My #MeToo dilemma



I didn't write #metoo on Facebook. I tell myself it's because I don't go in for social media fads.

Woman with #metoo signI'm not one to decorate my profile picture with coloured filters. I don't 'copy and share' status updates. I don't care if you are showing your teenager how fast an image travels around the internet, I'm not going to 'like' it for you. So when #metoo started peppering my news feed, I could cite my history of not buying into things as an excuse to remain silent. Couldn't I?

On Sunday 15 October, actor Alyssa Milano tweeted 'Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harrassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might get a sense of the magnitude of the problem.' Since then, #metoo took on a life of its own. Within 24 hours, there were more than 17,000 retweets. At its peak, #metoo was tweeted four times per second. It has also taken off on Facebook, where I first encountered it.

Though it has only recently become viral, the 'Me Too' movement was founded ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke. Burke calls the movement 'empowerment through empathy'. She regrets that she did not respond in this way to a girl she met on youth camp:

'I was horrified by her words, the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut, and I listened until I literally could not take it anymore ... Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and immediately directed her to another female counselor who could "help her better".

'I will never forget the look on her face ... I think about her all of the time. The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it abruptly forced closed again — it was all on her face ... I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood ... I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn't even bring myself to whisper ... me too.'

The American Girl Scouts responded to the movement with this chilling tweet: 'If your daughter is 11 or older, chances are she's also saying #metoo when it comes to sexual harassment.'


"I may be idealistic. I may be naive. But surely I can pray for a time when my daughters will never have to say 'me too'."


In the past, I've often wished people better understood the magnitude of this problem. In real life, 'me too' happens in whispered conversations between close friends. I carry these women's secrets inside me like dark polished stones. I marvel that such strong, capable, ordinary people, from loving and functional families, could be survivors of child sexual abuse. None of them has written 'me too' on their status. I checked.

It's two little words, yet they fill me with dread. Somehow, I don't want my profile, my digital self, to be sullied by that ancient stain. It's not something I want people to know about, let alone respond to with 'likes' and 'sad faces'. And it gets me thinking: how many others, like me, are cringing in fear and misplaced shame?

Perhaps Sheela Raja, clinical psychologist at the University of Illinois, put it best in her interview with Al Jazeera: 'Whether you know it or not, you do know a survivor of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and we all need to operate based on that premise instead of necessarily forcing people to come forward with all of their painful stories.'

So where does this leave us? I still feel sharp pangs of recognition, of helplessness, each time I see a new status update with those heartbreaking words. But I also feel something like hope. Surely this is a conversation we must have. Surely shining a light on this issue can lead to cultural change. I may be idealistic. I may be naive. But surely I can pray for a time when my daughters will never have to say 'me too'.

So I will stand with all the others: the outspoken and the silent, the children, the teenagers, the women. I will stand with survivors across the whole spectrum of abuse, and I will say 'me too'. Maybe it is just a fad. Maybe all of these women — my aunty, my cousin, those mums from school — maybe they're just opening old wounds for no reason. But I will say it anyway. Maybe this is just the beginning.



Kate MoriartyKate Moriarty is a freelance writer. She writes the 'Home Truths' column at Australian Catholics and blogs at Laptop on the Ironing Board.

Topic tags: Kate Moriarty, sexual assault



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Existing comments

This is a cleverly written poignant piece shining a light on the dilemma of speaking out, coming foward, hoping for justice not only for oneself but to lead the way for others; a true dilemma and one I did not take lightly when I spoke out. As a result my entire 40 year long friendship base from CYO days, bar one, has rejected me and walked away from that friendship with no explanation. I’m told “they’re fearful”. They’ve been “fearful” for 5 years now. Meanwhile a handful of others have stepped foward and been marvellously supportive and filled the void left by fear. To lose a lifetime of friends on top of outing oneself publically as the victim of clerical power abuse is hard to swallow. But there it is. Were they ever friends? I have no answer to that. I have not tweeted nor facebooked #metoo. It is neither the place nor the means by which to achieve recognition and justice. But doing so has its consequences. Power abuse continues to operate as it faces its enemy, public knowledge.
Jennifer Anne Herrick | 27 October 2017

"I may be idealistic. I may be naive. But surely I can pray for a time when my daughters will never have to say 'me too'." Do you think that women haven't been praying for that time forever?
Kate Makowiecka | 27 October 2017

Thankyou for this Crucially Important article, written with deep feelings, Kate. We need a GOAL as well as this '#metoo' retroactive protest mechanism. For example: in a proactive approach the media, schools churches, and service organisations could coordinate an annual campaign describing healthy sexual sociology and describing the plague of abuse of children, teens, and other vulnerable people (and the personal suffering of victims; and, the penalties imposed on those who are convicted). This is more than a female issue only. Boys and young teen men have been abused by relatives, older mentors, teachers, priests and church workers. Some commit suicide and all are left with life-long trauma. The long-term costs to society are huge. Coordinated campaigns against AIDS, drug-abuse, smoking, gambling, and drink-driving have all had positive results. It's now time for a strong national annual campaign of information and guidance regarding the prevention of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Central to this there has to be a focus on EMPATHY - a whole range of victims' stories and the stories of perpetrators who have finally realised the human costs of what they did. Abuse can make us feel powerless but surely there's plenty we could do.
Dr Marty Rice | 27 October 2017

"It's now time for a strong national annual campaign of information and guidance regarding the prevention of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. " Marty I absolutely agree.Two recent examples of sexual abuse in local Catholic high schools (one by a teacher and one by a group of older students) have left me shaken.And as you say one of the things desperately needed is empathy.
Margaret | 27 October 2017

Thank you, Kate - you very gently and sensitively shine a spotlight where enlightenment (for many) is most needed.
Richard Jupp | 30 October 2017


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