#MeToo made the scale of sexual abuse go viral, but is it asking too much of survivors?
When Kelly Lisenbee checked Facebook on Sunday night, she saw the same message repeated by many of her friends: "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give men a sense of the magnitude of the problem. #MeToo"
Her, too: Lisenbee, 32, a surgical technician in Oklahoma City, was assaulted as a teenager. So she copied and pasted the message as her own status before going to bed. But at 2 a.m. she woke, unable to get back to sleep, she recalled later Monday, Oct. 16. There was more to say.
"I didn't know he was going to forcibly kiss me," she wrote, in an updated post. "I didn't know he was going to put his hand in my jeans ... I didn't know that after I pushed him away and told him no that he was going to tell all his buddies that it happened anyway."
Stories like hers exploded across social media Sunday and Monday, among women galvanized by the abuse and harassment allegations involving Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. On Twitter, the #MeToo hashtag had been tweeted nearly half a million times as of Monday afternoon; more than 600,000 people were talking about it on Facebook. Celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Rosario Dawson first helped to amplify the hashtag on Sunday afternoon, as thousands of women shared that they were victims of harassment and assault. Some contributed wrenching accounts of romantic overtures by bosses, catcalls from strangers and sexual assault. Others simply chose to write, "Me too," offering no further details.
For Lisenbee, the online conversation was an epiphany. No one talked about these things when she was growing up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, she said; now, the messages on Facebook had her thinking about a connection between her assault and her subsequent struggles with her weight.
"I'm just so glad that we're talking about it," she said in an interview. "I hope that it saves the next generation of women."
But for other women, the #MeToo discussion is feeling all too familiar.
Lucia Lorenzi saw #MeToo, and she immediately felt tired. "Anyone else feeling like they're drowning in stories; their own or others?" she tweeted.
A postdoctoral fellow living in Vancouver, Lorenzi noted that this is not the first time women have been sharing stories online of their mistreatment by men. Before #MeToo, there was #MyHarveyWeinstein. Before that, there were others: #WhatWereYouWearing, #YouOkSis, and #SurvivorPrivilege, each started by a woman of color. The hashtags asked women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault to make themselves known, to reveal a part of that story.
All these women, she notes, are "taking on a portion of the work I wish they didn't have to do ... so that society can become 'aware' of the problem," Lorenzi wrote to The Washington Post. Society, she argues, should be plenty aware by now.
Wagatwe Wanjuki, a social media specialist for Daily Kos who created the #SurvivorPrivilege hashtag a few years ago, said she respects that many of her friends are feeling solidarity with the new campaign. But "I just knew it wouldn't be empowering for me."
So Wanjuki decided to write her own post, explaining why she won't say "me, too." One of her reasons: "I know, deep down, it won't do anything. Men who need a certain threshold of survivors coming forward to 'get it' will never get it." More than 17,000 people shared her post.
As a campaign to show the volume of women who have survived sexual harassment or assault, #MeToo has succeeded. The question is: Will it actually change anything?
Lisenbee believes she is seeing things change, at least in her own online communities, and among the women she knows, where topics like sexual assault and harassment had not been discussed this way before. "The conversations are happening, that's a change," she wrote to The Washington Post in a follow-up message. "If assaulters know that men/women will no longer suffer in silence, it could deter assaults. Also, it could encourage those who have been assaulted to seek help."
More importantly, she added, "if this hashtag helps women relieve themselves of the burden of carrying this around, then that is enough."
For Lorenzi, #MeToo remains the latest of many hashtags that asks a lot of survivors, without producing the goals it seems to inspire in its participants. But that doesn't mean it's meaningless.
"It's easy in this line of work to be cynical about these kinds of hashtags and the swell of press they get for a week or two before another perpetrator is exposed and another hashtag takes off," she said. "I guess my hope would be for those who are still choosing to blame survivors to ask themselves why this thing keeps happening like clockwork."
"I don't think #MeToo signals some kind of 'watershed moment,'" she added. "But I am hoping that it serves as another link in the chain to some concrete, systemic change."