I’m writing today about hashtags. In particular, I want to focus on what happens now that we’ve said #MeToo and #TimesUp.
Like many women and girls, I said Me Too. And, like most, mine was not a one-time experience but rather a lifetime of inappropriate comments, catcalls, and unwanted sexual contact. As I’ve written before, I’m glad the Hollywood and USA gymnastics scandals have us talking about powerful men who abuse that power. But it isn’t just men in power who commit these same acts of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Men harass women and girls in the streets, at the stores, in schools. Everywhere.
I am 45 years old. Not long ago, I experienced unwanted sexual conduct from someone half my age. The only power he has over me is that he’s a man who feels he’s entitled to say and do as he pleases to women. I have been catcalled by boys recently out of high school on the campus where I teach, a university with a commitment to social justice. A random guy at the gym thinks it’s OK to make a lewd comment about my weight, while another one at the market felt it was complimentary to mutter about my body to the poor female cashier, as if she wanted to hear his verbal diarrhea. As I drove to present a version of this piece at the Miami Women’s March second annual event, a man pulled up next to me so he could make a vulgar sexual gesture.
So, yeah, MeToo. Speaking up matters. Shedding light on the scope of these problems to those who had inexplicably missed it, matters. Solidarity matters. And no, I do not believe this is fake feminism. But now what?
Celebrities like Emma Watson, Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes have launched #TimesUp as perhaps a next step. With their attention, which wonderfully dominated the Golden Globes, they’ve also started a legal defense fund to help individuals come forward without fear of legal, career or financial retaliation. This is great, and they’ve pledged to help create a cultural shift that will end sexual harassment.
That’s where things get a bit more vague. What does that look like? And how does it happen? Stories and accountability are elements of it, but they alone do not shift the culture.
Perhaps some other hashtag ideas can be helpful here. I have to admit, I’m not that big of a hashtagger, so forgive me if some of these may already be in circulation. But, how about #Iwilldisruptit? Someone saw or heard all of the instances I mentioned earlier, and in most cases of harassment, abuse and assault, that is true. What if in addition to being committed to speak up as persons who have been victimized, we also committed to speak up when we see or hear troublesome comments or behavior? Some of us do this, others need to start doing it.
Or how about #teachkidsgenderequality? If we want to change our culture, we need to socialize both boys and girls differently. All kids need to know that no one is entitled to control your decisions and your bodies but you. I am guilty of being too nice, of too easily dismissing or forgiving. Many of us are. And yet I’m pissed off that I still have to live in this rape culture, and that my daughter does, too. As Barbara Kingsolver so importantly wrote, “Feminine instincts for sweetness and apology have no skin in this game.” As this last year has affirmed, when women channel their anger about gender inequality, amazing things happens.
I’m sure we can think of many more ideas—and they are that, not just hashtags—that will help transform our culture into one in which women don’t face these daily microaggressions. But in honor of the event I just spoke at, #powertothepolls. Let’s elect women, and the progressive men who support us, and make some political changes that will make male entitlement a thing of the past.