It’s been awesome to see feminist activists in New Zealand enable a new and fast liberation occur. It’s worth reflecting on the success of #MeToo and all its new forms.
Here’s Fiona McNamara from the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network on TV1 news last night.
Can we still remember the Women’s March of January 2017?
For New Zealand and so many other countries, there’s been a fair bit of good feminist politics occur since then.
At the Washington D.C. Women’s March, about half a million people rallied in Washington D.C. An estimated 4.5 million gathered elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad to stand together. Being treated with respect: a good thing. At the time it seemed an antidote to the decline of civility in so much elected politics, of so many democracies falling to coarse and cruel male leaders: a necessary symbol. This was one event among many that set that ground.
On October 15th 2017, actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet urging women to speak up and out about their experiences and sexual assault or harassment using the phrase “me too”. The stories attached to it took off right across the digitised globe; in Farsi, French, Arabic, Hindi, and Spanish. Today, women in 85 different countries are using the hashtag to bring attention to the violence and harassment they face in daily life and to demand change.
It won’t be the end of patriarchy. But it’s not over-claiming either. This one really has momentum.
Also, activists have something of a mixed record when it comes to using the internet to instigate real-world change. As Hayley Tsukayama wrote, online-first movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring “weren’t outright failures”, but they did fall far “short of many people’s expectations”.
So can it last?
Black Lives Matter makes for interesting comparison. It’s a social-media born activist group that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. Deen Freelon, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has carried out research on the group and how it moved beyond the hashtag.
First, the group took a data-driven approach to the problem it was seeking to tackle. “Black Lives Matter has been proactive in collecting data to support its cause,” Freelon explains. “Activists have pulled together data on things like the content of police contracts and the laws and policies that are most effective in reducing police violence.”
If the women behind #MeToo want to bring the online movement into the real world, they should look at doing something similar, he says. “They need to figure out what data matters to them and how they can get it,” Freelon advises. Once they have that, “they should be very specific in terms of what they want to accomplish”, he says. “Whether it’s legislative change, institutional change, cultural change or all three, #MeToo needs to define its goals in measurable terms so that success can be measured effectively.”
Maybe. I now look at #MeToo as pretty successful in good old MSM impact. Hollywood remains one of the most powerful ideological engines in the world, and #MeToo feminism is in the process of turning that town on its head. Symbols can lead to real-world change. Stories get amplified, and there are a few billions stories about women which need to be told. Sure, such stories can get commodified as well, but they get amplified. Just telling your own story of personal damage and grief is a power regained. #MeToo also has more star power than any movement I have ever seen, to keep those stories being told and retold. As we have seen in New Zealand in recent days, no political party is protected from such stories being told.
A little over three months after women started using the hashtag en masse to share their stories, this online movement has led to real-world change. #MeToo is already a successful movement, since it has empowered victims of sexual harassment and misogynistic behaviour to speak up, sparked a public conversation on the issue,and forced a number of men to publicly address their wrongdoings and even step down. OMG even the Saudi government is now making tiny little steps in favour of women.
Twitter will only go so far. It’s not enough – it probably never will be – but it is already a successful accelerant on its way to generating systemic and pervasive change as great as many of the short-lived 1968 ‘revolutions’ of 50 years ago.
#MeToo – and its sister outpourings – is a movement with a long, long way to run, and it’s a liberation.