A few weeks ago, yet another scandal broke out within the Hollywood drama circuit. A modern twist of what I have come to see as the true Tale as Old as Time, news broke that yet another high power male authority figure has exploited his power, sexually harassing countless women (eight of whom had official settlements with their abuser before the current case against him), followed by a huge cover-up scenario that had kept the sexual predator active for more than three decades. When asked about the situation, the perpetrator, Harvey Weinstein, responded with the almost remorseful statement, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.“
I loosely followed this scandal, in one of those situations, “oh, that’s sad, but he will probably get away with it anyway,” scroll, scroll “oh, look who is out of the White House this week.” In reading on the Weinstein case, I was completely numb to the situation-it wasn’t shocking, it wasn’t jarring, it was just what has become normalized in the life of an American female. I had read the same situation countless times – Billy Cosby, Jimmy Savile, Ray Rice – and honestly was a bit sick of it.
Yet, a few days later this case was again brought to my attention in the form of #MeToo that was seen on all forms of social networking. Everywhere, people were speaking out against sexual harassment, assault, and gender violence. And as I scrolled, I found myself wondering if this little moment on the Internet would actually change anything. How could a sad react ever systemically change a society based on a patriarchal system that many beneficiaries of the system fail to accept as the truth?
Just last week I was talking to a friend about one of his hookups, and in the middle of it, the girl decided that wasn’t what she wanted anymore. In recalling the situation, he was confused about why she apologized multiple times for changing her mind. And then it hit him–in a woman’s life no doesn’t always mean no; notably, at some elite institutions, there remains a question of whether no means yes and yes means anal. And while I was excited that he had finally hit this point of revelation, I could not help but be frustrated that his moment of revelation came at the age of 22, while this is something I have faced from the onset of puberty. My moment of exhaustion soon channeled into hope, as our conversation evolved into a discussion of “what can I do?”
So how exactly should we react to the recent phenomenon that is #MeToo? Here are just a few ideas that around 20 years of femininity has taught me:
- First, we must open our eyes to the pervasive abuse that is normalized in our society. We must humanize the issue, understanding that the two in five Duke undergraduate females that will be sexually assaulted in their undergraduate years is not just an anonymous figure–it is your best friend, that random girl you always thought was pretty in your Organic Chemistry class, the story your girlfriend never talks about. In order to instigate change, we must understand that this aspect of our society scars those we care deeply about.
- We have to stop the locker room talk. In situations where someone’s body is being objectified, we have to step up and humanize the individual. Nancy might be smoking hot, but Nancy is also an amazing person who is a competitive fencer. Isn’t that cool!?!?!!
- And in the hookup culture we, as Duke students, find ourselves a part of, we must stop promoting the concept of masculinity being connected to sexual experiences. Sexual conquest does not mean respect, especially when it violates another person.
- We have to be willing to open a dialogue on consent with our friends. When a friend of ours hooks up with another person, we should be able to ask if it was really what they wanted. If not, there are countless resources on campus to navigate the aftermath of sexual assault and harassment.
- When your partner says no, it means no. You should tell them that you respect their decision, and ask them exactly what they would like you to do; when we start a dialogue in these situations, it ensures that each person feels comfortable (and that ROCKS).
- And if a friend comes to you with a case of harassment, sexual assault, etc., you must tell them you believe them. Do not ask for the details–survivors do not owe you their story, and a timeline of grievance does not coincide with situations that can have a profound impact on an individual. Just be present, and listen full heartedly.
#MeToo reflects a recent movement against the sexual violence that has a pervasive presence in each aspect of our society. Yet, in order for these posts to mean something, anything, we have to stop saying “I’m sorry” for our social norms and start changing our perspectives on hookups, dancing at Shooters, and the system that each of us on some level buys into. Yes, the sad reacts are a start, but without each of us changing our behavior, this online presence will dissipate and mean nothing. And it needs to mean something.