The meaning of #metoo

#metoo campaign art by illustrator Lauren Mitchell

The trending #metoo hashtag highlights the prolific nature of sexual harassment around the world by offering survivors a public voice.

If you’ve spent even five minutes scrolling through social media in the past 48 hours, undoubtedly you’ve noticed the small yet mighty #metoo hashtag.

More than a fleeting trend, the conversation has escalated quickly from a whisper to a roar,  inviting survivors to break through any unjustified feelings of shame and allowing their experience to be heard – by those closest to them and by others who are becoming increasingly aware of how prevalent sexual assault truly is.

An avalanche of #metoo hashtags have been shared around the world in the past week (12 million on Facebook, 650,000 on Twitter), ignited by the recent allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein, who will now be remembered less for his contributions to film and more as a sexual predator.

But sadly (and frustratingly) these allegations are nothing new, with several high-profile entertainers making jokes publicly of his behaviour in recent years. Dozens of women who have worked with Weinstein have come forward with memories of unwanted sexual interactions of the former film studio executive, including Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rose McGowan.

McGowan’s contribution to #metoo has acted as one of many falling dominoes, as fellow actor Alyssa Milano responded to McGowan asking her followers to come forward in an act of solidarity. The initial tweet from Milano asked her followers to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem” by responding on Twitter with the simple two words – “me too”.

And follow they did. Over 50,000 responses ranging from the simple #metoo to lengthier personal accounts overnight. Since then survivors are taking to Facebook and Instagram to share their experiences with friends, family and acquaintances, aiming to make other survivors feel less alone and to end what may be for some a lengthy and deafening silence.  

But one has to wonder, how many attitudes and actions are going to be changed by a fleetingly trending hashtag? Although the act of many ending their silence in unison is undoubtedly powerful, several issues with #metoo have been bubbling under its surface.

What about those who aren’t able to speak up? What about those who don’t fit the gender binary of man and woman, who have seemingly been split for a large “us versus them” portion of the argument? It’s undeniable that cis women make the majority of sexual assault survivors, but it’s also vital that we find a way to include all voices in the debate who are affected including male survivors.

One of the other more sobering points brought up in the debate is that the me too movement is nothing new, fostered by the Director of Girls for Gender Equity and social activist Tarana Bourke in 2007. Bourke is a powerful advocate for women of colour and a sexual assault survivor herself. She has been encouraging fellow survivors to grow from #metoo for almost a decade, using the phrase as a demonstration of solidarity and breaking down the shame often associated with the subject.

As much as visibility for survivors is important in tackling such an insidious issue involving rape culture, many believe the responsibility should not rest with the survivor, but instead with the perpetrator. Those who follow this methodology have spawned several other hashtags, including #himthough and #howwillichange, offering the mic to those who have contributed to contemporary rape culture, both knowingly and, somehow naively or conveniently, unknowingly.

It’s also vital to acknowledge the many people all over the world who experience sexual harassment and violence but don’t have access to online resources. Their voices and stories are no less important because they lack a platform to express themselves.

Regardless of its flaws, perhaps #metoo at its most simple level will begin to break some of these cultural behaviours and allow survivors and those affected a platform to share their stories as part of something greater than a fleeting trend.

For those who want to learn more about the cause and how to end rape culture, check out and – Story by Caitlyn Hurley, art by Lauren Mitchell Instagram @curious_lauren

About Caitlyn Hurley 15 Articles
Caitlyn is a Sydney-based journalist who loves story telling in all its forms. When she isn't teaching art classes or figuring out how to be an adult, she's most likely capturing photos of fascinating people.