Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
An appropriate way to end this series of articles on women’s rights is to also pay homage to the women that have endured sexual violence and have had to remain silent due to fear of retaliation or humiliation. The most recent and broad discussion about this topic has been through the Me Too movement.
Definition and History
The Me Too movement (Sometime written as a hashtag, “#MeToo movement”), is a movement that aims to bring more attention to the epidemic of sexual harassment and sexual assault against women. Although some conversations have been surfacing surrounding violence against males.
While the Me Too movement is fair reaching globally having various manifestations throughout the world, this article will focus on the US movement. The movement began in October 2017 on social media in the form of a hashtag aimed at bringing awareness to the often hidden sexual violence that takes place in the workplace (Here workplace should be read as middle class, corporate America primarily). Shortly afterward the online movement began, it was revealed publicly that Harvey Weinstein (Renowned filmmaker) had been sexually assaulting women in his role as filmmaker and media mogul for decades, often threatening to ruin women’s careers if they did not acquiesce to his advances. Actress Alyssa Milano is credited for popularizing the movement on Twitter in 2017. Taking their cue from Milano a number of other actresses also began to post about sexual violence.
Me Too Movement’s Impact on Various Institutions and Industries
In recent times the movement has begun to become more nuanced, in that people have begun to speak against sexual assault and harassment as it relates to specific industries and institutions. Examples include exposing abuse in churches, educational settings, in the media, in fashion, in the financial industry, in medicine, in the field of journalism, in sports and in the military. The movement has been under girded by other high profile sexual assault scandals such as the conviction and incarceration of Bill Cosby. The Catholic Church scandals can be paired with the Me Too movement as well. The Me Too brings renewed energy for the advocacy of the many people that were sexually assaulted as children in the church.
Lack of Consideration of Minority Women
One of the criticisms of the movement is akin to what we have been writing about in previous articles. We must take into consideration the notion of intersectionality when thinking about sexual harassment and violence. Many women, due to a lack of power (Result of low socio-economic status or racial prejudice) are more susceptible to harassment than others. This does not negate the movement, but like mainstream feminism, the Me Too movement has been largely focused on middle and upper class women of European decent. As we have discussed in previous articles, the womanist movement was founded as a corrective to mainstream feminism, which has often been silent on issues related to minority women in particular. In the same way, the Me Too movement perhaps ignores the long history of sexual violence against African American women and others. For example, black women were purchased as slaves for sexual purposes for centuries before Hollywood found its voice. Bringing attention to the frequency of rape in slave plantation life in history would seem to fit right in with the discourse of the Me Too movement. Furthermore, the movement does not properly or adequately address the epidemic of violence against Native American women, taking place right now in the US and in Canada. In addition, there is a stereotype that women of color (Latina, African American and Native women) are eager to have sex and “want it.” Thus, many men force them into doing things they had no intention of doing, which is non-consensual sexual activity (which amounts to rape or sexual battery at best). We should not downplay the great work being done through the Me Too movement, but it should be more intentional about being more and more inclusive.
In the Classroom- Activities for Integrating this Material into the Classroom
Daily or weekly journals
Many students in our time have been the victim of sexual harassment and violence; including sexual battery, molestation, and even rape. One of the issues that keeps these crimes hidden is the silence of the victim, which often protects the perpetrator. Often it is a family member or close friend that has violated the person so it is often not spoken of. Another aspect of the crimes that keep the issues hidden is shame and the victim blaming themselves. Effective healing can take place by providing students a safe space to share their story. Teachers can, not only focus on sexual violence, but provide prompts or questions that address abuse in general and even speak about times they were victimized or bullied.
Anonymity is good. Writing can give students a voice.
Students can use writing for self-expression and to share their story. Erin Gruwell (The author of The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them) used writing to give her students voice and an outlet for their pain and suffering. Gruwell taught in a neighborhood plagued by gang violence in Long Beach, California. A very effective pedagogical practice she implemented in her classroom was to give students the option NOT to share their writing with the teacher or class if they did not feel comfortable. In this way, students could still journal and release that pain and burden from their story without fear of being ridiculed or misunderstood. But on the flip side, if students wanted to share with the group they could also have that option. Gruwell provided a cabinet for students that wanted to share their writing with the teacher and the class. If they wanted their journal read they could place it in that cabinet at the end of the class period. This exercise could work well with the topic of sexual violence and abuse.
Small Groups or partners work well
Getting anyone to open up about any type of victimization can be tough. And rightly so, because we live in a culture where the victim is often blamed. Women in particular are often depicted as behaving in a certain way where they deserved to be assaulted and harassed. As we have said previously, women of color are often presented as over-sexual and as desiring unsolicited sexual attention from men. These attitudes make it extremely difficult for people to open up. As classroom environments become more and more safe for students, they become more trusting and willing to share. This often takes time as the instructor works hard to create a family like environment. When appropriate trust has been established, the teacher can divide students up into small groups of no more than 3 or 4 to share their writings or stories. Of course, it is also important that teachers involve counseling professionals as needed, if students express situations where they are in harm’s way. Students should be made aware of the fact that teachers have an obligation to solicit professional help if they perceive a student is in danger.
Sample discussion questions or prompts for a Me Too centered writing exercise:
Respond to the following prompt or questions:
We have been discussing various topics surrounding women’s rights in America and the suffering women have undergone.
1. What are aspects of who you are that make you special and unique?
2. What is it about you that makes you deserve to be treated with respect?
3. What are your biggest challenges in life? Dig deep on this one.
4. What things in life are you most afraid of?
5. What aspects of your life make you the most angry and upset? What aspects of your life do you deem unfair?
6. Have you ever felt unsafe or victimized in your home? In your neighborhood? At school? Have you discussed this with anyone? How did you handle it?
7. Have you ever been the victim or target of verbal or physical abuse? How did you handle it?
8. Have you ever been in a situation at school where you feel you were victimized or abused?
9. What are obstacles that have prevented you from sharing these things?
Integrating these activities into the curriculum
This discussion can be integrated into lessons on:
- Women’s rights and women’s history.
- Slavery and Jim Crow and the sexual abuse of African American women.
- Native American culture and history and victimization of Native women.
- A discussion of racism and sexism in the US
- bullying and harassment at school and online.
- history, ethnic studies or women’s rights and history in an AP or special topics class.
Other Resources, Lesson Plans and References
Me Too Puberty Curriculum
Me Too: A Curriculum for K-12
The Reckoning: Teaching About the #MeToo Moment and Sexual Harassment With Resources From The New York Times
8 Resources for Teaching About #MeToo and Sexual Harassment