#MeToo

Caragh Little
It's one of those social media trends - the #MeToo hashtag began when women were asked to share if they had ever been sexually assaulted or harassed.

It's one of those social media trends - the #MeToo hashtag began when women were asked to share if they had ever been sexually assaulted or harassed. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, the trend exists to show just how widespread such harassment can be.

Late on Monday night, I decided to post a '#MeToo' on Facebook. I nearly didn't do it - in fact I had deliberated all day. I'm not one for a bandwagon. I wouldn't trust any clique which would accept me as a member.

I haven't been through some of the horrors that many of the women who added a post to this trend have experienced. I've been lucky. But I have experienced verbal put-downs and the kind of subtle suggestiveness, tipping into bullying, which is very hard to prove. 'You're over-reacting darling' - just another over-sensitive female. The usual kind of thing.

So I posted, felt anxious about it for a while, turned off my computer and went to bed.

In the morning, the messages were waiting. I shouldn't have posted it. I shouldn't have gone public. Who did I think I was. I felt sick. I felt humiliated - exposed - bewildered. Worst of all, I felt I'd done this to myself: by posting my small #MeToo, I had exposed myself. It felt like those assault cases when someone says that the victim was asking for it by wearing too short a skirt... too low-cut a top. And of course it's even worse in such cases when that judgment comes from another woman. And in my case: me too. It did.

I added a comment to my Facebook post, to the effect that I'd been made to feel wrong, exposed and was now tempted to delete my #MeToo statement. Maybe I was over-reacting again. As the wise ones say, if you put your head above the parapet, someone will shoot at you: maybe I was simply over-sensitive to the inevitable. It's part of the joy of social media that we all sit in judgment over one another, and with screens between us, we have the safety to snipe. If you post something, you're inviting criticism as well as support: you have to be able to take both. But it doesn't feel quite as simple as that. It's not even always about gender.

For as long as I can remember, when I do what other people seem to do quite blithely, I get shot down. I recall a meeting many years ago, whose agenda was to gather colleagues' opinions: I voiced my opinion but was later rebuked for doing so. There's all that standard stuff: males using louder voices and greater height, even sometimes more assertive women who can make you feel invisible or small. People using your work to advance their own careers. It happens to everyone, surely? And it's happened to me too.

But when it happens online, it's especially insidious. I can empathise completely with teenagers who feel that their lives are being ruined by cyberbullying. Maybe as a grown-up I'm slightly less wedded to my phone and other screens than some teenagers, but there's something especially nasty about the undermining comment which follows you home and lands in your pocket, on your desk, beside your coffee mug or on your bedside table without you being able to lock any doors against it. They're so very brave, these keyboard warriors, spilling undermining criticism from their own safe space. Delighting in causing hurt but appearing fairly impervious to what might be batted back to them. Clever about their response: 'Oh did you take it that way? Oh that's so silly of you - that's not how I meant it at all!' - just enough of a sidestep away from being at fault to exonerate themselves, without actually apologising, and succeeding in making you feel that your hurt is all about your own stupidity. When the comment is an undermining one, they simply manage to undermine you further by claiming you've been wrong and stupid to feel undermined. Clever, isn't it? It's just like the subtle sexual harassment of the glance down at a leg, the question in a job interview which makes it clear that the panel intend to employ a man, the passing off of your idea as his own.

I should have learned from this morning. Learning is one of my passions, after all. And yet what have I done instead? I've written about my #MeToo experience again. I'm hoping that people read this, even though at the very same time I'm scared that people might. I'm not begging for support: I'm never keen to draw attention to myself. But if this piece might strike a note of empathy with anyone, then maybe it will have been worth writing. Maybe it'll have captured some aspects of the #MeToo trend - the subtle put-downs, the patronizing, the things that make you lose your spirit and make you feel a failure. Things that aren't even always to do with being female.

Those things? #MeToo.

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