Why This is Important
In October 2017, social media exploded with the “me too” hashtag – a phenomenon started by actress Alyssa Milano as a way to illustrate the scope of sexual harassment and assault after allegations of decades of abuse and harassment of women by film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
#MeToo reached over 85 countries and over 1.7 million tweets through Twitter, and generated more than 12 million posts, comments, and reactions in less than 24 hours by 4.7 million users on Facebook, according to CBS News.
Soon after #MeToo swept the land, an ABC News – Washington Post poll found that “more than half of all American women – 54% – have experienced ‘unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances’ at some point in their lives. All told, 33 million U.S. women have been sexually harassed – and 14 million sexually abused – in work-related episodes.” There are plenty of statistics pointing to the fact that sexualization has become the norm. This is not normal.
Sexual harassment and assault have become an epidemic, particularly in the workplace. Colleges and universities – tasked with preparing students to become productive citizens in the workplace – are grappling with how to protect students from harassment and assault without violating due process. Some argue that college is too late to intervene on behaviors that create hostile environments – environments that are more likely to lead to sexual harassment and assault.
It is important that we act now. The deluge of recent allegations, particularly against men with power or celebrity, opens the door for those that have been abused to speak up and be heard. But we must do more than hold individuals accountable for their actions. We need to hold people accountable for enabling and ignoring harassment and assault. We need to change the processes that allow for enabling and ignoring. We need to teach our young people the meaning of consent and a value system that supports others rather than dehumanizes others.
It is quite possible that a shift in societal norms surrounding sexual harassment and assault will not conclude in our lifetimes. It is more likely that such a shift requires the reformation of values that are learned from childhood and passed down through generations. It will require dedication across many professional fields, all of which have their own specific concerns to address.
Every change starts somewhere, though, and small changes add up to larger ones. A few people become many people. One kind act begets another. That is why we must start now.
Let’s bring empathy and respect back as societal norms. Let’s make our society a safer place.
Let’s change what’s normal.