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Focus News and Events Politics

The #MeToo Movement Around The World

Mai Do February 8, 2018

No hashtag has gained as much momentum in the past few months as#Metoo.

It all started in October 15th, 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet with a caption “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Little did she know the tweet would go viral, aggregating 68,000 responses, and being posted on Facebook 85 million times in 85 countries.

Ten days before her momentous tweet, Harvey Weinstein was the subject of a major expose published by the New Yorker, chronicling decades of sexually harassing, assaulting, and raping women. What followed was the “Weinstein Ripple Effect,” in which waves of women made allegations against powerful men in multiple industries of sexual misconduct.

Men, notably actors like Terry Crews, have spoken out about their harassment experiences; Crews was groped by a powerful executive of an entertainment company. His effort of breaking silence has earned him “TIME Person of the year” award for 2017.

#MeToo was actually created in 2006 by Tarana Burke as a way to de-stigmatize sexual assault survivors and herald in a new era by creating pathways to healing. But aside from encouraging women to talk about their being sexually assaulted or harassed, the hashtag also seeks  to highlight the current women’s movement, as well as gender discrimination against women. But #MeToo is a movement in and of itself. The dictionary definition of the term  “social movement” is: a collective, organized, sustained, and noninstitutional challenge to authorities, power holders, culture beliefs and practices. #MeToo thus exemplifies a classic social movement; it is more than simply a hashtag or a social media trend.

Burke said the movement created hope and inspiration. “But hope and inspiration are only sustained by work,” Burke added.

The work so far has been done by various campaigns led by Milano and Burke. The swift removal of men in powerful positions, like NBC’s Matt Lauer and U.S. Senator Al Franken, is a sign that businesses and institutions are increasingly distancing themselves from these men to avoid tarnishing their images. But it is  also a tell-tale sign that sexual conduct will be severely punished.

Recently, the movement has sparked a debate, with some opposed to the movement denouncing what they see as toxic feminism and the generalization of men. Actor Matt Damon told ABC News “You know, there’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?” After this statement, Matt Damon received criticisms and a response from Milano, who noted that all those who experience all types of sexual harassment are harmed. Damon then issued an apology.

Most recently, Aziz Ansari has been in hot water following a story published by babe.net that documents a questionable sexual encounter he had with a woman.  In the article, an unnamed woman recounts what she sees as an instance of  sexual misconduct on the part of Ansari. Her detailed report described a ‘violating night and a painful one.’ Some deemed it as ‘a bad date’ and that she was ruining his reputation by exaggerating, while choosing not to leave Aziz Ansari during the sexual encounter when it was clear he wasn’t forcing her to stay.

So the question remains: is the treatment that some men receive unnecessarily unfriendly and hostile?

Let’s take a look around the world to see what people outside of the United States are making of the movement.  

FRANCE

In France, a hundred prominent French women signed an open letter arguing that the movement has become a witch hunt against men, who they believe should  be allowed to flirt and seduce a woman without being labeled predators. In response, a number of younger French women have denounced the open letter, voicing their support for the #MeToo movement.

KENYA

The movement spread to Kenya after several mothers were allegedly sexually assaulted while breastfeeding in January 2018 at the Kenyatta National Hospital, the largest hospital in the country. After the hospital rejected these claims, saying the women had been lying, hundreds of people protested on the streets of the capital, Nairobi. This protest successfully initiated an investigation by the health minister.

PAKISTAN

The death of 7-year-old  Zainab Ansari in Kasur, eastern Punjab, Pakistan, sparked a heated debate and instigated protests around the country. The Pakistani law regarding sexual harassment has been ineffective, notably imprisoning the victims for adultery. Renowned Pakistani dancer Sheema Kermani, who is at the forefront of the #MeToo movement, says the movement hasn’t penetrated all society since there is a huge class division, but in educated classes, celebrities tend to speak out against sexual harassment and assault. Kermani is organizing a women’s march coming up on March 8th. She hopes the march will be inclusive: working class women to corporate women will join together to protest gender issue in Pakistan such as honor killings.

Overall, in all parts of the world, the debate spurs up an uncomfortable degree of tension between both  supporters and skeptics. SNL, in a recent skit, perfectly captured the essence of the controversy surrounding the movement. Seated around a dinner table in the skit, a group of friends becomes incredibly awkward when the topic switches to the #MeToo movement. No one dares say anything as they are too wary of uttering the wrong statement. Perhaps this, more than anything, encapsulates the confusion and rapidity associated with the growth of the #MeToo movement; in many cases, we simply don’t know what to say.

With wide global support, the #MeToo movement and its buzz doesn’t seem like it will die down anytime soon. However, to remain strong, the movement needs sustained actions and events that will keep it going, even in the face of opposition. The #MeToo movement is an example of a social movement that has transcended borders and nationalities, putting much needed attention towards the empowerment of underserved women around the world. Though it’s being approached differently around the world, the message that sexual assault and harassment will not be tolerated is much the same.