It’s been four months since news broke that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein paid off dozens of actresses to remain silent about their sexual assault accusations against him. Thank God they didn’t. What followed were a series of accusations against numerous other men in power –– actors, talk show hosts, congressmen, and an Olympic doctor. “Everyday” women have also been empowered to speak out about their experiences with harassment and assault through Tarana Burke’s hashtag #MeToo. In the wake of allegations against Weinstein, the hashtag has grown into a movement shaking up halls of power. But now many are asking, “what’s next?” For #MeToo to have a lasting impact, we need to rethink our cultural relationship to sex and gender, develop systems more capable of holding sexual assailants accountable, and unite all genders in the battle.
In order to create change, sex/ed programming needs to develop healthier beliefs and perceptions about sex early in life. Currently, most sex/ed fails to disprove preconceptions about heterosexual sex that students learn outside of the class, many which center around a submissive female role and dominant male role. The concept of consent is fairly new, but incredibly important to equalizing sexual and power dynamics in intimate relationships. Yet when students walk into the classroom, their lesson on consent often begins and ends with ‘yes means yes’ and ‘no means no,’ while the importance of specifically female empowerment and equality through consent are glossed over. American sex/ed rarely discusses female pleasure, the entire female anatomy, or equality in relationships. For sex/ed consistent with the lessons of #metoo, students must leave the classroom with respect for their peers, heterosexual men must respect women’s desires, and women must respect their own bodies. This results in healthier, happier relationships, benefiting everyone involved.
Educational systems as a whole also need reform. High schools must change the way they deal with harassers. When sexual assault occurs on a high school campus, we cannot assume that suspension will cure a perpetrator. Sexual assault may continue to be carried out by this person. Instead, it must be revealed that perpetrators’ perception of sexual power is an illusion. Perpetrators need behavioral intervention and help understanding the incentive behind their actions– suspension provides neither.
There is a developing attitude that those who discuss and take part in #metoo are anti-men––a common misconception about feminists in general. Some men are afraid that every woman they know will begin to unfairly accuse them of misconduct or worse; they fear a ‘witch hunt.’ In places in which accusations have broken out, from social media to the congress floor, the #MeToo movement is at risk of not only alienating men, but also leaving genders more divided than before. Listen, women are not out to get men, nor is harassment entirely a men vs. women issue. Men, women, and people of the LGBTQ+ community can all fall victims of sexual assault:
For a lasting impact, this must be everyone’s problem to solve. The essence of the #metoo movement has been to empower victims to speak out––an act so simple, yet so difficult–– and for all to listen and support. With men absent from the discussion, women, predominantly, risk preaching to the choir. We must all work together, not divided, to experience change.
Men are the solution to sexual assault. Bystander prevention has been shown to be incredibly revolutionary in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. Though any bystander can help to prevent assault, male bystanders can play an especially important role. If you see something, you must say something; that may include talking with the assaulter after helping to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Men must talk to other men about their sexism, asking questions like ‘why do you believe you have the right to do this?’ ‘How do you believe it would make your victim feel if you assaulted them?’
As well, women must do more to support other women in the fight against sexual harassment and assault. Victims must support other victims. Too often, women chime in with misogynistic language because it is part of the language of pop culture. They have succumbed to societal pressure and have internalized the narrow standards held for women. Lack of unity enables sexual abuse to persist. Women also need to continue to make their voices heard in every aspect of their lives; success in the #metoo movement can lead to other types of female empowerment. Women can gain control over their body and sexuality through becoming more proactive and assertive. We cannot expect all men to be consent experts, and therefore we must work to express what we are comfortable and uncomfortable with when we are able.
Lastly, we need more women in power! We need more women of color and people of the LGBTQ community directing movies, analyzing our politics and media, and working in government. Women and their allies are not trying to take over the world, they are just simply trying to have their voices heard more often, at the same rate as powerful men. For #Metoo will become a social and political movement that changes the course of history, society only needs to change its attitude, and men and women only need to work together and listen to one another, not remain divided.