Diya Nair is a second year Law student. She is a new contributor to Breaking the Glass Ceiling and is interested in postcolonial feminism and cultural relativism.
The #MeToo era came to my attention almost in the manner of a tropical monsoon. From a light smattering of Facebook posts and tweets from acquaintances invoking this hashtag, to a thundering of assault and harassment allegations against powerful men, not only in Hollywood, but across a variety of male-dominated industries. The #MeToo campaign serves as a scathing exposé on the abuse of imbalanced power dynamics in society.
Dubbed as everything from a “rallying cry against sexual harassment and assault” (1) to the ‘fourth wave of feminism’ (2), this beautifully simplistic hashtag is almost pulsating with meaning, marking an epoch of female empowerment and solidarity. The camaraderie elicited from the movement feels monumental; decades of oppression, belittlement and hostility that women have faced in the wrath of gendered violence seem to be driving the demand for accountability and need for critical conversations around the stigmas surrounding sexual assault. The rousing effect of the #MeToo movement has been most notable on social media platforms where women worldwide have rallied together to end female silencing on sexual assault. This leads to an interesting question about the extent to which, if at all, social media platforms can be used as instruments for effecting social change.
The interconnection between feminism and social media is a complex topic that is difficult to unravel in a mere eight hundred words. I will, therefore, be mainly focusing on the usage of Twitter and the manner in which Twitter has been touted to be a vehicle for social change for feminists worldwide.
Social media is the omnipotent, omnipresent force that has shaped the lives of those living in the 20th century, without a doubt. Private lives are constantly under microscopic scrutiny, given the ability to broadcast even the most mundane details to any interested passer-by in 140 characters or less. This constant visibility is definitely a double-edged sword but has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for shaping a more inclusive, representational move toward gender parity. The easy accessibility and inherent pervasiveness of platforms like Twitter facilitate honest conversations from a wide range of perspectives as opposed to simply promoting a cisgender, heterosexual, Caucasian idealised norm. Lori Adelman expounds on the inclusivity of Twitter noting its ability to ‘elevate the voices of marginalized communities’ (3). Noted American author Roxane Gay praises the ability of the ability of Twitter to allow “Women of color, queer women, working class women, transgender women to all find ways to insert ourselves into the feminist conversation,” (4). Twitter has brought about a more nuanced understanding of feminism through the lens of an intersectional viewpoint. “Hashtivism” (5) has not only sparked discussions on universal complications plaguing women such as the harmful rhetoric surrounding rape culture (#Rapecultureiswhen) but has generated awareness of the issues affecting trans women (#GirlsLikeUs) and has even celebrated the resilience and strength of black women worldwide (#BlackGirlMagic) (#PrettyPeriod). In the same vein, the prevalence of the #MeToo hashtag across the Twitter sphere has enabled most women, regardless of race, sexuality or socio-economic background, to have a space in which to relate their personal experiences with sexual assault.
Twitter has also provided a voice for changing archaic stereotypes that are ingrained in our very psyche from the moment we comprehend a distinct gender binary. When the Aziz Ansari sexual assault allegations arose, fresh off the viral MeToo campaign, I, like many others, didn’t want to believe it was true. A South Asian male who utilized his cultural identity to advocate for an accurate representation of navigating the modern trials and tribulations of a desi millennial as opposed to conforming to exaggerated, heavily- accented caricatures of immigrant convenience store owners, seemed too good to be true. (6). Regardless of one’s personal opinion on Ansari’s behavior, it would be foolish to ignore the incendiary conversations the allegations have evoked. The allegations against Ansari made people uncomfortable and this very discomfort provoked a plurality of reactions. Furious reports disparaging the conflation of bad sex with sexual harassment arose; fears that the #MeToo movement was shaping into a witch-hunt against men being able to safely express their sexual needs alongside qualms of undermining the severity of trauma experienced by “true” victims of sexual violence, all frequented headlines. Serving as a jolt to the cavalier attitudes women navigate in sexual relationships, the Ansari allegations have also involved tweets that aim to renegotiate the sexual narratives society mandates women comply with: that of docile, dutiful beings bred to “cater to the comfort of those around them” and discouraged from voicing discomfort. Huffington Post’s Emma Gray neatly summarises the necessity of having “complicated conversations about sex that is violating but not criminal” (7)
Our social media era is messy, contentious and vulnerable. The ability to access information at the click of a button has engendered individuals with an attitude of entitlement; everyone feels they are entitled to an opinion regardless of how well informed or accurate that opinion may be. The #MeToo movement is a testament to the fact that this variety of opinions can be put to use by engaging in sensible discourse to subvert “traditional” gender norms and providing credibility and support to female voices worldwide.
Picture credit: https://www.thedailybeast.com/is-metoo-a-movement-or-a-moment