From the Editor | Taylor Kirby
On Oct. 14, actress Alyssa Milano posted the following tweet: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” She quickly followed that tweet with another: “Me too.”
On Monday, Twitter representatives told CNN that #MeToo had been tweeted 500,000 times in less than a day. While people originally shared Milano’s entire message, its virality was such that the concept was soon communicated on my own social media feeds with just two words: Me too.
On election night, though I cried for many reasons, this was the one at the forefront.
My concern with Milano’s tweet is its lack of specificity. Yes, far fewer survivors would have been willing or emotionally capable of sharing their stories had she called upon only victims of sexual assault, but if the goal is to truly see the scope of the problem, her construction doesn’t cut it. I haven’t met one woman who hasn’t been catcalled or sexually harassed in a similarly “normalized” way. Though I’m citing anecdotal evidence here, I worry that too many people who don’t want to confront this endemic head-on will assume harassment where the poster is revealing assault. So let’s try to define the scope that this hashtag (necessarily) obstructs.
One out of every four female undergraduates will be sexually assaulted during the time it takes to complete their degrees. Because numbers can create an emotional distance in their objectivity, let’s break this down even further. Next time you’re sitting in class, look around you. If the room has 40 students in it, and if the room abides by the statistic that public universities see a male/female gender divide of 44/56, respectively, you can safely assume that of the 22 women in your class, six of them have been sexually assaulted.
And those are just the numbers that have been reported. In 2010, the US Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that as many as 84 percent of sexual assaults do not get reported to the police.
As more and more of my female friends shared their stories in the last couple of days, and as actress Mayim Bialik doubled down on her assertion that her “wisdom” and modest clothes kept her safe from the likes of Harvey Weinstein, I was desperate to find a way, however small, to act in a meaningful, helpful way. And then my friend shared a post about how frequently we talk about sexual assault in the passive voice.
I’ve done it here in this very column. When I said, “One our of every four female undergraduates will be sexually assaulted,” I wrote a sentence that only has a verb and an object. There is no agent behind the action, no figure to blame for the assault—and this, I think, is why even staunch feminists can blame the victims of sexual assault in the same moment as they try to defend them. These sentence constructions shine the spotlight exclusively on the victims and allow the perpetrators to shirk most of the onus. From now on, I will make myself address these topics only in active voice, or at least make sure I include the subject: “A man will assault one out of every four undergraduate women” or “One out of every four undergraduate women will be sexually assaulted by a man.”