In 2006, well before hashtags, Tarana Burke, an organizer, activist, and a survivor of sexual assault, coined the phrase me too to raise awareness about sexual abuse and assault.

On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano read a friend’s message on Twitter: “If all the women and men who have been sexually harassed, assaulted or abused wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. #metoo.” Milano reposted the message, and added to it, “If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted, write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet."

In the next 24 hours, Milano’s post raged across social media, and was shared more than 12 million times, transforming #metoo from a hashtag to a movement. 

Liliana Cortina, professor of psychology and women’s studies, has researched sexual harassment for 25 years. On the one-year anniversary of #metoo’s reignition, LSA asks her what #metoo now means.

LSA: One year out, what is the significance of the #metoo movement?

Lilia Cortina: The #metoo movement has done some great things. People are interested in sexual harassment like they haven’t been for decades. They aren’t asking what it is or if women are being too sensitive—questions that were common even five years ago. They immediately go to, “this is happening to so many women, this is so common, what can we do about this?” That’s been a really interesting shift.

I also see some unintended problems cropping up. Much of the focus has been on serial cases of sexual coercion and assault, and I worry people are starting to think of sexual harassment primarily in terms of violent, serial sexual assault. That is certainly a form of sexual harassment that is serious and should be prevented, but it only accounts for a tiny slice of the problem.

What’s much, much more common are gender-based verbal insults and sexually degrading commentary about women or other gender minorities. There has been so much focus on Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and other horrible cases that I worry it has narrowed people’s ideas of what counts as sexual harassment. And we know from the research record that more often than not, sexual harassment is a put down, not a come on.

LSA: Well, then what is sexual harassment?

LC: Sexual harassment is a big umbrella that encompasses various behaviors: sexual assault, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention, and gender harassment.

As I said, I think #metoo has heightened people’s awareness of sexual assault, which is a range of criminal acts from groping to forcing someone to touch you in a sexual way to raping someone. And it has heightened awareness of sexual coercion; a perfect example of this is the classic “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario. Unwanted sexual attention can be forcible kissing or hugging, or relentless requests for dates that are unwelcome and unpleasant.

Gender harassment is at the verbal put-down end of the spectrum, and it is the most common form that sexual harassment takes. It can include using crude sexual terms, making comments about bodies or sexual acts, or making contemptuous remarks that women can’t be leaders or men can’t work in childcare. These are sex-based acts of discrimination that don’t involve sexuality.


Read the full article at LSA Today.