#MeToo poster / Duncan C / Flickr.com
I’m used to being told to “stop with the feminist shit”. If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that phrase, I could pay off my student loan. So hearing a conversation about consent minus the horrifyingly bad hot takes that usually come with it is refreshing. Actually, it’s refreshing that these conversations are happening at all.
Over 10,000km away from Hollywood, #MeToo is making an impact. New Zealanders have shared their stories via social media and taken part in the movement, adding their voices to the collective of victims exposing the abusers who have long been hidden behind closed doors.
There has been a change in the discussions about sexual assault as a result of this openness. Topics like rape culture and toxic masculinity are being discussed rather than dismissed. Raising awareness and opening up conversations is an amazing first step, but expecting a change in culture to happen without direct intervention will lead to a long wait.
So what happens now?
Time's Up is the next step for #MeToo in America. And it’s pretty cool. High profile celebrities are actively and intentionally using their privilege to support women who don’t have the same platform to speak out from. From providing a legal aid fund to increasing female representation in businesses, Time’s Up is set to make a tangible difference while continuing to raise awareness.
All of these changes could improve women’s lives in New Zealand. But, unfortunately, American celebrities aren’t going to set up a fund to help New Zealanders.
For #MeToo to continue, it needs to move past the media, past celebrities, and reach people without a platform. People who don’t have resources or systems that work in their favour. Here’s how we could achieve that in New Zealand:
1. Stop punishing victims for speaking out. Currently, identifying abusers in the public arena can lead to serious financial penalties for media companies and victims. Our defamation laws need to change. Eliminating or reducing the amount of damages for these cases would remove the risk of speaking out. Legislative change is needed to allow victims to hold high profile offenders to account.
2. Demand that the media investigates the issue of widespread sexual harassment and assault thoroughly. New Zealand women have spoken out time and time again, yet we haven’t seen one large-scale investigation as a result. Powerful abusers and harassers exist in New Zealand too. Why aren’t these stories being investigated?
3. Support and believe victims. Fundamentally, we need to make it easy for victims to speak out to prevent abusers from thriving in the dark. #MeToo should provide a supportive and inclusive movement. If you witness sexual harassment, help the victim and speak out against the abuser.
4. Donate to charities that support victims. Currently, the New Zealand systems for reporting sexual assault can make it difficult for victims to get the justice they deserve. Resources are needed to help survivors to report abuse and seek justice in cases of sexual harassment or abuse. Whether you give money or time, supporting charities and organisations like Women’s Refuge will directly help victims and break down some of the class barriers that are currently prevalent in the movement.
5. Call out the bullshit. #MeToo is about reforming a broken culture. Whether that’s in America or NZ, the same toxic ideas exist. And they tend to stick around. Tolerating sexist ideas and actions is what allows harassment to thrive, so speak out against the behaviour (whether it’s a throwaway comment or an inappropriate request) that contributes to a culture of abuse.
6. Continue the conversation. Start the difficult conversations with your family and friends. When people stop talking, #MeToo loses its impact. The culture that allows abusers to thrive didn’t appear out of nowhere. We need to think about and openly discuss the messages we are sending about sex, and whether they’re right.
Time’s Up is great because of the immediacy and change it promises. Despite our lack of millionaire celebrities, we could see a similar, effective movement here. Cultural shifts don’t happen overnight, but if we make changes to help victims, #MeToo can have a significant impact in New Zealand. Let’s keep the “feminist shit” going.Support Villainesse