Today’s news cycle is evolving and changing seemingly at the speed of light. The top story in the morning is typically eclipsed by some other tragedy, outrage or directive from 45 by the afternoon. But last fall, one topic held the focus of our increasingly short attention spans for months: #MeToo.
Tarana Burke created an organization with the same name in 2006 to support sexual assault survivors. Her work didn’t garner nationwide, and later worldwide, attention until last October, when actress Ashley Judd went on the record with the New York Times to share that Hollywood media mogul Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed her in a hotel room. The article detailed how Weinstein paid off accusers across the span of decades. Within a couple weeks, actress Alyssa Milano asked women who were survivors of sexual harassment and assault to simply post #MeToo. Thousands of women answered the call on social media. Those two words started a wave of solidarity of shared experiences. In this instance social media wasn’t solely occupied as a space for cat videos, memes and divisive rhetoric.
While we all scrolled through our feeds, counselors Jacquie Gallaway and Rian Roberson with Seattle Therapy Alliance saw an immediate shift in the conversations with clients. Both say all of their clients brought up #MeToo. They describe it as an intense time and the conversations are still happening months later.
“I have a client who I’ve been seeing since 2011, [who] never told me a story of sexual trauma. She finally told me once this became a national conversation,” said Gallaway. “There is something about it becoming household conversation that activated stories in people, gave us permission to talk about it in different ways even in therapy or brought back memories.”
For decades women had been dealing with the real life incarnation of Pepe Le Pew but the scale of its insidiousness was unknown to the masses. A recent Pew Research Center study showed 59 percent of women say they have received unwanted sexual advances or experienced sexual harassment. Because of #MeToo, Gallaway and Roberson say the accessibility to talk about sexual trauma improved.
“It kind of took the lid off of it. And so we talk about it in a matter-of-fact way now as opposed to, this is our secret that we have to protect,” said Roberson.
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#MeToo wasn’t just a movement Gallaway helped her clients with. It also triggered memories of an assault by an ex-boyfriend. Gallaway has done the work processing it but like many other women the consistent barrage of men falling from grace affected her. She called up her best friend for support.
“I needed to say the words again and feel through it again,” said Gallaway. “Twenty years later I have a different mind around it even. I’m in a different place now and it’s still part of my story.”
#MeToo stands out because ownership and responsibility of the problem is starting to be held up by men. Slowly, they are seeing the pervasiveness of men who abuse their power. It’s not just one person — the issue is systemic.
For one of Roberson’s friends, #MeToo provided a path to reconciliation and healing. She watched on the sidelines as a man who bullied her friend in college reached out to her and apologized for his actions at the time. Rather than just accept an apology, she challenged him to take it a step further now that he recognized his harmful behavior.
While everyone doesn’t get that opportunity, therapy — whether it’s with a counselor or in a support group — provides a valuable outlet. Roberson believes in the power of discussion, journaling and working through your trauma. She cautions against playing the “depression Olympics” and comparing the severity of the circumstances of one situation over another, e.g. rape versus harassment. Not rushing the process is also key.
“The healing work in my experience is in being able to pay close attention to both what the content of the story is but then also how we tell it,” said Gallaway. “And how present are we to ourselves and to the memories when we’re telling it.”
One offshoot of #MeToo is the recognition of the need for more conversations around consent. Specifically, what consent means for people engaging in intimate acts with one another. Men and women have received opposing messages of what “yes” means. The Aziz Ansari case is an example of how the expectation of “enthusiastic consent” may have changed the outcome of that encounter. In an article published on Babe.net in January, a woman under the pseudonym of Grace recounts a date she went on with the comedian. After dinner, Grace said they went back to his place. She described what happened next as him pushing her to do more than she was ready to. It’s an uncomfortable scenario to read about. Reaction to the article ranged from women identifying with Grace to those who didn’t think Ansari should be included in the #MeToo offenders list. In a statement Ansari said they engaged in sexual activity. He considered it consensual.
Gallaway isn’t just discussing consent with her clients; she also openly talks about sex with her nieces. She wants them to be armed with information about their bodies so they can make informed decisions when it comes to pleasure.
“I care a lot about the conversation around consent with my nieces because I have several of them,” said Gallaway. “Statistics say that sexual violence will be probable for them. If I can help them avoid that heartache I want to.”
At the height of #MeToo, prominent men fell from grace like dominoes. It also created ripple effects beyond the entertainment industry. Locally, women who worked for Seattle City Light and other departments spoke out about sexual harassment in the workplace. It led Mayor Jenny Durkan to announce the city would be doing an “extensive evaluation of our approach to workplace harassment.”
Roberson is keeping a close eye on the movement.
“I want people to keep talking about it. I don’t want it to slip under the radar like some other hashtag movement,” said Roberson. “I want it to have staying power and I want it to continue to transfer to become more inclusive. And to really work to dismantle these destructive systems.”
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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