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(slate.com)

#MeToo comes at a cost

Commentary/Opinion by

On Oct. 15, I scrolled past the first of the now viral “Me too” posts. Since then, I have tried to articulate my mixed feelings toward the “Me too” campaign in dozens of conversations with friends and fellow survivors. As much as I admire the thousands of women who have spoken up through this campaign, I cannot help but feel uneasy about the emotional and affective labour that the “Me too” movement demands of survivors.

Affective labour, in this instance, comes in the form of calling upon survivors to post in order to prove their personal and collective experiences of sexual assault and harassment. The viral visibility of the campaign itself forces survivors to relive intensely difficult emotions and experiences with every post they see. To call this upsetting is to put the feeling—and its magnitude—lightly.

As I debated whether I should post a "Me too" myself, I also considered the positive and empowering aspects of this hashtag. Indeed, #MeToo speaks to the shared experience among over half the population, and moreover, a type of experience that is otherwise taboo in regular conversation or public forums. No one wants to bring up difficult personal stories of sexual assault or harassment in spaces or moments not meant for them—such as a Facebook newsfeed—and these designated spaces are almost always few and inaccessible. As such, to be able to say "Me too" via social media can be a rare moment of catharsis. "Me too" gives survivors a platform to be brave and outspoken. In return, they are validated and heard.

 

The drive of this movement rests wholly on the backs of the survivors.

And yet, in our celebration of the bravery and resilience of these individuals, we must not forget that the effectiveness of “Me too” is wholly predicated on every participant’s acute and mostly involuntary affective labour. Actress Alyssa Milano, one of the purported initiators of the viral movement, tweeted in her original post: “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.” Those who post are thus called upon and even pressured to come forward with their own testimonies. In many ways, this campaign therefore replicates pre-existing patterns in which we demand survivors to convince us of their truth from a position of fundamental disbelief. Meanwhile, those who see the posts are forced to not only recall their experiences of assault and harassment, but also relive the trauma of systemic disbelief, inaction, and general helplessness that so frequently follows these experiences.

And so, over the past few days, as the momentum of “Me too” wore thin through attrition, and criticisms emerged alongside sentiments of solidarity, it was the survivors who came under fire.

In other words, while the intent of "Me too" might be to expose the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment against predominantly women to predominantly men, the drive of this movement rests wholly on the backs of the survivors. While the effectiveness of such a strategy remains up for debate, we absolutely cannot forget the affective labour we are demanding—and have always demanded—of survivors.

Likewise, we cannot forget that overwhelming statistics and testimonies regarding sexual assault already exist, and have proven ineffectual in prompting significant change. Performative allyship online will be the first result of this movement, but it is not enough. What remains to be seen is whether meaningful action will follow, or if we are merely retracing well-worn paths of demanding affective labour of survivors from a standpoint of systemic disbelief.

If you feel frustrated and fed up,

Me too.

 

 

 

Muhan Zhang is a fourth-year joint honours Art History and East Asian Studies student. Her thesis pertains to contemporary Asian diasporic and transnational art, and she likes making lists and rearranging her furniture.

 

 

 

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