Michelle Phillips: Breaking the silence

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - 4:18pm

I opened my computer last Monday night and saw so many posts with #MeToo. Curious about what it was all about, I turned to Google. On Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” I kept scrolling and scrolling through the posts, shocked to see my peers, teachers and family members post openly about their sexual abuse and harassment stories. I couldn’t believe the number of posts there were, and I felt comforted by the number of allies I had to relate to and share my experiences with. 

I, too, could have posted #MeToo, but I didn’t. While I respect and understand how survivors could feel personally supported in posting this, I also found it oversaturated social media and resulted in a less impactful message. I couldn’t help but think about the large audience who would be viewing these posts: men. While 1 in 6 men are sexually abused or assaulted, the rates for women are much higher

Don’t get me wrong: I want to raise awareness about this movement. I am also a victim of systematic sexism and want to create change for myself and others. Women should be treated with respect in all facets of their lives, and their experiences of hurt and trauma should not be brushed under the rug.  

But in that moment, I thought I didn’t have to share my story because so many others did. I have always felt my experience was not as traumatic as others, which is why I didn’t post about it. I felt I would have exaggerated my experiences by posting about it. But when I thought about this idea in the context of voting in an election, I realized the invalidity of my claim. Every vote counts, and in this situation, every person who has experienced sexual assault in any capacity counts.  

Even though I don’t like to plaster my opinion all over the internet, I still see the value in #MeToo. I know that I am not alone in feeling hesitation to share a controversial opinion via the internet. A lot of the time, young women are afraid to spark controversy in fear of the backlash we will receive from others. Men hold so much power within our society that women’s voices can often be overshadowed or disregarded. Women are conditioned to believe that their opinion is inferior to that of men.

Women who were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein were afraid to speak out about their experiences in fear of losing their jobs, social status and reputation. The power men hold in society has been around for centuries, and though women have come so far in the struggle for gender equality, like gaining the right to vote and equal minimum wage for men and women, we still have a long way to go.

This was the first time I noticed women’s voices elevated over men’s. This made me realize how powerful we can be and that we need to move beyond speaking out only when something bad happens. We need to take proactive action and talk about these hardships even when they aren’t trending in pop culture.

The stories of hurt and abuse through #MeToo are very powerful, and I have respect for those brave enough to share their experiences. Though I did not post, I had many intelligent conversations with men and women who were deeply shocked by what had happened and are ready to raise awareness and advocate for change. I am not expecting sexual assault to evaporate from society overnight, but it is the small conversations in coffee shops or dorm rooms that allow us to confide in one another to create change. Whether these conversations planted seeds in the minds of others or a conversation gave new perspective about these issues, the way we discuss with those around us has potential for stepping one step closer to equality.

In order to make change, we should share our knowledge and experiences with others all the time — not just when a hashtag is trending.

Michelle Phillips can be reached at mphi@umich.edu.