In light of the modern day #MeToo movement centered around the hashtag and survivors standing up together and sharing their stories, I wanted some deeper insight. Last year around this time I wrote a news article for one of my journalism classes in which I tried to capture the essence of the #MeToo movement, its momentum on campus, and especially the male role in it all. I interviewed Dr. Matthew Ezzell, who is an associate professor of sociology at JMU and teaches a gender of sociology course. His thoughts on the movement, and especially the more current “moment” gave me helpful context of what #MeToo actually means and how it needs to evolve. A few days ago I sat down Dr. Ezzell again to pick his brain and see how #MeToo has progressed in the past year.
Why #MeToo? Before both of these conversations, I had seen a lot about the movement through social media, and this increased upon the Time’s Up Movement and the Silence Breakers as the official TIME person of the year in 2017.
For me, this was a huge deal. I was exposed to all of these stories of women who boldly shared their most painful, traumatizing stories in an effort to stand next to their fellow woman and say: you are not alone.
As someone who has grown up in a generally conservative home, I hadn’t developed my own thoughts on women’s inequality and feminism in general. Upon seeing these stories, I couldn’t help but think: This is way bigger than that. It’s about simply being human enough to look at another person who has gone through an evil experience and saying that is wrong. And you deserve justice. It’s about accountability.
(Check out this immensely helpful article for me about the Time’s Up Movement and #MeToo and the differences between the two if you’re a little confused – because hey, it’s confusing!!)
First and foremost, Dr. Ezzell is perhaps the most woke man on the face of planet earth and both times that I’ve spoken to him, I left feeling more hopeful and more aware on this issue than before. It’s really, really encouraging having a man speak such truth about these issues.
Let’s dive in!
Me: Could you give me some background on the #MeToo Movement and how it came about?
Dr. Ezzell: The movement itself is actually decades old, but it begins with Tarana Burke. In the 1990’s she worked with survivors of sexual violence and found that sharing her story with survivors and listening to survivor’s status. In 2006 she founded a community organization around idea of MeToo. It began to receive public attention after the Harvey Weinstein allegations, and was used as a twitter hashtag tweeted by Alyssa Milano in an effort for women to share their stories. This marks #MeToo as a “moment,” how it is trending more currently as a smaller part of the larger “movement.”
Me: Earlier you described the movement as a “moment”, as something that is “right now” and gaining momentum. Has this rang true? Is it just a moment in time?
Dr. Ezzell: It is a movement! It’s old. The rape crisis movement kick started the #MeToo movement and it is vibrant. However, the cultural focus is starting to loose ground. There are a few things that have recently happen that make me come to that conclusion. The first is the Brett Kavanaugh trial. The election of Trump pushed his nomination into the foreground. In response to these things were the women’s march and the anti-rape movement seeking accountability beyond public shaming, but in the law. Another reason is that men are reporting in fewer numbers that they care about sexual harassment than they were in 2017. But there are positive shifts as well, such as corporations like Gillette addressing toxic manhood. Though the backlash against them got a lot of coverage, only 8% of people said it made them think less of the company.
Me: About male involvement, the dominant response is #notallmen. Do you think this is still the case?
Dr. Ezzell: Potentially yes, and I’d attribute some of that to mansplaining. Patriarchy hasn’t gone away. Maybe it’s moved away some from a knee jerk reaction. White male entitlement is still there and that is the extreme expression.
Me: Is there still a male taboo on this issue? How do we change that?
Dr. Ezzell: Programming at the collegiate level; we have to address it. We need to build a culture of consent starting with toddlers. Building that in the home, in the classroom, to alter the structure of power and institutions. And allowing that to be done by women and people of color into positions into power of authority.
Me: Criticism in media coverage of #MeToo, only white/high profile/celebrity. How should this change?
Dr. Ezzell: Not a lot of progress has been made in coverage. But white women have been working hard in mainstream coverage to alter the narrative. We have to ask who are the gatekeepers of the story? Black lives matter coverage is not where it should be. If you think about the coverage of mass shootings versus places where shootings are more frequent, there is a disparity there. Overall, people with privilege have to stop taking power. We have to use the perks we have to amplify the voices of the oppressed. This can be done through intentional conversations, asking guest speakers to speak in class from their experience, and doing work as gatekeepers of knowledge. If you are a white person in power or privilege, thinking about how you can seed that to a woman in power. Even looking into the upcoming presidential election, I like a lot of the male candidates but because of the women of color in the same place. It’s not the time for a man in the presidency.
Me: In our last interview you said, “I am cautiously optimistic and critically hopeful about the future.”
Dr. Ezzell: I think the caution was warranted because the optimism was warranted. The pendulum is being pushed forward and backward. Like the backlash to the Gillette ad being the minority but the majority was heartening. One thing I do is travel to middle school classrooms. The last one I went to, I showed them the ad and they applauded at the end. I’ve never seen that before. It is shifting and it’s shifting with the younger generation. They see it, and they are hungry for it.
SO MUCH GOOD STUFF!!! Dr. Ezzell’s perspective helped me in a large part to develop my own, and also not be afraid to criticize parts of the #MeToo that need to evolve.
So what needs to change moving forward? Firstly, all stories must be heard. Right now it is unfortunately mostly white, celebrity, or high status women who’s stories are heard and covered. It can’t be seen as a trend or simply a hashtag. #MeToo is a human bond, allowing one to know that they are not alone. But until this empathy becomes part of our shared human experience, there is still work to be done.