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. The Me Too Movement has gotten a lot of attention and publicity in the last few years. However, before reading this article I did not much thought into the lack of minority groups being included in the media. This is something that, as part of the Me Too Movement, should have already gotten more attention. Women of color are, as explained in the article, are often times characterized by stereotypes and ignored in situations such as these. Intersectionality is something that needs to be discussed in all aspects of society, especially with something as important as sexual assault. As a future teacher I think it will be a very difficult topic to discuss for everyone involved, so I really like the idea for journaling. This would give students the outlet they may need without forcing them to share anything that may make them feel uncomfortable.

  2. In my opinion I believe the Me Too movement is very important in todays world. Many women have been affected by this, and having the Me Too movement makes it more comfortable and easier for women to talk about their experience. I feel like this can be hard to talk about in an elementary school setting, but it can be done if its handled correctly and in the right manner. It is such an important topic for our students to understand because sexual assault unfortunately can happen and may be happening to some of our own children and they need to know that its okay to tell or speak out. If we keep quiet about this issue, nothing will change. I really enjoyed this article and think it was very helpful to read.

  3. I think the #MeToo movement is so important in today’s society. So many women have experienced some type of assault and knowing that women with higher stakes held against them makes it easier for them to speak out about this issue. I really enjoyed the journaling for each student and then giving them the option to either show the teacher, read it to the class, or keep to themselves. Not only does this help kids see that adults are people that can help, they can also see that they aren’t the only ones going through something like this. This is so important for kids to understand because things like sexual assault happen to children way too often.

  4. I loved this article, it covers every facet of the MeToo movement. The MeToo movement is a fantastic thing that has brought the reality of sexual assault to life, it has opened the eyes of people across the internet to how often these things occur, how anyone can be effected and how hidden sexual assult is in the world around us leading many people to never report or even speak of it. I also loved that this article pointed out the flaws of the MeToo movement how, while being open to everyone’s stories, it manifests its focus to white upper middle class women, ignoring the oversexualization of minority women, I feel like this is so important but is so often ignored because it is also seen as a positive movement. Of course it is one but we must understand the faults of a movement and why they occur if we ever plan on making significant change for everyone rather than just a small section that is facing the problem while unintentionally or intentionally continuing to silence the rest. Other than the movement itself I really like the idea of implementing journals that are as shareable as the student wishes, I think this is a great way to get students to write, it teaches them healthy coping mechanisms and gives them a safe and optional way to receive help and is definitely something I intend to implement into my classroom in the future.

  5. I do believe the #MeToo movement needs to become more inclusive; like mentioned in the article, there are conversations surfacing about men who have suffered from sexual assault. I think men and women of all race/ethnicities should feel like their voices would be heard and responded to in the same way during this movement. Having a brother who has been a victim of violent sexual assault, advocating for his voice during this movement is important to me. While there is this ongoing conversation about women and sexual assault, there is also this stigma that men shouldn’t talk about it because of…what? Pride? Loss of masculinity? It makes them”weak”? I think the #MeToo movement has great intentions, but definitely needs to move in a direction being inclusive of all people affected by sexual violence.

    Along with this article, and related to my future as an educator, I love the idea of opening up a discussion or safe place for students to open up. Because the #MeToo movement is all over social media, and social media is becoming more and more prevalent in young students lives, I feel it is appropriate to have these conversations in a classroom. I think there are definitely boundaries and conversations to be had with parents prior, but as long as it is being done in an appropriate manner I think it is an important topic to brig up in a classroom, especially of older students. For younger students, you could still use this idea of what I like to call “Journal Dumping” (dumping all of your feelings into writing), but focus more on bullying in general when having them write.

  6. I have a lot to say because I found this article sermonically inspiring.  I felt myself nodding in agreeance as I read, and at the end thinking “wow I can incorporate that into MY teaching,” as I paused to consider ways I can even modify it for younger grades.  As a woman, I am thankful the Me Too Movement closet doors have been opened in my generation, after thousands of years of women being seen by men as the weaker or inferior species.I have talked to conservative elders who have been affected by the patriarchy’s “take what you think is yours” advances, as well as baby boomers and millennials, and sadly heard stories of adolescents who have had their sense of a safe childhood unfairly taken from them without consent.  But in all of my discussions with people who have been touched, spoken to, or violated inappropriately, there is a distinction among the victims who speak out. The fact that the individuals who feel safe enough to come out have been predominately  white women of higher socioeconomic backgrounds was something I noticed early on in the twitter movement, and its foolish to believe that these women and girls are the only demographic who want to come forward about their assaults. Ironically, Tarana Burke is an African American civil rights activist who actually began #MeToo in 2006, only to have Alyssa Milano get most of the credit for it 11 years later.  This movement does need to be more inclusive, but more than just the movement, society needs to change in all other areas where prejudice dictates people’s decisions to call for action. I’m sure women of all races and ethnicities would feel better about coming forward if they thought their voices would be heard and real actions would follow instead of their confessions being tossed aside as if they are not as important as people with more “leverage.” A movement about a power-imbalance and rupturing the silence of victims but it heeds a power imbalance within its coalition sends a dubious message about its unity.   The ideas about using this platform in classrooms is also another aspect that spoke to me in this article.  The anonymous journal as a way for students to candidly and therapeutically share about themselves to their peers or teacher is brilliant.  I especially loved the thought provoking prompts that required students to look inside themselves to pen their perception of their personal value, such as explaining how you are special, or what makes you worthy of respect. That exercise in itself can establish student feelings of self-efficacy that can lead them to be respectful of as well as empathetic to other’s personal self-expression. And that opens a door to trust to be able to open up about experiences (good and bad), and influences students to help each other and be there for each other. 

  7. Overall this article was very impactful. As a woman I often have this constant uneasy fear of the unknown that can occur like sexual violence. I think the Me Too movement is so important and something we should be able to openly talk about. The article mentions bringing this openness into the classroom with journals. Writing is such an outlet for so many people and giving students an anonymous voice to vent out any bullying or things going on in their world is an amazing way to build that trust with students.

  8. The #MeToo Movement is something that is very popular within our society today. Chances are, students have seen the mention of the movement through some sort of media outlet. I think because of this, it is okay to discuss it in class with some discretion. The topic of sexual assault is unfortunately something that has a heavy relevance and is something that can be prevented with education of the topic. As long as resources are available to support those students that may need additional information, or would like to know more, discussing the #MeToo Movement and sexual assault would be beneficial for students.

  9. I’m glad that this article mentioned intersectionality, because I think that in terms of the Me Too movement and feminism in general, minority women are often glossed over in the conversation. It is important for us white women to remember that whatever we have endured here in America, as horrible as it may have been, it pales in comparison to the horrors that minority women (particularly black women and Native American women) have been through. I completely agree that writing can be an effective opportunity for healing for students, even younger children in elementary grades. I have also heard of an activity called “I Wish My Teacher Knew…” where students can leave notes, anonymous or not, for their teachers about things they want kept private. I think this can allow us to really hear our students and give them a safe and trusting space for them to open up to us and let us help them.

  10. I was scrolling through the different articles and I was immediately drawn to read this article based on the title. I agree with the part that journals can be an effective way for students to express themselves and they can use that as an outlet. I also agree that it’s important to teach students about the things happening in society, because it’s important for them to be aware. I also really appreciate the discussion questions and prompts for journal entries that are listed towards the end of the article. I think this would be a great way for students to learn about bullying and how mean behavior/bullying happens in the real world besides just at school. The more we educate our students and make them aware of the world the better off they will be! It’s important that we help shape them into informed citizens.

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