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A Hashtag that Lit the Darkness

Lady GaGa, Ellen Degeneres, Taylor Swift, Reese Witherspoon. Do these names ring a bell? Yes, they are famous celebrities. Other than their popularity and symbolic blonde hair, what do they have in common? Perhaps you may be thinking of some simple facts, like they all are Americans and related to Hollywood. But what I’m about to tell you is a lot more serious and heartbreaking than these facts. Each of them has experienced terrible events that no one would ever want to go through. They have all been victims of one of the most dreadful abuses. All of them are survivors of sexual violence1. There is one more thing: They have each participated in the movement called #Metoo that shook the world in 2017.

What is #Metoo and how did it go viral? Originally, it had a smaller audience than what it aimed to reach. The Metoo movement was founded by a woman named Tarana Burke more than a decade ago. She created this foundation to support the female survivors of sexual assaults2 – especially, people of color who are living in impoverished conditions. On October 5 2017, which was 11 years after Metoo’s foundation, an allegation emerged that Harvey Weinstein – one of the most successful American film producers – sexually harassed and abused actresses from Hollywood. Followed by this initial report, on October 10, NBC News revealed that he had committed sex crimes more than a dozen times. With Internet users being outraged with his scandal, actress Alyssa Milano uploaded a post on her Twitter account suggesting women who had experienced sexual abuses to retweet ‘Metoo’ to raise awareness of the prevalence and magnitude of the sexual abuses that are happening in our society. Soon after her tweet was posted, thousands of women and some men, including stars such as Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lawrence, retweeted. With a hashtag, a small organization that started from a campaign to bring together underprivileged and minority female sexual assault victims had grown into a comprehensive one that included both genders and people from different social classes.

“This is 2017, the time is ripe for a reckoning, for a reordering of power… Today we're here to tell you that you will no longer keep us quiet, you will no longer label us gold-diggers or psychos. That ends now, because we want our daughters and sons to go to a workplace where they will never have to take a meeting with a dude in a bathrobe”

–Lauren Sivan, one of the Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, at the march

The impacts that #Metoo brought on the entertainment industry were huge. It encouraged sufferers of non-consensual sexual acts to come forward to accuse their abusers. The list of these abusers include Kevin Spacey, an actor that played a main character in a TV series called “House of Cards” and action star Steven Seagal.

Yet, there were still several kinds of industries that #Metoo couldn’t lift the shadows from. These industries were comprised of mostly pink-collar, low-wage jobs, such as hotel maids and restaurant servers. Since these jobs are mostly occupied by minority women, they may not have enough information on which institution to seek help from or have enough money to hire lawyers to support their legal cases. Ironically, a movement that started out to bring together and support less fortunate women ended up in a circumstance where they became alienated. To solve this problem, Hollywood celebrities gathered and created a campaign called Times’ Up. They have founded a $13-million legal defense fund to provide legal support to victims of sexual assault. Moreover, it will continue to address structural inequality and injustices toward the minorities prevalent in the workplace.

The Time’s Up movement showed itself off in the Golden Globes this January. Most of the participants wore black dresses and brooches with the Time’s Up logo. Oprah Winfrey also made a speech praising women that spread the #Metoo movement without being afraid to share their own experiences.

"I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women …and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they …take us to the time when nobody ever has to say "me too" again."

–Oprah Winfrey

Shockingly, a huge number of sexual harassment3 victims used to think of their experiences as normal, according to Noeline Blackwell, the CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. They consistently got trapped into the thinking that they were talking to a blank wall, and some of them even worried that they might be considered as a person with low social skills who does not understand jokes if they confronted their issues. However, with the help of #Metoo, people in great numbers have started to say that unwanted harassment is not normal and they need to speak out.

“…it’s hopeful that the world is changing to a place where we can have open discussions about sexual violence and how it affects people millions and millions of people around the world”

–Tarana Burke

Before hearing about #Metoo, I had been quite oblivious to the widespread sexual abuses that were taking place in our society. Maybe it was because I am a man, which is considered to be relatively safer compared to women when it comes to sexual harassment. Or maybe it was because I haven’t witnessed it happening before my very own eyes or even due to the fact that I haven’t got a nearby person who has gone through it. Now that I think of these excuses, I cannot be more ashamed of myself for being ignorant about such a grievous issue. In this regard, I appreciate this courageous movement #Metoo for making me contemplate my past and realize if I had simply neglected troubles near me.

Just like Tarana said, this writer is also both relieved and proud of the sexual abuse survivors for having started to come forward. But we shouldn’t end this movement just by making their voices heard. Regardless of the age, culture, gender, and race we should all unite and act towards bringing an end to the rotten system.

Did you know? Teal is the official color of SAAM, which stands for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

1sexual violence — a broad term including sexual assault, harassment, rape and other sexual offenses

2sexual assault — a physical attack of a sexual nature on another person or a sexual act committed without explicit consent

3sexual harassment — unwelcome sexual attention or speech, especially from people in a position of power

Kim Junwhan  hongiktidings@naver.com

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