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Putting the “Us” in #MeToo

Charlotte Edmunds, Junior, Co-Editor in Chief

One can’t scroll through Instagram, Facebook or Twitter without encountering the hashtag “MeToo,” which emerged after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was publicly accused of sexual assault. Through this hashtag, women are finally harnessing the power to speak up and shedding their shame and fear as they publicly acknowledge being sexually harassed. The solidarity and bravery of these women has undeniably moved the international community, provoking contempt towards abusers and promises of support and allegiance to victims.  This movement has united women, but it has also caused a marginalization in society as a whole. Though developed with the best of intentions, #MeToo has unintentionally pitted genders against one another. Men have been labeled “abusers” and women “victims” as the movement has compartmentalized gender relations, relegating each sex to an overarching, inaccurate role.

Not only are these stereotypes unfairly doled out, they also have the potential to make interactions between men and women increasingly complicated. #MeToo has made many men feel as though they cannot participate without being shamed for taking attention away from women’s experiences. This type of problem has always existed. For years, both genders have struggled to make room for the other when taking action on the behalf of or speaking about a cause important to them.  In 2014, through the United Nations, Emma Watson tried to address this problem head on, starting the “HeforShe” campaign. Watson’s initiative attempts to encourage men to join alongside women to tackle gender inequality that exists within society. Watson strongly believes that it is pivotal to include men in the national conversation about feminism.

She said, “I am reaching out to you, [men], because I need your help. We want to end gender inequality–and to do that we need everyone to be involved.”

In the current setting of #MeToo, Watson’s words ring truer than ever. The way to put an end to sexual assault is to educate potential abusers. If women can go out of their way to make #MeToo a movement open to both genders, the fight to terminate sexual abuse will be made that much easier.

Indeed, in the majority of cases, women are the victims of sexual assault. However, this does not mean that men do not feel strongly about what this movement preaches, and in certain instances relate to the women of #MeToo. Though most males may not be able to fully grasp what this protest means to a woman who has been assaulted, if they feel that sexual abuse is unacceptable, they should be encouraged to join this fight. “The #MeToo Movement: I’m a Straight Man. Now What?” by Daniel Victor, published in the New York Times, describes a recent meeting of males who sat down to freely discuss #MeToo. The general consensus of the meeting boiled down to two main beliefs. First, men felt that they are crucial allies of this movement, as they have the power to call out bad behavior when they see it. Next, men are struggling to find ways to participate in #MeToo without being regarded as unworthy, or disrespectful of women’s voices. Men should not have to question how to be involved in such an important protest; they should simply be able to stand alongside women participants and pledge their support for a cause bigger than themselves. #MeToo strives to show men the ways to act appropriately, but how can it do this effectively if men are removed from its efforts?  If #MeToo can better include men in the conversation about sexual assault, it can better progress as a movement by better teaching young boys and men how unacceptable sexual abuse is.

Though #MeToo was created solely to take down sexual abusers, it has made many well-intentioned men feel threatened. Many males have grown so fearful that their words or actions will be misconstrued as sexual abuse or harassment that they avoid or limit interactions with women in the workplace. If #MeToo cannot find a way to include men, the barriers it has built between the two genders will inhibit both from opportunities in the real world.

This is especially bad news for women, as many increasingly feel as though men are excluding them from pivotal opportunities at work, simply because they do not want to take any chances of being deemed a sexual abuser. Meiko Takayama, C.E.O. of Advancing Women Executives, wrote an article titled “Men, Don’t Walk Away, March With Us Instead” in which she voiced her concerns over how #MeToo may be deteriorating women’s roles in the workplace.

“Paralyzed by the anxiety of not knowing what to say or how to act and worried about how that will be received, well-intentioned men are opting out of interacting with their female counterparts altogether,” Takayama wrote. “This moment can represent a significant step back for networking and interpersonal relationship dynamics, which have long favored the time and behavior proclivities of men. I fear that in the wake of recent events, men are no longer extending those key invites.”

#MeToo is supposed to empower and advance women, not impede upon their success. Therefore, it is crucial that this movement is conducted to in such a way as to allow men to continue to feel comfortable working with female peers.

To ensure that #MeToo does not cause more damage than good, society needs to return to the core purpose of the movement. This trending hashtag was created to target and tear down sexual assault, not men. It is important that these two things are separated — we cannot equate all men with the sexual harassment that some perpetrate.  In order to create real change, women need the support of the opposite gender as well as the support of each other. Rather than marking the #MeToo movement as female-only territory, women need to make men feel included in the revolution that is taking place.  The more that men feel that they have a stake and role in this movement, the more they will feel comfortable continuing to interact with women, and the greater progress society will be able to make towards a world without sexual abuse.

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Putting the “Us” in #MeToo