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Will #MeToo Be Different?

I’m asking myself that today. Here’s a roundup of a few discussions that are making me ask that question.

Image: a line of hand-holding rocks. Source:

If you’d asked me 24 hours ago if I thought I’d be writing a piece today about sexual assault, abuse, and harrassment, I’d have said nope.

Partly that’s because the past year or so has been a steady barrage of stories about sexual assault, abuse, and harrassment, and as someone who has experienced plenty of things that fall under that general heading, that barrage has really worn me down. And I know it’s not just me.

But I’m wondering — no, hear me out — I’m wondering if maybe this time, it’ll be a little bit different from all the other times when millions of survivors have stood up to be counted as such.

Here’s the thing: you don’t need me to tell you what it’s like to start checking all your social media and whatnot, and find out it’s almost entirely full of people saying “Me too — I have also experienced sexual harrassment, assault, or abuse.” You’re right here in it, whatever your reaction to it or feelings about it all.

And maybe it’s just me, and my general social media ambit, but I can’t help but notice a few things.

Like this time, it feels like the “Not All Men” stuff is coming in slower.

Now, maybe that’s because there actually turns out to be a sufficient number of women (and people of other genders) to make J. Random Dudebro worry about whether or not he should open his mouth. Maybe it’s because they’re all off talking about it amongst themselves on Dudebro Central somewhere. But I feel like I’m seeing men think twice about stepping into these conversations with a dismissal or a derail. And I’m actually seeing men post simple things like:

Chad (my spouse, for full disclosure) posted: “Holy crap. You are all brave. I’m sorry someone did that to you. I believe you. What can I do to help?”

He got plenty of responses, ranging from simple thanks to suggestions for what he could do — such as raising a son with awareness, speaking up to his colleagues and peers, being willing to wade into social media discussions on his friends’ walls if commenters showed up sealioning, snowbursting, mansplaining, derailing, or whatever.

My husband’s not the only man I saw posting such things; he’s just the one who was literally in the room to be asked “Can I use a screenshot from your Facebook?”

I also, for the first time I can recall seeing it in any volume, am seeing men speak up and say simply, “Me too.”

Image: derailed train. Source: user allenrobert

I’m also seeing conversations be less easily derailed —

like by arguments about whether or not it counts when men, or other genders, are sexually harrassed, assaulted, or abused. Sure, the original meme that started going around referenced women; sure, people are pointing that out and bringing up facts like that men can be abused and assaulted and harrassed — that all genders can, and it could be by people of any gender. The thing is, I’m seeing people really engage on this — including when agreement isn’t entirely there.

In the past, I’ve usually seen this sort of discussion turn rapidly to GIF-flinging ad hominem and formless rage. This time I’m seeing people raise all those points — and then the conversation goes somewhere. I’ll summarize:

Original poster: “The thing that bothers me about this Me Too thing is that it seems to be just saying women all experience this, and it’s not saying enough about men, or trans people. Women don’t get a pass on possibly being sexual abusers, harrassers, or assaulters.”
Next poster: “Wow, that’s really true. I didn’t mean to say men couldn’t be survivors in this sense. But, to be honest, I do still think that the whole system is set up to make sure women experience this — and everyone else, it’s not because of the system.”
Another poster: “I don’t know — I think the system’s possibly worse for LGBTQ folks than it is for cis women. My big problem is, why does this fall to survivors to have to raise awareness for? Can’t we catch a break and not have to talk about it?”

(not direct quotes; summarized from comments on Facebook)

My point is, there’s honest and good faith engagement happening here. And sincerely, I don’t think I can recall that happening on a really widespread basis in… well, maybe ever. Not about this topic.

Image: two white women seated on separate park benches smile awkwardly at each other. Source: user klimkin

I’m seeing a lot more really honest, really open conversation.

I’m seeing survivors at large, and women specifically, actually publicly saying things they — we — have mostly avoided coming right out and saying, basically forever.

“I just don’t know where I fit in this continuum. I mean, yes, I’ve definitely experienced unwanted and unwelcome sexual attention, but that’s not the same as people who’ve actually been physically groped, and that’s not the same as being told you have to perform a sex act for the boss or you’re fired, and that’s not the same as being a Rohingya mom being gang raped by the soldiers who just threw your baby on the fire.”
“It’s almost every woman I know, and so many men and other genders too. People are saying they didn’t know, but that’s the point of coming forward: now you can’t say you didn’t know. And for so many of us, we were little kids, like 12 and under, the first time we experienced this.”
“I don’t know what to think about myself and how I relate to this whole thing. I thought I had the courage to say Me Too, but it turns out I don’t, after all. And why is this on survivors? Why do we have to come forward and talk about this, over and over again? Why is being performative about this important? Is that what this is? How should I feel about the fact that I can’t say Me Too, either because I don’t think my experiences count or because I don’t think it’s really safe or wise for me to say it?”
“Why do people even want anyone to know this about them? It’s like they’re proud of it, or bragging, or something. If it was me, I don’t think I’d want anyone to know. Why can’t this be private? What’s the point?”
“There are people who are both survivors and perpetrators. I just saw the person who assaulted me post a ‘me too,’ and I believe it. This is a horrible, vicious cycle.”
“ For many of us, the only control we HAVE in certain situations is control over our own minds, and how we frame those situations. If we frame the situations as non-threatening and we escape without significant damage, then we can move on feeling basically “safe” in the world. Or at least, feeling that the world is mostly “a safe place,” not a terrifying hellscape. And sometimes we need to do that, even if it’s a lie, because otherwise we simply can’t function at all. The trick is that in order to preserve that feeling of living in a safe world, we tend to set the bar for “significant damage”… pretty much just *one* notch above whatever it is that DID happen to us.” — Selena V.

— not direct quotes unless attributed as such; summaries from comments on Facebook discussion.

and again, these conversations are going places. All kinds of places, many unexpected — but many of them cathartic, and positive, and supportive. And most of them are decidedly not remedial in nature; these are mature, deep dialogues, about a complex and fraught topic.

Image: Human figure, arms outstretched, on a watery shoal at sunset. Source: user PublicCo

I’m seeing a lot more people show up just to say “I believe you.”

Sincerely, I had no idea how powerfully that would affect me — and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that either.

People are saying things like:

  • Yes, you count. What was done to you counts. You are not alone.
  • I’m not worried that you’re minimizing other people’s experiences, I’m worried that you’re minimizing your own.
  • You are brave enough. You just did speak up.
  • You don’t owe anybody details or justifications or explanations. Nobody gets to say you don’t count.
  • It’s not a competition. Someone else’s worse scenario doesn’t invalidate your bad scenario.
  • I hear you. I see you. And I know you see me too.

Image: silhouettes of humans of various ages, genders, sizes, and apparent abilities. Source: user geralt

So why the difference? The best theory I’ve got is: it’s easier to say “me too” when you could be anything and say it. Consider the time when lots of women were talking about sexual harrassment, abuse, and assault, and it spurred the creation of the #notallmen hashtag. That, in turn, led to the creation of #yesallwomen. And right there, a whole swath of survivors felt unseen and invalidated, because of course it isn’t only women. And then you can’t even say, “Okay, it’s not only women, but seriously, it really is basically all women, and it doesn’t seem like it’s basically all men.”

In other words, I think this one’s doing better in the social media spheres I inhabit, for one simple reason: it’s more inclusive.

Image: Paper hat. Or maybe paper boat. I guess context and time will tell. Source: user padrinan

Of course, there’s also the possibility that I just got lucky in terms of what I”ve seen and encountered; that the discussions I’ve been in are unusually good, and the whole rest of everything is just the usual dumpster fire to which we’ve all grown so accustomed when discussing this topic, perhaps especially in the USA in 2017.

Only time will tell, and to be honest, cynical me expects it all to be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday morning when I would have told you there was no way I’d be writing a piece today about discussing sexual assault, harrassment, and abuse online.

But for this moment of respite — this moment of solidarity — I have to say thanks. Thanks to each and every one of you out there, surviving this all with me. Thanks for speaking up, and please don’t stop.

Abby Franquemont is a writer and speaker who lives with her family, at least a dozen spinning wheels, and six cats, in southwest Ohio. You can see her stance on comma use in this quippy short bio.