But this is not a life-long friend telling you of her experience in a vulnerable moment. It is a movement that has transformed the world. It is strengthened by women who are not crying on anyone’s shoulder, but rather shouting their outrage to the world. In the past few months, The #MeToo hashtag has been used in millions of posts across many platforms of social media. It has been translated into Italian (#QuellaVoltaChe, or “that time when”) and French (#BalanceTonPorc, or “out your pig”); and even made its way into our government with the #MeTooCongress.
The question on everyone’s mind is, “Why now?” Why has this movement, as Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse puts it, produced “The sound of a million men shaking in their wingtips and cowboy boots — men who are experiencing, perhaps for the first time, the kind of enveloping unease and fear that they’ve triggered in women, to some degree, for years.”
There are several contributing factors, but according to Barbara Berg, a historian and the author of the 2009 book Sexism in America: Alive, Well and Ruining Our Future, “This is the click moment. It’s like, ‘Enough.’ And then there’s a snowball effect: Once you see women speaking truth to power and not being told, ‘This is just what you have to put up with,’ then it encourages other women to stand up.”
I believe we have seen a “click” moment before, just without the snowball effect. One only has to look at the famous men felled in the last few years to get an idea: Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes, to name a few. There is a metaphor going around, of cracks in a dam, and this is the unleashing point. A few names and faces trickled through, but the full force of anger was not behind them.
But what has caused this particular breaking point?
Perhaps it has to do with an accused sexual abuser in the White House. Women can not directly go after the president, but they can pursue the avenues of justice for their mentor, their employee, or their colleague.
Others believe that having famous women at the forefront of the movement has helped. Rich and beautiful actresses are coming forward to tell their story: Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Lawrence, as well as countless others.
One certainly cannot ignore the rise of social media as a factor in this story. A single voice can be amplified around the world in only 140 characters. But it needs not be a tweet calling for someone’s head. As Sophie Gilbert, a reporter for the Atlantic puts it, "Unlike many kinds of social-media activism, it isn’t a call to action or the beginning of a campaign, culminating in a series of protests and speeches and events. It’s simply an attempt to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society. To get women, and men, to raise their hands.”
The movement is about displaying magnitude, not about a call for social activism.
However, as the months have gone by, more and more men and women have called for fundamental changes in workplaces and social situations—for the outrage to be channelled into change.
According to sociologist Michael Kimmel, the change really begins with the ending of the “web of enablers.”
“Bob Weinstein doesn’t say to Harvey, ‘You better stop or I’ll kick you out of the company.’ Billy Bush does not say to Donald Trump, ‘That’s disgusting, not to mention illegal.’ In the sexual assault world we often talk about how we incorrectly interpret women’s silence as consent. Well, we also mistake men’s silence for assent.”
We have all been guilty of saying nothing even when it goes against what we consider “right” in all types of discrimination, whether it is racism, sexism, or homophobia. Many women and men have found the courage to step forward with our stories. Now we must prevent these stories from becoming sad tales to be sympathized with and then forgotten—instead, they must become stories of action.