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 a teacher, it’s difficult to incorporate such a sensitive topic into classroom activities. I love the idea of having a daily or weekly journal for students to write in. Some prompts could be content based, and some more personal, so that students can get anything they need to off their mind or chest, and express their thoughts and feelings creatively. This strategy would be beneficial to all students, but especially those who are a victim of sexual violence.

  2. Having been a victim of sexual abuse, I think this is a topic that is extremely important to bring to light. Especially since this type of abuse is becoming more and more prominent in today’s world. I feel that in a classroom environment, both male and female students need to feel comfortable enough to speak up to the teacher if something is going on in their life outside of school. As teachers, we are advocates for our students. I feel that it is so important to have a good relationship with your students so that they do feel comfortable enough to share if something is happening to them. You may be their only out of the current abuse that they are suffering.

  3. Although Alyssa Milano used the hashtag in 2017, it’s important to credit activist and survivor Tarana Burke with the start of the MeToo movement as far back as 2006 on MySpace. According to Burke, her initial mission was to connect survivors of sexual assault to the resources they needed to heal. Although sharing stories can be helpful, I agree with Burke that journaling is a great tool to help survivors achieve that mission, especially in an elementary classroom setting. Open sharing can lead to multiple situations that seem to be counterproductive to the goal of help and healing, but having a separate area for journals where the student wants their work to be read by the teacher is a great idea. We use the word healing because this is trauma, and I would never ask a student to reveal other trauma to the class nor would I think I am qualified enough to handle what a trained medical professional is better suited for. I want to be the trusted outlet for my students that can find them the resources they need. To create the environment for that trust, I don’t think openly discussing the topic is necessary; this environment is created through positive modeling and the introduction of the idea through the everyday lessons, stories, and books that should already be a part of a thriving classroom. I don’t think this should be limited to sexual violence, but also any trauma,concerns, or stress our students are facing. An example of this would be using the book “Fish in a Tree” in a lesson to open communication with students about vocalizing what they need to succeed in their learning.

  4. Sexual harassment is a very touchy subject. It can be very difficult to discuss, but it is very important to talk about. It’s important so that others don’t feel alone when dealing with something similar. It is important especially when educating others and making sure that we know about intersectionality. Women in the minority, unfortunately, are more susceptible to harassment. It’s also true that men are also being harassed. Men usually don’t want to make their voice heard because of the norms that we have set out for differing gender. We should shed light on harassment and getting help that they could need.

  5. As a future educator, I think it is critical that we bring up the topic of sexual harassment and assault with our students. Though maybe talking about it in its entirety might not be appropriate for all ages, I think to a certain extent it can be taught to all ages. As educators we have a responsibility to give our students the strength to say “No,” or “stop.” We need to teach them that it is okay to say those things even if someone becomes upset because their own safety and well being is what is most important. I think that a lot of times, from a young age, girls in particular are taught that they need to make everyone comfortable and to say “yes.” We need to encourage them that it is not their responsibility to do so. Even more, teachers I think need to hold the young boys accountable for their actions and not say “boys will be boys.” The mindset of these men started when they were young and for future generations as teachers, we need to teach them that it is not okay.

  6. Teaching Elementary school-aged children about the Me Too movement sounds terrifying as a future teacher. However, I liked the options discussed in this article. In school I was never given the option to keep my writing to myself. This meant that I never felt comfortable talking about certain subjects, even though it would have been a healthy exercise to do so. In my classroom, I would love to be able to give students the outlet of writing in a way that lets them be unfiltered. The concern with this could be that there is no accountability for the work, as the teacher doesn’t read the finished product. Sometimes it’s okay to not have every writing assignment be a grade, and if it needs to be, then teachers could simply look to make sure that the students were writing and give them a participation grade.

    The Me Too movement has its flaws, as discussed in the article, as the focus is on middle/upper class women of European descent. My hope is that women with a platform to share will help create a space in the world that believes and does not blame the victim. As I get older, I feel that there have been more women that have had the courage to come forward about sexual assault, or at least, it is more public in the media with the progress of the Me Too movement. I have noticed TV shows have made episodes that have addressed the Me Too movement, and this is a start to having issues addressed and voices heard. Victims see celebrities and characters on shows and movies coming forward about their own traumas, and this will help everyone realize that they are not alone. If the ability to come forward as a sexual assault survivor becomes more common through Hollywood and other communities coming forward, I hope that we will be able to make the world a safer place for all victims.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this article because I am very familiar with the #MeToo movement. I remember scrolling through social media and coming across #MeToo posts and thought how amazing and brave these women are. I don’t know and doubt it were the creator of this movements intention to aim #MeToo at certain ethnicities, but I do know why it is a concern of some. Sexual Assault is a disgusting crime to be a victim of and all victims no matter what race they classify as should feel comfortable speaking up without the fear of being threatened or attacked yet again.

  8. I think it is important to talk about these topics and keep the conversation going in the world. This should not be something that should be pushed under the rug. Victims should be encouraged to share or to not share their stories at their own pace and have a safe space to do that. I think this is the most important part about these topics in an elementary classroom. Students who are far too young to be dealing with these dark issues on their own should have a collective understanding that the adults at their school are people they can go to with any personal issues they need help with. It is important for teachers to create a safe space in their classroom where confidential information can be disclosed and dealt with appropriately. The classroom climate that is set up can have a huge impact on whether a child feels comfortable enough to share difficult information and feelings with his/her teacher.

  9. Talking about issues like this in the classroom is vital to the bettering of out future. Introducing it the classroom, and allowing healthy free flowing thoughts between the students is a great way to promote the idea that these are things which can and should be talked about. I, for one, have hardly heard anything like the Me Too movement or any other movements like it which promote the idea of freeing women from generational bonds. As a future teacher I think it will be hard to discuss stuff like this, but despite the discomfort I still know that it is important to their success not only in their education but in their humanity.

  10. This article was interesting to me, as I had never known too much about the “Me Too” movement. I had definitely seen things on social media of it or about it, but I had never known the real intention for it, other than giving a voice to people who have been afflicted by sexual assault. It was surprising to me to find out that the movement was actually intended to be used in the workplace, as I kind of assumed that it just applied to anyone who has been a victim. It saddens me that there is still a lack of inclusion in a movement such as this, and a lot of it I didn’t even know about. It is a very progressive and proactive movement, but with that being said how big is this movement that it should be brought into schools? I think, especially at an elementary age, this could be a little heavy for a school atmosphere. Although the movement is a great tool for people to speak out, I do think it kind of normalizes rape/ sexual assault in some ways. A lot of times, when things become very relevant and popularized, they may sometimes can lose their weight/ effect. I guess I am not really in a place where I can know how it’ll all play out, but as for now I see things ambivalently, as I do think it could be helpful and make problems addressed that need to be addressed, but it also can in some ways make much of sexual assault. Very interesting read.

Comments are closed.