Shocking revelations from celebrities and ordinary women alike took the web by storm this week after a tweet by Alyssa Milano went viral. Milano, an American actress, called for women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to include the words ‘Me Too’ in their social media statuses, to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
What followed was hundreds of thousands of women across the globe hopping onto the hashtag to speak out about their experiences, some for the very first time. It didn’t matter whether it was cat calling, or physical assault, nothing was off-limits and no experience was too trivial.
It didn’t take long for the trend to trickle down to Saint Lucia – by mid week ‘Me Too’ confessions were popping up on social media timelines everywhere. Even though I already knew how prevalent the issue was, my surprise didn’t wane as friends, and people I barely knew, told the world what they had been through. In far too many cases, the perpetrators had never been convicted. One particularly gripping story came from a young Saint Lucian woman, now in her 20s, who was raped at the age of 14 by a family member. Since then, she’d struggled with depression and self-harm, while the perpetrator, her uncle, had not been jailed. She blamed corruption for the failings of our justice system, and a lack of concern from the powers that be.
The nightmarish recollections extended across the seas. Actress America Ferrara told a chilling story about being sexually assaulted at the age of nine. She spoke about living with gut-wrenching guilt, and feeling responsible for the actions of a grown man who would “smile and wave at me, and expect me to shut my mouth and smile back.”
During a taping of ‘The Ellen Show’, comedian Ellen DeGeneres made her own ‘Me Too’ revelation. In her words, “This is not a male thing or a female thing; it’s not a Hollywood thing, or a political thing; this is a human thing. It happens in the work place, it happens in families, it happens all over the world, and we’re all the same. We all want the same thing – we want respect, and love, and kindness.”
The show host felt part of the problem was that, from a young age, girls were taught to stay quiet and be nice. It was ingrained in them that boys were stronger, and somehow girls were less than.
“That is why it is hard for us to speak out,” she said. “Even when we do, people don’t believe us.”
Even still, there was power in numbers, and the show host thanked all for speaking out.
“Hopefully the conversations we’re having now will free us, and break the cycle,” she added.
Also from Tinseltown: Gina Rodriques, Rosario Dawson, Viola Davis, Reese Witherspoon and others let their voices be heard. Witherspoon, who’d been sexually assaulted by a director at the age of 16, spoke about dealing with anxiety, and guilt for not having spoken up earlier, or taking action.
“I wish I could tell you that it was an isolated incident in my career but, sadly, it wasn’t,” she said. “I’ve had multiple experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Witherspoon thanked the men and women who’d been sharing their stories for providing the inspiration she needed to share hers.
“I felt less alone this week than I’ve felt in my entire career,” she said.
The names kept pouring in. Powerful women were sharing their stories in the hope of connecting with women across the globe and erasing the predatory culture that has through the years continued to victimize women, and protect men.
Actress Gabrielle Union, who has been open about being a survivor of sexual assault, vowed this week to continue telling her story as honestly as possible, and educating the masses.
“You see so much victim blaming, and victim shaming, and really trying to put the onus on the victim, and saying there’s some right way to deal with trauma; and I just keep speaking out as much as possible to dispel as many misconceptions about sexual violence as possible.”
The actress spoke out against segregation, or a lack of connectedness, that kept people trapped in their own traumatic experiences.
“With so many issues, people feel like ‘I’m the only one experiencing this’. They feel like they’re screaming into a hurricane and no one is hearing them,” Union said.
The actress hopes that her new memoir, ‘We’re Going to Need More Wine’, will help spread messages of solidarity.
This week, while women in all corners of the world unburdened themselves of deep-seated violations against their bodies, talk was rife about couch-casting, in and out of Hollywood.
At the centre of it all was what Access Hollywood described as the sex scandal that rocked Hollywood to the core. Years-old allegations of sexual harassment and assault have all but erased the name of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein from the face of Hollywood.
But, by the accounts of many, Weinstein was simply the villain of the day. Violence against women had long before him established a grim and recurring pattern.
British actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson summed it up best: “This is a gender dysfunction, and the other thing it is, it is a public health issue. This is not about one man’s crimes against women, this is about our system’s imbalances, our system’s gender crisis, and we have to act on this; we can’t allow this to continue.”
Caught in the middle of this week’s campaign were the people who were not sure whether they identified or not, or whether their experiences qualified.
As told by Veronica Ruckh, whose article ‘Why Can’t I say Me Too’ grabbed the attention of many, “Regardless of whether I’m comfortable or you’re comfortable saying ‘Me Too’, we all need to admit that we have a problem.”
As women continue to speak out against sex crimes and other issues affecting women, the words of America Ferrara continue to ring true here and abroad: “Lets break the silence so the next generation of women won’t have to live with this bullshit.”