Time to let experiences dictate what we discuss
On Sunday, Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter and encouraged women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to respond to her message with #MeToo.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of tweets have been written with the hashtag, and it has spread to Facebook and Instagram. Some women are sharing their stories, but for many, just the hashtag is enough. The hashtag is being used by cis- and transwomen and men, non-binary people, and people from all across the spectrums of gender and sexuality. Because, at the end of the day, a lot of people have experienced sexualized violence to some extent.
#MeToo is solidarity. It shows those who have experienced—and survived— sexualized violence that they aren’t alone, and it shows those who haven’t just how pervasive the problem is.
For the media, #MeToo should mean two things. First, believe survivors. Treat them with respect and compassion, and make sure storytelling and reporting neither victimizes nor blames them.
Second, do more to protect women in the media. Respect and support women in leadership and editorial roles—we are more likely to be doubted and treated rudely than our male counterparts. Provide mentorship opportunities for young journalists, and keep your newsroom free from misogynistic jokes or attitudes.
Newsrooms are largely male-dominated spaces, especially when it comes to managerial and editorial positions. Vivian Smith, a journalist and former sessional lecturer at UVic, has spoken about this problem extensively.
“Women now only represent one third of newsrooms in total; the higher up in the hierarchy you go, the fewer women you see,” Smith told the Langara Journalism Review earlier this year.
Why is this an issue? Because diversity in gender is incredibly important when it comes to reporting.
“Men will generally say they are here to report the news . . . which is still important,” said Smith. “[But] the women will often say, ‘I’m a voice for the voiceless’ . . . It’s this idea that there are people out there who don’t have power and are affected by the system and women feel like they need to tell their stories and be their voice.”
#MeToo is showing us just how many stories out there are worthy of being reported on but have not been told yet. While there are obviously exceptions, male-dominated newsrooms are far likelier to overlook these stories than newsrooms with a variety of perspectives and experiences.
And for at-home audiences: just because women are working in the public eye, doesn’t entitle you to harass female journalists. Do not hit on us while we’re reporting stories. If you’re leaving comments on our online articles, keep your comments related to the content (not what we look like). You can disagree with us without using vile and derogatory slurs. If women are interviewing you, stop with the patronizing “sweethearts” and mansplaining basic concepts to us.
It is, of course, important to recognize that just because women and non-binary people aren’t posting #MeToo on their various social media accounts, doesn’t mean they aren’t regularly the targets of sexual harassment and violence. To this day, speaking out about uncomfortable issues such as sexualized violence always runs the risk of having negative, and even dangerous, consequences: being publicly shamed, called out, doubted, fired, or further harassed and assaulted. Some people aren’t ready to share their stories, and some are afraid to.
#MeToo is so much more than a hashtag. For so many people, it’s a daily reality. It’s waking up in the morning and knowing no matter what you put on, no matter which route you take to work, no matter how you act or speak, someone feels entitled to your space, your body, your time. It’s knowing that you aren’t respected. It’s knowing that people will think, at least to some degree, that the sexual harassment and assault you experience is your fault.
It’s important that this hashtag exists, and that these conversations are finally becoming more mainstream.
But it’s fucking exhausting that these are conversations we still need to have.