Women can band together even as strangers on social media, joined by their shared experience with sexual harassment or assault. They can create a community of sorts based on support and advice through scary, traumatic times.
But social media isn’t always beneficial in terms of sexual harassment — in fact, sometimes social media fuels sexual harassment as users hide behind the veil of anonymity.
“[Sometimes there’s] girls… having self confidence and wanting to show themselves and have self love, and there’s guys who are older who don’t see it like that and who see it like girls that just want to post something for [men],” junior Jennalyn Quadra said. “There’s older guys like that who see teenage girls posting stuff and want to comment and stuff. It bothers me.”
“Men like to blame [sexual harassment and assault] on women, on what we wear and what we say and how we carry ourselves, and I think that’s really sad,” junior Karina Fardmanesh said. “Women should have the right to protect themselves and to not feel like we’re an object… If we feel confident about our bodies and we want to post a picture in our bikinis, there shouldn’t be a problem with it.”
Other times, victims can use social media to share their stories and help others move past what happened to them. Last month, many took to Twitter with the hashtag #MeToo to share their experiences with sexual harassment after actress Alyssa Milano suggested it in the midst of accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
“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,” Milano said on Twitter.
The phrase “Me too” as applied to experiences with sexual harassment and assault was started by activist Tarana Burke over 10 years ago after she initiated the conversation before Milano. However, Milano’s celebrity status brought awareness to the topic and helped it reach more victims of sexual assault and harassment.
“I think that before the whole #MeToo thing, there wasn’t that much awareness about sexual harassment,” senior Ali Biddle said. “I think that it’s a great thing that brings women together and they can share their experiences and be like, ‘Wow, this is a really big problem, we need to pay more attention to it and solve it.’”
Some women get backlash for sharing their stories on social media; people may accuse them of making the experience up, or question them on why they’re only speaking out about it now, for example.
“Obviously people have their own opinion and social media is the way for them to speak their minds but it can get out of hand,” Quadra said, referring to people who do not like when victims share their stories of sexual harassment. “People can get offended, a lot of people take it wrong.”
“I think that’s ridiculous [that people get backlash],” Biddle said. “If it’s a traumatic experience, you should be able to express yourself and share with people your experience, and other people could comment and… connect instead of people hating on them because no one should really hate on you if you got sexually harassed. It’s not your fault.”
“When girls post things like that, guys like to respond with, ‘Oh, they’re asking for it,’ but… we have the freedom of speech,” Fardmanesh said. “We’re not asking for guys’ opinions, we just feel confident about ourselves.”
Part of the effect of the hashtag #MeToo is to help people realize how common sexual harassment is. Many have seen friends use the hashtag and can learn how they have been affected by their experiences.
“[Someone I know] put it too, on her Twitter, #MeToo, and I am one of her best friends and I had no idea that even happened,” Biddle said. “She told me the story, but I didn’t view it as sexual harassment until she told me how much it really affected her.”
“It’s scary,” Quadra said. “Five of my friends have already posted that, and [I didn’t know]. I see them on a daily basis… it’s not something they can talk about freely.”
“You wouldn’t know what those women have been through if you didn’t read about it in social media, so it definitely opens your eyes to see, ‘Wow, so many women go through this and no one’s doing anything about it,’” Fardmanesh said.