1 year since Alyssa Milano’s first #MeToo tweet: Have things actually changed for women?

1 year since Alyssa Milano’s first #MeToo tweet: Have things actually changed for women?

The Me Too movement is actually 12 years old this year, having been founded by activist Tarana Burke in 2006. However, it is a year today that the hashtag went viral, after actor Alyssa Milano sent a tweet encouraging others to say, “Me Too”.

This came off the back of the former film producer Harvey Weinstein scandal, with scores of women coming forward with allegations against him ranging from rape to sexual harassment (which he denies).

Milano and thousands of other women have since used the phrase “me too” to show just how widespread sexual harassment and assault is.

Since her tweet, there’s been a seismic shift in our social landscape – all of a sudden, we’re having far more conversations about assault, and movements like the Time’s Up initiative have sprung into action to change the way those who have experienced sexual assault are treated.

Arguably it feels like it’s been far more than a year since the Weinstein revelations came to light. A lot has happened since then, with more and more women (and indeed men), coming forward with other stories of sexual harassment.

Civil rights activist Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement (PBG/PA)
Civil rights activist Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement (PBG/PA)

The question is, a year on, what has changed?

Even though men are also undoubtedly victims of sexual assault, here we are going to refer broadly to women, as this is the group most affected as #MeToo has gone global.

It has opened up conversations

There’s no doubt the Weinstein scandal and subsequent explosion of the #MeToo movement, have brought issues of sexual assault to the front of public consciousness. Now, society is increasingly discussing sexual misconduct and the power imbalance between men and women. This is positive, but also terrifying as it makes it altogether too clear the problem is far more widespread than we might have previously thought.

Relationship expert Kate Mansfield says: “There has been a shift in consciousness and awareness due to the sheer scale of sexual abuse and harassment [exposed] as a result of #MeToo”.

Psychotherapist Audrey Stephenson agrees that there is power in collective sharing, saying: “Suddenly people could hear. Suddenly women’s stories had meaning that moved from the personal to the powerful and then to the political. And what an impact those stories have had.”

While Victoria Myers, head of abuse claims at Graham Coffey Solicitors and Co, has witnessed this change in action: “As a solicitor I’ve seen a massive increase in enquiries and reports of abuse. When I speak to clients, a lot of them say it’s the media coverage that has encouraged them to come forward.”

The movement has empowered women to share their stories by showing they are not alone. Conversations are often the first step to any kind of real change.

Attitudes are shifting

As a result of #MeToo, there appears to have been a change in the public perception of assault, and this in turn has made us re-evaluate ideas of consent.

Mansfield says: “#MeToo’s greatest achievement has been a fundamental shift in global consciousness about what isn’t acceptable, and people – both male and female – now have permission to say ‘No’ where they previously did not feel that this was an option.”

The statistics surrounding assault have, she says “been a complete eye opener for everyone, but especially for men, and in fact it’s been a hugely positive shift in awareness, understanding and sensitivity”.

Myers believes there is a strong generational shift in attitudes too. “For older people, it usually takes them until their 50s to come forward with stories of sexual assault or abuse – that [can be] 30 years of not saying anything,” she explains. “Now, it’s on average five to 10 years for young people to come forward, which is still a massive amount of time, but it’s getting shorter.”

“Anything that gets people talking about sexual harassment and abuse is positive,” she adds.

But it’s not all equal

Despite the many positives, the movement is still imperfect and arguably unequal.

Stephenson is particularly concerned about how limited the conversations are. She says: “#MeToo is still mostly spoken about in certain groups – corporate environments, organisations concerned with women’s rights, organisations concerned with human rights and the sex trade, people involved in academia, teenagers etc.

“There are huge groups of people for whom #MeToo isn’t yet a thing. Not because they have rejected it out of hand, but because they haven’t heard about it, or have vaguely heard about it and think it’s about Hollywood and therefore isn’t about them.”

Salma Hayek was one of the few women Weinstein directly responded to (Yui Mok/PA)
Salma Hayek was one of the few women Weinstein directly responded to (Yui Mok/PA)

There is also the fact that many women of colour have said that the #MeToo movement hasn’t sufficiently represented their stories, even though they are more likely to suffer assault or harassment in their lifetime than white women.

Many people don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the few people Weinstein publicly denied weren’t white, including Lupita Nyong’o and Salma Hayek. At Cannes Film Festival this year, Hayek told Variety: “We are the easiest to get discredited. It is a well-known fact. So he went back, attacking the two women of colour, in hopes that if he could discredit us.”

It’s unclear whether this has converted into real change

Even though many women might now feel more empowered to come forward and we are having the hard conversations, this can only take us so far.

Sexual assault is still ongoing and frighteningly prevalent. Recent ONS statistics found that over a year, 2% of adults aged 16 to 59 experienced sexual assault (including attempts) – that’s 648,000 victims.

Stephenson argues that calls for justice in cases like Weinstein and Bill Cosby’s aren’t enough. “One person being held accountable, or even many people being held accountable, will change some things but not others,” she explains. Take the recent  confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, after being accused by three women of sexual misconduct (which he denies).

For Stephenson, the key thing is ensuring the conversations we’re having are inclusive. “As everyone can remember from their school days, being left out is a pretty awful feeling,” she notes. “And awful feelings can become a breeding ground for dangerous situations.”

There’s a way to go before conversations are converted into real change (Thinkstock/PA)
There’s a way to go before conversations are converted into real change (Thinkstock/PA)

Even though Myers knows the movement has a long way to go, she’s positive. She argues that even though Kavanaugh was still confirmed, the process shows how far we’ve come. She says: “Had abuse not been such a big worldwide story, I don’t think that would’ve been so widely covered in the UK.” Myers thinks the main problem here is generational; that the people at the top are holding on to old attitudes, whereas there is a younger generation coming forward with new approaches to sexual abuse.

Even if we are talking about the issues more, conversations need to reach all areas of society – sexual assault is so pervasive that all types of people and professions need to be included. A year on from Milano’s tweet, it’s apparent attitudes have shifted, but this hasn’t yet been converted into serious, tangible change.

Hopefully we’re on the path to this, but it may take a long while before significant progress is made.

- Press Association

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