Recent social media movements have been generating more and more conversations around sexual harassment, sexual assault, trauma, and rape culture. Here at Mindful Therapy Group, this has been a hot topic issue for both staff and patients here in Seattle. Most prominent among these is the trending hashtag, #MeToo. #MeToo has created a space in which women’s voices and their silences hold equal importance, while honoring the many different ways in which women heal.
Where It All Started
For those who may not have encountered #MeToo on their social media, it began in the wake of the many sexual misconduct allegations against the film producer Harvey Weinstein. As the number of women saying “Me too” about Weinstein’s assault and harassment increased, so too did the number of women acknowledging that similar experiences had happened to them. The movement quickly became international, with women all over the world speaking up about their experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Strength in Numbers
There can be something incredibly empowering about speaking up in this public way. The movement is inviting women to share stories and experiences about which they have been told to keep silent. There is safety in numbers. Speaking in a group provides protection and support. For many women, adding their voices has given them strength and ownership over their experiences. #MeToo has been a cultural game-changer.
#MeToo has demonstrated a unique ability to keep people talking. From a movement standpoint, this is ideal. This is exactly how cultural change happens. From a personal standpoint, however, taking care in how we engage in public discussions is essential. There can be an emotional strain that comes with being constantly reminded of the ways in which women have been abused and harmed by a culture that normalizes harassment and blames victims. Out of nowhere, sexual abuse is suddenly at the forefront of everyone’s minds, potentially reopening old wounds. For a lot of women, this proximity to the topic can be traumatizing to them all over again.
Should I Share My Story?
There is a really interesting dichotomy happening around this social movement. The way in which #MeToo can simultaneously empower and traumatize creates a tension within the movement that is difficult to reconcile. As a woman, I have felt the pressure to share, the shame of not sharing, and the hesitation of simply not being ready. Balancing this need to share now, while everyone else is, with a desire to keep my experiences private can be difficult, and can even lead to feelings of shame for not participating.
When engaging with these hashtags and social media movements, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What empowers some women, might cause pain for others. We need to be mindful and intentional about the ways in which we interact with others who have experienced sexual harassment and trauma, and especially mindful in our discussions of it. Promoting change and engaging in discussions are incredibly important, but so is the need to prevent shaming women for not wanting to participate.
What Makes You Feel Safe And Empowered?
Moving forward, an environment is needed in which women are neither shamed for the stories they share, nor for the stories they keep to themselves. When it comes to #MeToo, every woman needs to find what feels right and safe for them. It is essential to avoid the assumption that all women will be empowered by sharing their stories, because in the end it is up to them.
When women are allowed to have agency over their stories--to share or not to share--that is when they are empowered. There is healing power in women reclaiming their agency, and taking ownership of their experiences, whether that happens publicly or not. The greatest thing #MeToo can do culturally is to allow women the space to choose what their healing process will look like as we continue to fight for the justice women deserve.
Written by Emily Hansen, an MSW intern at Mindful Therapy Group in Seattle WA.