 people were talking about it on Facebook.
But for some, like Lucia Lorenzi, #MeToo became exhausting. “Anyone else feeling like they’re drowning in stories; their own or others?” she tweeted.
A postdoctoral fellow living in Vancouver, Lorenzi noted that this is not the first time women have been sharing stories online of their mistreatment by men. Before #MeToo, there was #MyHarveyWeinstein. Before that, there were others: #WhatWereYouWearing, #YouOkSis, and #SurvivorPrivilege, each started by a woman of color. The hashtags asked women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault to make themselves known, to reveal a part of that story.
All these women, she notes, are “taking on a portion of the work I wish they didn’t have to do. . . so that society can become ‘aware’ of the problem,” Lorenzi wrote to The Washington Post. Society, she argues, should be plenty aware by now.
Others, like Kelly Lisenbee, considered the online conversation an epiphany.
Lisenbee, 32, a surgical technician in Oklahoma City, was assaulted as a teenager. So she copied and pasted the message as her own status before going to bed. But at 2 a.m. she woke up, unable to get back to sleep, she recalled later Monday. There was more to say.
“I didn’t know he was going to forcibly kiss me,” she wrote, in an updated post. “I didn’t know he was going to put his hand in my jeans. . . I didn’t know that after I pushed him away and told him no that he was going to tell all his buddies that it happened anyway.”
No one had talked about these things when she was growing up in Broken Arrow, Okla., she said; now, the messages on Facebook had her thinking about a connection between her assault and her subsequent struggles with her weight.
“I’m just so glad that we’re talking about it,” she said in an interview. “I hope that it saves the next generation of women.”
Wagatwe Wanjuki, a social media specialist for Daily Kos, created the #SurvivorPrivilege hashtag a few years ago.
But, “I just knew it wouldn’t be empowering for me,” she says, though she respects that many of her friends are feeling solidarity with the new campaign.
So Wanjuki wrote her own post, explaining why shewon’tsay “me, too.” One of her reasons: “I know, deep down, it won’t do anything. Men who need a certain threshold of survivors coming forward to ‘get it’ will never get it.” More than 25,000 people shared her post.
As a campaign to show the volume of women who have survived sexual harassment or assault, #MeToo has succeeded. Lisenbee, for one, believes she is seeing things change, at least in her own online communities, and among the women she knows, where topics like sexual assault and harassment had not been discussed this way before.
“The conversations are happening, that’s a change,” she wrote to The Washington Post in a follow-up message. “If assaulters know that men/women will no longer suffer in silence, it could deter assaults. Also, it could encourage those who have been assaulted to seek help.”
But for Lorenzi, #MeToo remains the latest of many hashtags that asks a lot of survivors, without producing the goals it seems to inspire in its participants. However, that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless.
“It’s easy in this line of work to be cynical about these kinds of hashtags and the swell of press they get for a week or two before another perpetrator is exposed and another hashtag takes off,” she said. “I guess my hope would be for those who are still choosing to blame survivors to ask themselves why this thing keeps happening like clockwork.”