Me Too: Women sharing their stories of sexual assault isn't enough

OPINION: In the wake of Harvey Weinstein's outing as a disgraceful sex pest, as more allegations surfaced, Alyssa Milano suggested, on Twitter, that women write "Me too" if they've been sexually assaulted or harassed, in order to "give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem".

Women and men have responded in the thousands, on Twitter and on Facebook, often detailing the abuse they've suffered, and sharing how they feel about it.

Milano was reanimating a campaign begun a decade ago by American youth worker and activist Tarana Burke, who also wanted survivors of abuse, particularly young women of colour, to know that they're not alone.

Ransacking my own memory for times when I've been groped or hassled, made to feel powerless and humiliated, I realised how deeply unpleasant it is to relive these experiences, how vulnerable and embarrassed I would feel sharing them, how hard it is to speak out. So to those who've shared, more power to you.

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And, although I haven't seen many #Metoo posts that actually named an abuser, it seems to me that another positive outcome of the hashtag is that it might help to normalise speaking up about abuse. This is what it sounds like, this is how you do it, this is how people might react — for past and future victims who might be unsure about how to report an assault, the fact that Facebook and Twitter are awash with women sharing, supporting and validating each other is a powerful exercise.

There's one aspect about #Metoo that bothers me, though: it feels like the kind of tractionless, all-female action that goes on all the time and ultimately gets us nowhere. I feel frustrated that, a lot of the time, efforts to improve things for women consist of women talking amongst themselves, preaching to the choir. I still feel powerless.

For things to change, men have to be brought into the conversation. And from what I've seen, a lot of men are politely dismayed at #Metoo confessions, but probably fail to see how it connects to their world.

Unequal treatment of women is too often treated as something only of interest to women. But behind and beneath Harvey Weinstein, and every abuser like him, there's a whole net of people who directly or indirectly enabled him.

There were the employees who set up meetings or escorted women into Weinstein's hotel rooms, knowing full well that there was to be no "meeting". Whether bullied or coerced into being complicit, many are indirect victims of Weinstein's behaviour.

There was an all-male board that failed to act on a 2015 memo outlining Weinstein's behaviour.

There was whoever approved the paying out of at least eight settlements.

There was a feeble human resources department that privileged the interests of Weinstein over those of employees.

Then there were risk-averse publishers and TV networks who declined to run this story, and others like it, apparently bullied into silence by legal threats or perhaps squirming at the prospect of endangering longstanding business relationships.

There's the Manhattan District Attorney who didn't think there was sufficient evidence to charge Weinstein with a crime, although a police source told the New Yorker, there was "more than enough evidence to prosecute". 

There's the whole film industry, which often seems stacked against women. As Glenn Close put it: "Ours is an industry in which very few actors are indispensable and women are cast in far fewer roles than men, so the stakes are higher for women and make them more vulnerable to the manipulations of a predator."

There are the victims who don't want to speak out, because of all of the above.

These structural failures are part of the picture. And while women supporting each other is a major part of changing that picture, on its own, it doesn't seem like it's enough.

Co-workers, board members, HR staff, law enforcement, editors — these are people I'd also like to hear examining their experiences of, or connection to, sexual abuse and harassment. It's a conversation that thousands more could join or initiate.

 - Stuff