On #MeToo

By Sam Waterhouse

We are posting with different private meanings and experiences behind that phrase. Many of us are talking about rape, assault, and abuse as well as ‘harassment’. We are talking about sexual violence. We are publicly exposing something deeply personal, for some of us we know we are also being political, and in the posting we are being more socially connected about experiences that we mostly share in smaller spaces. If we share it at all. There is, even for me, some discomfort in the choice to #MeToo, I hesitated and waited – for what purpose? Am I going to hang this out on the line to be minimised, looked over, celebrated, commiserated, diminished, pitied? My personal and social meanings collide in the choice.

And then I saw women I perceive as powerful, who I respect and aspire to posting and I was enabled. #MeToo

I’m interested in seeing who posts and who doesn’t. I’m interested in who doesn’t because my Facebook is not only linked to feminists, to women who are alive to the scaffolding that holds sexual violence up and seek to name it, dismantle it and build networks of compassion and power. My Facebook people are also girls, women and men who live in other ways and who have lived sexual violence. Many of these are not participating in this public way. May you continue to do what keeps you safe, may some of you be emboldened, may you choose what’s best for you.

I’m interested in who reacts. On mine so far all women. On some other posts I see the smattering of woke men who perhaps understand better or who feel they have permission to react. So this seems to me to be another exercise of women speaking to women about something that men and our society creates. And I pragmatically see the value of women talking to women. There is power there. But I get pissed off because we are not posting this only for other women. Angry because I think most men are turning away from this pervasive reality and then also considering (generously?) maybe they don’t know if they can react or how to.

I’m interested in how I’ve reacted to posts and how I’ve felt about the reactions to mine. Depending on the content and my closeness to the person who posts I react differently. I do this because experiences of sexual violence do not invoke one set of static feelings. We have different meanings at different times. I think for many of us posting we have built strength around the experiences. For me the sad face is uncomfortable I don’t want people to be sad for me. I am not sad now. I didn’t post in sorrow. I posted with heart and with defiance. But I also know the sorrow and the loss and the sense of weakness and I know that for some you are posting – or not posting – with those feelings closer to the surface.

May we have these conversations more openly after this flash of activity.


Sam Waterhouse works at the University of the Western Cape’s Dullah Omar Institute. She was a counselling volunteer at Rape Crisis in the mid 1990s and went on to run our court support project as an advocacy coordinator before continuing as an actvist against violence against women in a broad range of spaces including Facebook, where she originally posted this piece.

3 thoughts on “On #MeToo

  1. A friend of ours recommended I x-post my facebook words here:

    Woke up in the middle of the night thinking about #metoo. So this may be a bit half-formed.

    Firstly, I acknowledge that there are valid grievances and that great hurt has been incurred by women. Some of the hurt is intended and some of the hurt unintended, but hurt and suffering has occurred, physical, mental and others.

    I’ve been thinking about how it’s possible for women to regain their power, achieve a sense of closure and feel safe and strong again. I’ve been thinking about how it’s possible to move forward from where we are.

    Right now there is a stew of toxic emotion and much #GnashingOfTeeth. I can’t see a clear path through it. However, I know the solution isn’t something that I can figure out (after all, I’m a man and I’m part of the problem). It’s a solution that we, as communities of women-and-men-and-families-and-tribes need to find together.

    I notice that a key part of one of the most successful movements of social and cultural change, like #TheEndOfApartheid had a significant and noticeable cultural change component. From what I’ve heard, the #TruthAndReconciliationCommission was a safe space for the individual to express their hurtful acts and to have the acts “forgiven” by the ones-who-been-hurt. The commission was a non-punitive response that allowed an emotional change and a transition period in the relationship between the people directly involved. And this led to catharsis and closure and the sense that live could move forward.

    That great man Mandela knew that apartheid was in the culture and composition of the status quo, and that you couldn’t punish every white person. I mean what about those others that lived with the privilege without being an active part of the enforcement – well, what was the right response for them?

    I think the principles and people involved in setting up the #TruthAndReconciliationCommission fundamentally realised that change is between individuals and not something that can be done via edict or law. Though of course law and edict, if used properly will support a #RestorativeJustice position.

    With #metoo I haven’t been following closely, but I haven’t noticed men saying “I’ve done this wrong thing, I want to do the right thing from now on”. It might be happening, but I’m not seeing/hearing it. The main thing I’ve seen is Harvey Weinstein being isolated and abandoned by “his community”. There’s been a lot of “of yeah, I knew he was scum, I’ll just lay into him too because you’ve thrown the first stone”. I think it makes it hard for a restorative position to be found. It feels like #TakingTheFarmFromWhities rather than working with them.

    I respectfully ask #metoo to ensure there is a transition period for the people involved, that there is a space for acknolwedgement of wrongdoings to ask for forgiveness, that there is a space for #Love and just #Justice. Because, I get the feeling that justice for #metoo is the confrontational style of courtroom drama that we get from American TV. That there must be a loser. That the aggressor must lose, they must be voted off or something, of even better, lose an eye so the TV audience can sympathise with.

    Let’s reduce the combative, macho courtroom style posturing about you-done-me-wrong and work together. Let’s have a non-adversarial engagement where the community owns the result and everyone can feel safe again.

    Can someone who knows more about how and why restorative justice works please chime in?

  2. Pingback: On #MeToo – FEMINISTS SOUTH AFRICA

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