It took me two days before I finally posted my #MeToo story on Facebook.
In the days prior, I had read the disturbing accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged harassment, sexual assault and rape of more than 80 women, and my story seemed to pale in comparison. The fact that I had women in my own life who have experienced the same sort of brutal harassment depicted also made me pause.
What did my voice mean in this Hollywood-driven movement?
When the hashtag #MeToo took over the internet some months ago, there was a collective sigh of knowing from women across the world. It was created by Tarana Burke a decade ago, and experienced a resurgence in October when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “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.”
Overnight, more than 32,000 responses were published and with it the patriarchy and ‘casting couch’ culture of Hollywood came tumbling down.
TIME magazine called it one of the “highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s”, and you can’t argue this when you see the stats: millions of #MeToo posts have since been published from over 85 countries, by both men and women.
These included a troupe of Hollywood’s biggest stars who spoke about their own experiences where sexual favours were demanded of them in order to move up in the world.
I saw the names as they popped up on my Twitter feed. Kate Beckinsale. Ashley Judd. Angelina Jolie. Cara Delevingne.
With them came the names of my friends. Students. Teachers. Ministers. Nurses.
Their courage astonished me. I wasn’t surprised by the accounts given, or the long list of alleged perpetrators, which has now spread to the Australian media and music industry. As a female I’m all too aware of the male gaze, innuendos and unwanted advances—how my body has become more about consumption than reverence in a sex-saturated culture all about temporary pleasure.
But I was grieved that as women, famous or not, it had become our collective responsibility to speak out about something that powerful men had, admittedly, kept quiet about for too long.
And it wasn’t just females, although they dominated this movement (and rightfully so, given 84% of sexual assault victims are female). Terry Crews, a popular Christian actor from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, spoke out about his own assault, as did 28-year-old director Blaise Godbe Lipman.
More fuel was added to the fire when members of the Church spoke up under the #ChurchToo hashtag. Texan pastor Beth Moore was at the forefront, and spoke about how sexual abuse had affected her life and ministry.
“A well-meaning mentor told me at 25 that people couldn’t handle hearing about sexual abuse and it would sink my ministry,” she said. “It didn’t.”
After months of these posts, it is clear that sexual misconduct isn’t just restricted to Hollywood. It exists everywhere—in the sacred and sacrilegious, religious and secular, for males, females and trans, black and white, all ages and ethnicities. We’ve seen in recent news headlines that the problem hasn’t gone away and has real impact on Australian society.
Two days after the movement began, I pulled together the courage to share my own story online. I wanted to quash the shame that inhibited my own instances of harassment and assault. But, of course, when I shared my #MeToo, there was backlash.
Phrases like, “It happens to men too”, “It’s just part of the industry”, “These are just accusations”, and my personal favourite, “These women must have something against him”, all popped up, discounting the personal story of each brave person who has come forward, in favour of a broader agenda.
I felt victimised all over again. Like survivors were somehow the perpetrators, when many have gone through years of trauma, intense flashbacks, fear of intimacy, and counselling. This was a moment for justice which Christ himself had proclaimed, and it was being stripped away from us like clothes being torn from our bodies.
Hollywood may have a powerful monopoly on sex that must be played out in court, but make no mistake—anyone in society with privilege has played a part, often unknowingly, in enforcing it.
We support the culture when we buy movie tickets to see a film objectifying people or commodifying sex. We silence victims when we laugh and say, “Boys will be boys”, and blame women for wearing too much or too little. And we mute God’s spirit when we try to explain away the accounts of survivors or give our opinion more readily than listen.
Fame, money, politics and religion can no longer hide what has happened behind closed doors. Christ called for a radical shift in culture, where everyone was given the equality and respect they deserve.
As Moore said, “If you want to know how Jesus felt about women and treated women, read the Gospels. Anything and anyone that does not reflect what you see in Jesus in black and white on those pages may wear a Christian label but never confuse that with Christlike. Jesus is no misogynist.”
It is up to us to change our culture. For the Church to be at the forefront of a movement that will speak up with bravery, and listen with humility. To validate before we discredit. To identify our own privilege and biases—often towards powerful white, male figures, and move past them with compassion.
Each year, TIME magazine selects a ‘person of the year’. It seems fitting that in 2017, the people on the cover were representative of the ‘Silence Breakers’: women and men from all walks of life, who have come forward about their own experiences of sexual assault.
In that cover photo, there is also just the elbow of one unknown survivor. It belongs to a hospital worker who was afraid to come forward with her name, for fear of her livelihood.
It is a sobering reminder that for every person who has been able to speak up, there are many more yet to seek help.
#MeToo is more than a worldwide movement. It is a rally cry, urging us to be the change-makers in a world that silences victims and praises the perpetrators. But first the Church and people everywhere have to own up to our role in it. This is our time. Are you ready for it?