Clodagh Finn: What happens when #MeToo hashtag hype wears off?

It was inspiring to see the stars wear black on the red carpet to support the victims of sexual violence, but what happens to the ordinary people who stand up and say, ‘Me Too’?

Saoirse Ronan with her Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy or musical for 'Lady Bird'.

Come here to me Saoirse Ronan till I give you a hug, a great big bear of a hug and a squeeze with it, not so much to congratulate you on your best-actress win at the Golden Globes — though how cool is that? — but for managing to sound totally normal in the spotlight.

The gifted Carlow woman took to the stage in a black Versace dress in solidarity with the #MeToo movement and said this: “My mam’s on Facetime on someone’s phone over there, so ‘Hi’.” She also pronounced film, “fill-um”, as most of us do. I punched the air.

To see Hollywood A-listers take to the red carpet in sombre black was, without doubt, a deeply significant moment, but it was the down-to-earthness of our own supremely talented Saoirse that spoke to this viewer.

It might mean something to someone sitting at home to see that a person who still speaks like the rest of us is backing the campaign to call time on sexual violence.

Sure, Oprah Winfrey’s speech was powerful. It was rousing and inspiring to hear her proclaim the imminent dawn of a new day when nobody will have to say #MeToo, although you have to question the rhetoric.

Does she mean nobody in Hollywood?

Even if that were the case, it would be a remarkable victory, and let’s hope the impressive ‘All Black’ Globes herald the start of real change in the entertainment industry.

But how many of us will ever put a toe on the red carpet? Oprah’s world is so far removed from the millions of ordinary people who suffer sexual harassment in their daily lives that it almost seems offensive to hear her speak on the subject.

Then, of course, there’s the high-profile reaction to her fine words, again all of it taking place in a rarefied environment so alien that it might as well be beamed from Mars.

Social media was flooded with suggestions that she run for president — as if the world needs another entertainer in the White House.

Then, singer Seal came out to dish the dirt, suggesting Oprah was the very one who ignored the rumours about Harvey Weinstein for decades. How is this helping people who need support right now?

Instead of a discussion on how to resource support services, we got more mud-slighting from the prominent and the monied.

In the wake of the self-congratulatory Globes, Catherine Deneuve led the charge of 100 prominent French women who wrote a letter in Le Monde to denounce the #MeToo campaign.

In one memorable phrase, they said the movement to end sexual violence had descended into a frenzy to send (chauvinist) pigs to the abattoir and that it helped the enemies of sexual liberty.

Not surprisingly, there was an equally furious rebuttal to say Deneuve et al were ignorant and insensitive — though surely it is, in fact, wrong and unfair to conduct a witch hunt on social media.

Whichever luminary you support, you can’t but have noticed that most of the discussion this week took place in Celebrity Land, that strange, distorted, cratered planet that is light years away from the real world.

I’d like to hear more from that world, particularly from Ireland where the criminally underfunded Rape Crisis Network has an eight-month waiting list for historic victims of sexual abuse.

Thankfully, it can see those in crisis much sooner but what about the men and women who, emboldened by the stars, utter those terrifying but incredibly courageous words, “Me too”?

To be fair to the Government, it does acknowledge the need to provide extra funding for the support network for sexual violence.

There is also recognition of the need to not only update the 2002 Sexual Assault and Violence Ireland report (Savi) but to do so regularly so that we are ever-conscious of what is needed to support those who have been ignored for so long.

In the present celeb-fuelled debate — if that’s the word for it — it is too easy to ignore the real cost of sexual violence in our society. The voices of the people who suffer most are, unfortunately, the least audible.

Little wonder, when to stand up and speak your truth is often to act as a lightning rod for all kinds of ignorance and prejudice.

Yet, if there is one undeniably positive thing to come out of the #MeToo movement it is that now, at least, we are collectively searching for a way to express the seemingly inexpressible — that is the ordeal of being subjected to sexual violence.

It’s going to be a long and uncomfortable journey because, whether we like to admit it or not, many people still agree with Deneuve and co when they say the “sexual urge is by its nature wild and aggressive”.

They continue: “But we are also clear-eyed enough not to confuse an awkward attempt to pick someone up with a sexual attack.”

If there is an ill-defined middle ground that deserves our attention, it is this one. We need to firmly define the difference between an “awkward attempt to pick someone up” and “sexual attack”. It does not have to be the no-man’s land that some like to claim it is.

Having said that, a study from internet-safety start-up Zeeko this week reported that sexting was playing an increasing role in forming the sexual identity of Irish adolescents.

Some 13% of secondary school pupils have sent a nude or semi-nude photo or video of themselves to someone else.

It’s too early to say how this will play out in the years to come, but it doesn’t augur well in a world that already has difficulty defining the difference between flirting and harassment.

When the hashtag hype of the #MeToo campaign eventually dies down, we might get a clearer picture of what is really going on and listen, believe, and support those who have taken the bold step of sharing their stories.



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