I know. It’s just two words. Two short words which could lift the veil, start the conversation, make people sit up and take notice of how very real this problem is. ‘Wow, I never realised that this affected so many women before.’ ‘Gosh, that neighbour, that colleague, that family member…’ ‘Really? I never would have guessed.’ ‘She’s so confident.’ ‘She’s so strong.’
That’s probably your best case scenario here. That no one ever knew the secret weight you were carrying around with you all of this time.The revulsion you felt when that man started licking his lips on public transport, and you followed his hands as they moved under his jacket, so strategically placed on his lap as he refused to break eye contact with you. That fear you felt as you turned your car key in your pocket as you crossed the street and walked a little faster, wondering what kind of weapon it could make if push came to shove. The confusion you felt when after years of kind words from your partner, push did come to shove in a frightening reality of strength and power, no matter how apologetic the tears were later.
Because of course, if some people’s “Me too” comes as a shock, it stands to reason that other people’s comes as ‘No great surprise.’ ‘I always thought there were something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.’ ‘Right, that actually makes a lot of sense.’ And now, laid bare for all your friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and friends of your parents to see, is just two little words which prove that you’re Other. So while you might be brave enough (or confident enough, or social media friendly enough, or naive enough, or drunk enough, or just plain hopeful enough) to post those little words, there’s almost a certain guarantee that many others wont be. And that’s fine, too. Except, now it dilutes the point. They say if everyone who has experienced it posts about it, then we will see the problem! It’s foolproof! It’s genius! Except, everyone won’t. So the very initiative hurts what it hopes to achieve. ‘I hardly saw anyone post that ‘me too’ thing. I knew it wasn’t such a big deal.’ And on the other side of it, the woman herself, ‘Maybe I should have posted that ‘me too’ thing.’ ‘I feel guilty, why are they all so much braver than me?’ ‘My experience isn’t that big a deal, not really, not in comparison.’
Because the problem isn’t that people don’t know about it. The problem isn’t even that we don’t talk about it enough. Unsurprisingly, like any situation of victim blaming, the problem isn’t ours at all. The problem is that WOMEN AREN’T BELIEVED. When dozens of women can finally stand up against one dangerous Hollywood executive and the response is raised eyebrows alongside words like consensual, career ladder, power mad, honey trap thrown around at the victims, what makes you think that those who don’t believe us suddenly have respect for numbers? If anything, it’s the opposite. ‘Omg, this ‘me too’ thing is getting out of control. Every woman who has ever been asked to make a cup of tea in the office is changing their status.’ ‘Y’know, my sister put it on hers, I nearly laughed out loud-have you seen how she dresses lately?’
And where it does work? We’re relying on these women, these brave, or hopeful, or drunk, but certainly strong women, to speak up and put themselves in the line of fire and scrutiny once again. We’re putting the work into the hands of the victims, the survivors, the very people who we are hoping to protect. And allowing the perpetrators and the bystanders to simply watch and judge, to believe or not believe, like we always have done.
I make my living with words. I love them, and I recognise the power of them, and the very real way that language can create reality. But I don’t believe an onslaught of ‘me too’ is the answer to changing the way we deal with sexual harassment and abuse. The onslaught we’re waiting for is from the other side, and it reads “I believe.”