Social movements are both fascinating and frustrating, taking a life of their own: they survive in chants of pithy slogans, find coherence in heated debates and, sometimes, just sometimes, culminate into a brilliant moment of reckoning of an idea whose time has come. Social movements are interested in the toughest kind of progress there is to achieve ― effecting change in both the individual’s "opinion" and the society’s "mindset". To make matters more complicated, such change is largely immeasurable, existing in a constant flux. There is heavy overlap, too, in social movements and their political counterparts; each aid and inform the other in a non-linear struggle. In the age of technology, social movements exist increasingly in the digital realm, its efforts tagged and made searchable with a simple catchphrase ― co-existing in the same frivolous space with cat videos.
In a post-Trump world, where there is a certain kind of legitimising of sexism and racism, one would assume that a movement like #metoo would not work, and yet it has transcended most expectations: it is a rallying call to end sexual violence everywhere. The movement is in no way novel, its politics entrenched in third-wave feminism creating a certain polarisation in public opinion and effort; even so, it is a significant event worthy of praise as much as critique.
A review of the #metoo timeline:
The hashtag #metoo, popularly credited to actress Alyssa Milano, began with a 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 [sic]
This ignited an outpouring of stories about sexual assault and harassment experiences on an unprecedented scale, stirring conversations about sexual abuse in the workplace, consent and the ubiquity of the problem of sexual violence against women. Parallel efforts were also being made by New York Times to bring down one of Hollywood's powerful men, Harvey Weinstein, whose notoriety was hitherto an 'open-secret' in the business. The unequivocal downfall of Weinstein has empowered more voices to speak out by establishing widespread solidarity, brewing new anger everywhere. This was followed by more stories alleging abuse of power against Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, etc. The exposed monstrosity of powerful men has become the movement's first victory and cemented its credibility.
Time's Up at the Golden Globes:
Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story. ― Oprah Winfrey, 'Cecil B. DeMille Award' acceptance speech.
In a post-truth world, the politicisation of the Awards has become a familiar sight. In her acceptance speech last year, Meryl Streep openly criticised Donald Trump and exhorted her audience to uphold the values of free-speech and press. This year's Golden Globes followed suit with a conscientious effort to drive #metoo's ideal of solidarity home. The glamour of the Awards was purposed with symbolism; men and women, dressed in black, wore pins that read 'Time's Up' and women's rights activists were in attendance as plus-ones. Oprah Winfrey's emphatic speech was touching, empathetic and inspiring. The trend continued at the Grammys this year ― solidifying #metoo's celebrity.
The backlash against #metoo:
#metoo successfully gave platform to decades-long silence against the likes of Weinstein in some cases, but its unequivocal fight against sexual violence has faltered since opposing views have gained popularity. This is most clear when, in the light of alleged hypocrisy, a report came out against Aziz Ansari's sexual misconduct: the story delves right into the complexity of consent, and the movement is divided on the morality of it. Some (notably, the older generation of women) call it "bad sex" and consider any sympathy towards the situation of the woman an "infantilising" opposed to empowerment. Others argue that the playing field of sex, fraught with inequality, is tipped in the favour of a male entitlement and ignorance; the story bears eerie resemblance to a familiar discomfort for women, empowered as they may be elsewhere in society.
“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.” ― Simone de Beauvoir,
Decades after Simone de Beauvoir wrote the feminist treatise "The Second Sex", women are confronted by the same misogyny still. However, #metoo's victory lies in dismantling the above "representation of the world", in giving women voices to reclaim their stories in a way that will hopefully move us forward. It is a painstaking journey, and for women, a necessary one, to reflect and talk about these issues ad nauseum: to undo the work of men, to arrive at more relative truths.