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NZ Herald: "Sick of not having a voice and not being heard? #MeToo"

When it comes to sexual politics, we are witnessing history in the making - the #MeToo movement is sweeping the globe.

As part of this conversation, I want to provide some background for the global movement, to better contextualise why it's desperately needed – here and abroad. I also want to address what the movement signals for us, as a society, at this historic juncture.

The phrase "Me Too" was first used in 2006 by North American activist Tarana Burke on Myspace as part of a grassroots campaign. Its aim was to promote "empowerment through empathy" among women of colour in low-income communities who had been sexually abused, assaulted, or exploited.

It was inspired by an interaction Burke had with a 13-year-old girl in 1997 who had been sexually abused. As the girl spoke about her experiences, Burke is reported as saying "I didn't have a response or a way to help her in that moment, and I couldn't even say 'me too.'"

Fast-forward to 2017. As the accusations against Harvey Weinstein surfaced in Hollywood, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged the use of the hashtag #MeToo in an attempt to capture the breadth and depth of the problem. Since then, the Me Too Movement has spread virally and rapidly across the globe, demonstrating the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment, abuse and assault – especially in the workplace, but also beyond.

Questions of power, gender-based violence, various forms of privilege, harassment and long-standing forms of sexual misconduct started being publicly revealed, debated and condemned. And this wasn't just about a few high profile "perverts" or "predators". It was about highlighting the spectrum of sexual misconduct that (mainly, but not only) women experience.

This spans everyday sexism, to the mundane sexist joke, to conscious and unconscious gender bias, to treating men and women differently at the office, to verbal harassment, to unsolicited touch, to sexual coercion, to forced sex, to rape.

The rapid surge of the movement speaks to something. It speaks to a specific time and place in history where we are witnessing a seismic shift in mass consciousness. It speaks to progress. It speaks to hope. It speaks to change.

It's a time in which everyday sexism and tired gender norms are being questioned, once again. Those who seek to maintain the status quo are being held to task.

It's a time in which we are seeing greater gender and sexual fluidity, set among a growing frustration with rigid gender norms and sexual expectations.

It's a time in which the subtleties of power relations between two sexual actors (of different ages, genders, economic status or professional position) are being interrogated openly.

And the experiences of victims are being addressed publicly.

We live in a context where issues of power, harassment and abuse are often structurally stacked against the victims/survivors. When it comes to sexual misconduct, our culture hasn't been able to fully shed the prevalence of "rape myths" or "victim blaming". In an attempt to be fair, our justice system is set up in way that makes it very hard for victims at every stage, and difficult for police to get successful convictions. If you have been a victim of sexual assault, there can be great shame that goes along with that. It can be easier not to speak up. It can be easier not to take on that "victim" status.

If survivors are freely choosing to share their stories with Mau's team, it's not our place to judge that decision. For each of those who speak up, there are many who prefer to remain silent.

The wisdom behind the Me Too campaign is to give voice to those who feel they have had no voice. No one to talk to. No one who will listen. It's a desire to be taken seriously. To feel supported. To have safety in numbers. It's for those who have had no options when it comes to reporting the abuse. No way of getting justice when it is reported.

It's about highlighting the power imbalance between victims and perpetrators. The power imbalance between victims and the police. The power imbalance between victims and the justice system.

It's about renouncing a culture where sexual harassment, assault and violence are both deplored yet widespread and hence normalised.

It's about dismantling an enduring culture of sexism that positions men and women as inherently different, especially when it comes to sex.

It's about reworking the very mundane and taken for granted "norms" of sexuality that create a cultural climate ripe for sexual harassment, abuse and assault.

This campaign is not only sorely needed, but it speaks to widespread acknowledgement that as a society, we want things to change. It's a sign that not only is this change overdue, but those in charge have done too little, so far.

In the absence of adequate policies and legal changes, the media is being used not only to raise awareness, but to help create the impetus for the social and structural change that's urgently needed. A sexual revolution, of sorts. Now that's a movement I want to get behind, rather than try to stifle.

Find the original publication here.


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