Last October, #MeToo had become a popular tag on Facebook, with many friends posting personal stories of harassment or assault. At the time, I wrote a post asking “Who is #metoo for?” I was questioning the assumption that #MeToo was entirely for the benefit of survivors. While sharing a personal story of trauma can be cathartic, it is often a burden. Survivors may be adopting this burden not for their own benefit, but in hopes of educating the public.
So, funny thing, #MeToo continues to be a big deal even now. And it didn’t go in the direction I expected.
At some point, I stopped seeing friends post personal stories. As far as friends’ personal stories go, #MeToo is over. Most people with stories have already decided either to share them or withhold them. Instead, #MeToo has become about celebrity accusations. Somewhere someone writes a #MeToo post talking about their horrible experiences with some unnamed dude, then the truth comes out that the unnamed dude was actually Famous Celebrity. Then the media gets a hold of it and it makes huge headlines. #MeToo strikes again!
This has been happening over and over again for months. And not just in the mainstream realm–if you paid attention to any subcultures or small communities, you might have heard accusations against small-time celebrities and leaders. Scandal after scandal, fractally repeating.
It’s good to see people in power finally punished for their misdeeds. But you see, back when #MeToo was mostly about survivors posting personal stories on Facebook, I was already complaining about how the campaign wasn’t very survivor-oriented. And that’s nothing compared to what #MeToo is now. #MeToo, in its current incarnation, fundamentally centers perpetrators rather than survivors.
It’s easy to see how #MeToo structurally favors the perspective of perpetrators. Whenever we hear about a celebrity in relation to #MeToo, it is almost always because the they were accused, not because they were making an accusation. Typically, the accuser is some rando that nobody’s ever heard of. So we’re always talking about cases where we know the accused and not the accuser. This makes the accused person’s perspective the more relatable one.
And I’m not even talking about how some people take the celebrity’s side. Whether people are siding with or against the celebrity, they are still talking about what that means for the celebrity. Does the celebrity deserve to keep their career? Should we continue to consume media/products made by the celebrity? How good or bad was their apology? Will other celebrities find themselves in a similar position?
People put so much thought into this, and I wish they would put the same degree of thought into what it means for the survivor. For example, did the survivor want their story to become the center of public attention? Do they want the perpetrator to be punished, and how much do their wishes matter? What obstacles do survivors face when they come forward? If the incident, or the telling of it, hurt the survivor’s career, what do we do about that? How did the survivor feel about the incident, and how can we identify and address those feelings in ourselves or in our friends?
But no, all people can muster is the question, “What could or should the victim have done at the time of the incident?” Or “How should the victim have told their story?” That is, the “victim-blaming” response. And to be honest, that wouldn’t be so bad, if it were accompanied by literally any other survivor-oriented discussion, anything to indicate genuine reflective concern.
I don’t think the solution is to find celebrities have have experienced sexual violence, and focus on their stories. I don’t think many celebrities want to take a step that poses a major risk to their career. Also I’m sure people would twist it around to center the perpetrator anyway. I think it’s best to recognize #MeToo for what it is now–a perpetrator-centered campaign. That’s not a bad thing; a conversation about perpetrators is a necessary step. But we also need a survivor-oriented conversation.
I don’t know the solution. My personal approach is, I ignore the tyranny of the current news cycle. People like talking about the current news cycle because it sets a topic, it guarantees that you’re talking about what everyone else is talking about. I like to blog about math, I am used to talking about things that nobody else is talking about. It’s good that sexual violence has garnered so much public discussion lately, but I’m not particularly interested in discussing specific incidents, not when the only connection I have is, “This celebrity sounds familiar.” Instead I have tried to comment on general principles and trends, keeping the focus on survivors.