#MeToo is perhaps the first movement that comes to mind when we think of modern feminism. A social media archive of sexual harassment and abuse spread virally across the internet. As soon as one story got traction, ten more would pop up beneath. No demographic seemed to be left unscathed; ethnicities and abilities, ages and sexualities, all were revealed to mean nothing as more and more victims came forward in solidarity with Alyssa Milano. The resurgence of the term carried far more weight than its initial use in 2006 by Tarana Burke. The time gap is exacerbated even by the platform in question: instead of Twitter, Burke’s main media use for the term was MySpace. 2017 however saw the term translated into dozens of languages and used half a million times in the first 48 hours. But what can we say it has actually achieved 12 months after its internet-wide explosion?
Hundreds of thousands of victims shared their stories. Millions shared their horror. And then silence. Where was the action? Another hashtag appeared: #TimesUp. Celebrities banded together to dedicate money, effort, and awareness to supporting seuxal harassment and assualt victims across industries. Yet little concrete news seems to have come from their legal fund. Comedian and actor Aziz Ansari proudly displayed his #TimesUp solidarity pin at an awards show, yet was revealed a week later to be wrapped up in a date rape scandal. Hypocrisy reared its head as actors and directors railed against the industry and society that enables and protects such criminals, yet the same voices employed rapists and abusers in their films and TV series behind the scenes. For the everyday victim, for the secretaries and crew members and wannabe actors, it seems that little has changed.
Not only has the lack of action resulted in a lack of change for victims, it has also actively damaged the campaign for better protection and prosecution for sexual assault cases. Misogynistic critics use #MeToo stories as fodder for victim blaming and shaming. Survivors have been forced to leave social media, apologise to abusers for sharing, even leave jobs to protect themselves from the ensuing consequences. Where was the support then? Likes and retweets do nothing for a victim faced with their abuser gaining support in denying their actions. Millions praising celebrities for their 280-character pledge does nothing for the next audition tape gone wrong.
Clicktivist feminism needs to stop. We lose our ability to enact change if we exclusively use our keyboards. We must become more active as a movement and step away sofa campaigning. It’s not that social media cannot act as a tool for change. The case of Cyntoia Brown is proof that social media awareness can help. Worldwide faces such as Kim Kardashian-West and Rihanna put their weight behind the plight of this woman, jailed for life for the murder of the man who attempted to rape her. She killed him during her successful escape from a dangerous situation and ended up being tried as an adult, despite being under 18 at the time of the incident. The public outcry sought to get her a retrial and the celebrity backup kept her story in the spotlight, both in the media and the courts. As a result, Brown will now get her freedom.
Clearly then, we can do better. Indeed, we must do better. It is not enough to drop a thumbs up or react with a sad emoji. Pixels on a screen do nothing if that is where they say. From #MeToo, we saw the reality of the society that we live in and the behaviour that it protects. From the aftermath, we saw the reality of our activism. Both need to change for any of us to benefit.