Part Five (Women’s Rights) – Can we Talk About this in Class: Unpacking Some Complexities of the Me Too Movement

The #MeToo Movement: South Korea and the United States- https://yonseiuicscribe.com/the-metoo-movement-south-korea-and-the-united-states/

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Introduction
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
Lesson Plans/Curriculum
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

References
The #MeToo Movement Makes Its Way Into Harvard Courses
Me Too Movement Summary and History
The #MeToo Moment
7 positive changes that have come from the #MeToo movement



       




10 Comments

  1. As I was in the classroom today I found my self saying to my cooperating teacher “our students are impacting ourselves just as much as we are impacting theirs” while I was saying this I couldn’t of came up with a betters statement. Every day in the classroom we are making a difference in someones life. Whether it may be talking with a student about something that happened over the weekend or even telling them you liked their shirt. We apart of our students lives. I love how in this article you talk about having the students keep journals every day and I honestly believe that this can truly make an impact on our students. Most students are scared to share stories or speak out to others when they are in times of need. But allowing a student to even express their thoughts and feelings down on paper can make the the biggest impact to them. It can make them feel relieved just by writing in the classroom. The book The Freedom Writers is truly an AMAZING book if anyone has not read it then they need to. It truly opens your eyes as to how much a teacher and students writing can change the world.

  2. Going into the education field I know there are going to be times when I come across students who have been sexually assaulted or harassed by someone. Often times it is by someone they know and they are afraid to speak up because of what might happen to them. I think students will have a hard time opening up and talking about this to people they know. I believe it is an important issue which needs to be discussed. In the article it talks about ways which you can talk about it in your classroom through a journal. I think that’s a great way to have students talk about what has happened. It will be good for them to talk about their feelings and it will help them in the end. I want to make sure my students feel safe and they can talk to me if they need too. I don’t want anyone to go through sexual assault or harassment. If a student chooses to write about what has happened to them I want them to know that it will only be read by me and I will take the appropriate actions to help them. I want them to know that are not alone and I will help them the best that I can. The students this happens too are not victims, they are survivors and they deserve to heal.

  3. It is hard for me to imagine that I might have students in the classroom that have been victims of abuse and sexual assault/harassment, but I know it is the unfortunate truth. Talking about the “Me Too” movement in class and giving students a chance to have their voices heard is intimidating, but I definitely want to give them an outlet to share their truth. I like the idea stated in the article about having daily or weekly journals that prompt students to open up about trauma they have experienced or a time in their life where they felt victimized or bullied. I also love the idea of giving my students a chance to not share their writing with anyone because it can be very therapeutic to just get all of your feelings down on paper. Then, if a student feels particularly compelled to share their writing with me, they can put in a safe place and I will read it privately. I also want to make sure I incorporate lessons that focus on people who have endured sexual abuse, victimization, bullying, and harassment. More than anything, I want my students to know that they are not alone and that they will get through whatever battle they are currently fighting. I want them to view themselves as survivors, not victims because they are so strong and courageous.

  4. Opening up and talking about sexual assault and violence in the classroom is something we should all encourage. I think that it is awesome that women are using their voice to tell their story, while also empowering others to do the same. I think a journal would be an awesome outlet for kids in middle school and up. I believe elementary school students are way too vulnerable and young to be able to comprehend all of that information.

  5. The Me Too movement could be a bit of an uncomfortable topic to discuss in an elementary school classroom, but can be discussed, if done the right and appropriate way. This post talks about the use of journals to allow students to write privately about uncomfortable or “scary” topics they may feel uncomfortable talking about with their parents, classmates, or anyone else. Anonymity is a great way to allow students to find their voice and speak up if necessary, which can pinpoint a major problem that may need to be addressed to the counselor, principal, and family members. This type of writing can be aimed at males, too. This is necessary, so all students have equal opportunities to write about their experiences. It should be stated that both men and women can experience different forms of violence and trauma, and that it is a serious topic that is nothing to joke about. Multiple class discussions should take place, talking about the importance of reaching out to a trusted adult when something does not feel right. Parents may not be comfortable with this type of talk at school, so a detailed newsletter should be sent out, describing exactly what will be taking place while discussing such serious topics, like the Me Too movement and violence in general. Parents and teachers must share communication at all times, so when a problem arises, it can be taken care of immediately.

  6. I never knew where the “Me Too” movement derived from, so hearing that was very interesting to me. I think the movement has turned into a wonderful, empowering things for both males and females. Bringing teaching and light to sexual assault in the classroom is always tricky. Because you don’t know what everyone has gone through or is going through makes it hard for activists to take place. While a lot of survives have begun to come out and speak about their trauma, others are still very affected by it and talking about it or writing about it can bring back ptsd. It’s okay for sexual assault to be talked about in the classroom but if students don’t feel comfortable participating, they should be able to opt out.

  7. Opening up and talking about sexual assault and violence in the classroom is something that I’m all for. The journal would be the best way for children to open up about it, and give them a confidant if they need one. It doesn’t force them to say anything, but gives them the opportunity.The “Me Too” movement gives people a chance to speak up for themselves without fear of their abusers, and is giving them the strength to talk about it while being around other people who have gone through similar hardships.

  8. I think the idea of having the students journal is a great idea but I think it would be better since In elementary it could be upsetting to some parents to be very direct about sexual violence. I think I would need to find a way to have them journal and open up but in a way that doesn’t directly instruct them to write about sexual assault. I think as a teacher its very important for us to be observant and to watch for signs of abuse or neglect of any kind to be able to help our students and support them as much as we can. I also think that it is important just like in feminism to have another movement to support women of color that have been affected by sexual violence because they do expirence it differently than white women.

  9. The idea of talking about the “Me Too” movement in elementary classroom seems a bit ambiguous and scary. This could turn into a very sensitive topic for students or their parents. I love the ideas stated in this article about how to talk about these topics in your classroom. Journals are a great way of having students write about past experiences and feel like they are able to write in confidence. I like the idea of giving students broad prompt about bulling or violence. This allows students to open up if they want to, but does not pressure them. I also liked the idea of using small groups, because students will feel more comfortable opening up when trust is established.

  10. Having a daughter, I have fears that she will be a victim of some type of sexual assault/harassment. However, I find it empowering and encouraging that women are finding their voice and standing up against their perpetrators. The Me Too movement has been a positive force in fighting for those who are afraid to speak up against sexual acts that were not consented. I feel like upper-class women have been recognized more than African American, Native-American, or Mexican-American individuals because they have a platform (celebrities, Hollywood “a-listers”).

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