In an age where information spreads at lightning-fast speeds, two words and five letters was all it took for a movement of global proportions to dominate social media and spark a long-awaited conversation. As a result of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted to her followers: “Me too. Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” She then asked, “If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
Facebook and Twitter feeds soon became haunted with the seemingly terse and simple #MeToo. For the brave women who posted the hashtag, however, it represented everything but simplicity and ease. Outsiders, for the first time, were allowed insight into the personal and painful recounts of both sexual assault and sexual harassment. This hashtag campaign is revolutionary because it not only built a platform for victims and survivors to share their stories, but it is also helping to end the stigma and shame surrounding what they have endured. The prevalence of sexual harassment and assault was neglected and overlooked only a few weeks ago. Today, the voices of millions echo the same truth: the anonymity has been going on for far too long, and the time has come to take a stand in support of other women.
With now over 12 million Facebook posts using the hashtag, the severity and prominence of the issue has arrived at the forefront. Yael Itskowitz, Syms ‘20, shared, “It’s a good conversation starter. Anyone who has never experienced anything like this, or been involved in such a situation, wouldn’t be talking about it, so it’s good awareness.” Although a social media campaign may not immediately put an end to sexual abuse, the movement has given victims the power of visibility.
The #MeToo campaign has been met with a wide variety of reactions. While the campaign’s purpose is to be a source of empowerment for women, others found issue with it, believing that the campaign’s intent of being a voice for victims of both sexual harassment and sexual assault is offensive. These individuals have said that there is a large difference between harassment and assault, so much so that they should not be categorized together or equalized. Others, however, believe that this was a necessary step for awareness. Itskowitz commented, “You have to start somewhere to draw a line. We want all these terrible things to stop. Everyday on the street if a man thinks it’s okay to call out to a girl because she’s pretty, that is just going to lead him to further objectifying women and making more bad decisions.”
Aviva Shooman, SCW ‘20, echoed Itskowitz’s sentiment. She explained, “It comes from the same root of women being disrespected. Being disrespected physically or being disrespected emotionally are both concerning, and come from the same root of this general disrespect.” A common theme then emerges from beyond the 12 million-too-many stories: those individuals who take advantage of women source their actions in the warped mindset that a woman’s value is for purely physical pleasure. At the most basic level, conversation is necessary to inspire any sort of change. So, let’s begin the conversation here. Women should never be reduced to, or defined by how they may appear physically; Women are strong, resilient, and above all, powerful.
Many women at Stern College believe that their learning environment, and the people they are surrounded by provide them with the tools necessary to advance as strong-minded and powerful individuals. As an institution, Stern encourages its hardworking and ambitious students to explore their potential, thrive, and make their voices heard. Itskowitz is of the opinion that “Stern provides a very positive environment for Jewish women to feel empowered, and to contribute to the work force. I’m in Sy Syms and a lot of times they stress the importance of putting yourself out there while keeping your strong Jewish values. Stern is a really good environment to be in for female empowerment.” To allow Stern to continue to be a safe place for women, a conducive environment to do so must exist. Shooman said about the Stern environment, “I feel safe. It’s a community where we all have one thing that connects us all, that we are all Jewish women studying together, wanting to be professionals.”
It is necessary to be mindful, however, that there may be Stern students who don’t believe that their school is a safe place where they can share their opinions freely and openly. To these students Itskowitz advises, “You should know that you have a support system, even if you don’t feel like you do. People want to genuinely help; other students, faculty, and the counseling center are here for you.” It is ultimately up to the student body to ensure that Stern remains the safe and empowering place for women’s advancement that so many believe it to be.
With visibility comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes action, and eventually, change. But to embark on a journey of change, it is important not to become complacent. As the #MeToos fade from glaring headlines on news feeds and become the hashtags of yesterday, remember the jarring reality that so many women have experienced varying degrees of sexual mistreatment. These women live with what happened to them everyday, but this should not be the norm. Shooman expressed, “Every human should have more respect for eachother; Woman to woman, man to woman, man to man, everybody.” Allow for universal respect to be the next viral movement, chain reaction, and change in the world. It all begins with #YouToo.