If you’ve scrolled through the #MeToo posts on social media and thought, “Gosh, it seems like everyone I know has experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment,” consider this: There are far more stories of #MeToos than the number of posts on Facebook.
This doesn’t surprise the women reading this. It shouldn’t surprise men, either. While men have published supportive and well-meaning #IWill posts, in which they’ve promised to call out other men’s demeaning or predatory behavior, many clearly weren’t aware of the prevalence of the problem.
The stories you’re not reading are being held back for reasons that are just as valid as those in favor of speaking up. Some are refraining from posting #MeToos on Facebook because their perpetrator might read it and recognize himself. Others don’t think their experiences seem “bad enough” when side-by-side with others’ stories, so they don’t want to diminish the harsher horror stories out there by sharing their more ordinary ones. And some just don’t like to share much on social media. Here are a few more reasons women are keeping their #MeToos to themselves.
Don’t we know this already? To Carolyn Gilbert, a 63-year-old woman in Cincinnati, sexual harassment and assault are too common and too serious to address in a Facebook post. To her the posts have become as cliche as someone expressing “thoughts and prayers” after a disaster. “Me, too?” she asked rhetorically over the phone. “Duh. Me, too. Everybody, too.” She’d rather see individual people speak up about individual people, as Ashley Judd and dozens of others have done about Harvey Weinstein.
Social media doesn’t allow for much nuance. “If I don’t say something, am I somehow implying that I’m somehow immune from this or above it?” Lizzie Pollock, a 35-year-old in Rhode Island, asked herself this week as the #MeToo posts piled up. “That’s not at all how I feel.”
But what kept her from adding her voice to the chorus was nuance, and the lack of it on social media. If she were to share a #MeToo, she says there are aspects of her story that she would feel comfortable sharing and aspects that she wouldn’t. She doesn’t want to start a conversation on which she can’t fully elaborate if friends or family members were to ask follow-up questions. So she’s sitting this one out. “It feels disingenuous to just tell a version of it that’s sanitized for social media,” Pollock said.
Posting these stories forces people to relive pain. Pollock noted that posting on Facebook would feel like “reliving a trauma someone else caused.” And for what? To add just one more story that might increase visibility on an important issue, but it likely won’t provoke an apology from a perpetrator. A rape survivor wrote into Slate’s Dear Prudence advice column this week saying that seeing all the #MeToo posts on social media was triggering — and belittling. “I understand why people would want to post, but it just makes me furious,” the survivor wrote. “It makes me feel like everything I’ve gone through has been reduced down to a hashtag so that it can trend on social media.”
Women are tired of bearing the burden of having to speak up. This is not the first viral social media campaign prompting women to tell their stories of sexual harassment or assault. Women have been sharing their stories, en masse, for years now — and yet harassment and assault continue.
“I’m wary and weary of people, mainly female-identifying, being asked to share their trauma in public, so it can be used to tip a scale of male belief that shouldn’t need tipping,” Hannah Kreiger-Benson, a 32-year-old musician in New Orleans, posted to Facebook this week. She added: “We have collectively established that it’s pretty much 100% of women, and many men, who have experienced sexual assault and harassment.” Instead of a typical #MeToo, she addressed men, asking them to call out inappropriate comments or behavior, to “be the guy who says something when he notices something, even if it feels weird.”
Suzy Goldenkranz, a 31-year-old woman in Washington, also thinks there should be more energy put into educating men on how to treat women with respect and less around airing victims’ stories. “Saying ‘Me, too. I’m a victim’ only gets you so far,” Goldenkranz says. “I think it starts with teaching men that women are just as important as men in every capacity. When you’re treating them as an object or as if you have a certain entitlement to their body, you’re no longer treating them like an equal.”
And by the way, she wonders, where are the men posting, admitting to having treated women poorly?
I’ve been wondering the same thing. How many confessions have you read from men about the ways they might have provoked or inspired a #MeToo post? In my Facebook feed, I’ve seen three men taking responsibility for their actions. Not an #IWill, which is easy. But an #IHave or an #IWasThatGuy, which are much harder. Three.
That’s a start, but as all the women I spoke to emphasized: The real conversations that will have impact — that might actually prevent assault or harassment — take place in real life, not in a Facebook post.