The past couple of days have brought the #MeToo campaign to the front of my social media platforms. Friends, coworkers and favorite artists have shared the hashtag, painting my screen with heartbreaking tales of sexual harassment and assault, tales that I would’ve never discovered were it not for actress Alyssa Milano. She asked her followers on Twitter, with their discretion, to share these accounts using the phrase #MeToo to introduce just how polluted our lives are with incidents of sexual violence.
Survivors of sexual assault have used social media to come forward. It’s beautiful; they’re using an accessible platform to remind each other that these acts of violence against them should not be shameful, should not be unspoken, should not be silenced.
And these participants are empowered.
Time and time again, we see campaigns such as #MeToo directed at the support of women, and we forget the more integral part of the issue: addressing the male behaviors and attitudes that cultivate the rape culture that #MeToo alone will not end. The burden should not lie solely with women; we are already relentlessly made aware of the possibility of being stalked, assaulted, raped and killed in every facet of our lives.
We are warned to not dress provocatively, we are warned to limit our alcohol intake, we are warned to not walk alone at night, we are warned to let men talk over us when they’re angry, we are warned to say “yes” when we mean “no —” and we are warned to let abusers have their way.
These warnings mean nothing if only one half of the population is participating in the conversation dedicated to ending sexual violence and assault. #MeToo forces the victim to open herself up to world that has heard of her pain tenfold, whether in the news or in her closer circles — allowing the perpetrator to remain a passive observer.
Men will find these personal accounts in their feeds, and some will graciously regret their role in this conversation, finding the means through resources or women around them to understand how they can do better and remove the normalization of this victim responsibility mentality. To those men, I applaud them.
But that is not the majority. Aggressors will find no meaning behind this campaign because their violent, ignorant behaviors are ingrained; they are numb to 180 characters of a woman sharing a story about her sister being violently raped at a college campus, only for the police to deny her case due to her clothing.
The conversation of sexual violence has always relied on the woman. We can see examples of this in both developing and developed nations. My best friend, Alexis, is leading a group of young women in Mozambique through sexual and maternal health workshops. It’s commendable on its own, especially because South Africa is notorious for its incidents of sexual assault.
But when I asked her who was leading the conversation with men on developing healthy sexual relationships in South Africa, she sighed. The need is dire, but the demand is lacking. It’s easier to tell a girl, “Remember to use a condom,” than to tell a boy, “Remember to not force your partner into having sex with you.”
And to those who believe the United States is any different, you will be disappointed. During my past four years here at Cal State Long Beach, all of the sexual awareness, sexual health and mental health workshops I’ve attended have not only had predominantly female attendance, but the subjects were always framed through the mentality of women. Too often, we were given directions on how to reframe questions with our sexual partners, such as asking them to use a condom because our one, simple “Can you use a condom?” request wouldn’t be enough.
The responsibility needs to shift. Instead of asking women, “What happened?” ask men, “What can you do better?” They are rarely, if ever, required to address their predatory behaviors. The obvious difficulty with this is that sexual aggressors can’t or refuse to recognize themselves as aligned with the identity of a rapist.
It’s true. I was dumbfounded by how many women I knew who were fondled, harassed, abused and silenced; this means that for each woman who permitted friends and followers into a dark moment or moments of her narrative, a man was responsible. In a 2006 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, 89 percent of rapists were found to be male.
I don’t know if shifting the conversation is the final solution. To be honest, I don’t think awareness or having these conversations will solve this issue because sexual oppression is etched into the stone cold walls of our society. The possibility of becoming victim to sexual violence has literally become part of the human experience. Everyone, at some point in their lives, will be affected due to the rape culture we’ve been swallowed into.
Women will undoubtedly reach out to resources, and they’ll listen to the warnings and take steps to prevent attacks. Yet, I only know one thing for certain: without completely demolishing the culture we’ve created, the #MeToo’s will end, and the sexual violence will ensue.