Saturday, October 28, 2017

MeToo – I MeToo’d

The plan was, my large undergrad Anthro class would engage in a discussion  of #MeToo on this blog, kicked off by a post by student  Christine Elmo, "What Happens When We "MeToo'?   I’d do the most helpful thing - get out of their way.

Over 1.7 milliontweets including the hashtag "#MeToo," with 85 countries changed my plans. 

The #MeToo posts have reloaded the images and pain of my own assaults and harassments, shame and bearing it.  I’ve been disgusted and devastated that sick, predatory behavior is always here with us. I feel for women and cry that we are so strong and suffer so very much.

As for the ubiquitous social commentary  - some of the criticism and cautions of women resisting the broad brush of #MeToo.

I do know not all men are sexual predators. As Heather Wilhelm in the Chicago Tribune,wrote, :
 “Every man you know has likely made a woman feel unsafe.” This is bonkers. It is nonsense. It’s quite simply untrue, and it’s also unjust.”
I get it. 

I do know that for some women #MeToo can smack of  “confessional journalism” associated more with women than men. I’m not sure I agree with Journalist Kate Maltby  when she says that the rise in confessional first-person writing around the world “is often a low-status pathway that rarely leads to a high-profile career.”

And I  do know the “filter bubble” I live in is not necessarily yours or my neighbor's. 
And I don't know why the same urgent attention is not paid to the Rohingyan Muslims in Myamar or Somalia’s innocents bombed by us.

But that’s not what I want to talk about here. 
Instead I want to think aloud about ourselves online.  The Internet of Us as Michael Patrick Lynch refers to it.

I Metoo'd this past week
I #MeToo’d on the Milano thread.

Click! I signed a petition to demand protection of Medicare.  I Me Too’d.

I responded to an ACLU tweet asking me to call the Office of Refugee Resettlement to demand the release of ten year old Rosa Maria.  I do call.  I retweet.  I MeToo.

Me Too – I help save a dog from a hideous death.

Me Too. My speech act of the week.  I promise to be there. 

I've been thinking about something I learned, probably in high school. Maybe it was gym class or  health and safety class.  I remember learning that if you’re out in public and something awful happens to you – you’re mugged and need help - or you come upon a car accident and you’ve rushed in to help an injured person – don’t just yell “HELP”.  Rather pick someone in the crowd – “You with the blue jacket” call the police!”  Or “You with the orange hat, get something to cover this woman!”

Psychologists refer to this as the “bystander” effect.
As good as we humans can be a crowd discourages us to act. Think 1964 and Kitty Genovese here. 

I believe social media is teaching us over and over again that we each  do have great individual potential and power to cast off the passive bystander role and  become, what psychologist Ervin Staub calls the active bystander. Acting to create a better world.

Look, I am perpetually and palpably glad I am not living in the random and rough justice of the Middle Ages and so many past times. And I do believe in the trajectory we’re on towards what Pinker writes about – our  “Better Angels” 

With all its fits and starts and pseudo community building, I believe we are becoming more pro-social and it’s happening in great measure because we are online.

I feel empowered and hopeful when I think of what the online world is offering up to us -  vast archive of photos, statements and writing -  evidence, proof, chits to argue and trade with. Wesley Morris, in the NYT this weekend,  says that the standing up and paying witness  - holding the “receipts” is what is happening in social media and pop culture.
“When judicial and legislative avenues seem stalled or faulty, receipts work as currency in the people’s court.”

Whether it’s women finally calling out predators like Harvey Weinstein with #MeToo, or anti-Trumpers posting endless photos of Ivanka Trump and husband Jared post with Weinstein, the permanent archive of digital ephemera is allowing us to show up in powerful new ways. We hold receipts and we’re trading in them.  

I believe that social media has presented us with the best and worst  - immersing us simultaneously in critical factual information and almost drowning us in deflection and false facts. Diverting our attention but also honing us in lazer–like on things that must be outed. 
The social norm is changing.  We're in and for the long haul. 

I’m well into my 60s now.  Like so many others baptized in protest during the Vietnam War, I learned early how gut wrenching the act of moral protest in the face of powerful deniers can be. Civil Rights, Women’s Reproductive Rights, Take Back the Night.  Fast forward to Europe closing its doors to Syrian Refugees, the daily Rohingya Muslim genocide in Myanmar, the ongoing world war we’re waging in Afghanistan and elsewhere since 911.    

Surely I know there is still no lack of passivity in the face of world depravity
But for all its pitfalls, social media is stretching our capacity for empathy.  We’re no longer empathetic only to our closest friends and family.

Social media and our online spaces allow us, urge us to have empathy for this person, this woman, this village family, this poor dog.

My students at the public city college where I teach are the future.  They are aware. Empathetic. Connected.  Committed.  They've got the receipts and their using them. 
I am so very hopeful. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

What happens when we ‘Me too’?

This Blog Written by
Christine Elmo

I am writing now to explore my thoughts about the cultural consequences brought on by the timing of ‘Me too’ as an event, which unfolded around the same time as the truck bombings killing 300+  people in Somalia. In writing this I am not looking to diminish the destructive horror of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Without becoming too personal, I have experienced my own share of, how shall I say, negative infliction on my body and mind so much so that I have lost friends in the process of keeping these experiences secrets. This is because sometimes the memories of these experiences continue to isolate me.

But, this blog post is not about me. 
I only offer something of myself here now in hopes to show that in offering criticism about ‘Me too’, it is not in effort to reduce the impact of sexual harassment and sexual assault. What I am questioning, however, is, although the stories of Harvey Weinstein are hot on the press right now, and consequently his grotesque behavior seems to be the catalyst of people saying “Me too”, why make a thing of sexual harassment and sexual assault these days when this behavior has been going on since the beginning of civilization?

To be direct: I am suspicious of the timing of ‘Me too’.

Before pointing to the dual nature of ‘Me too’, it feels important to me to give some sort of history, a framework, for understanding what ‘Me too’ is.

On October 18th I read on Ebony and the Huffington Post that the inception of the ‘Me too’ movement began years ago by Tarana Burke, the founder of Just Be Inc. This movement did not begin as a hashtag. Burke says: “It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.” 

The ‘Me too tweeted by actress and activist Alyssa Milano  at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday October 15th, 2017, was not original unto itself. More accurately, ‘Me too’ is a grassroots campaign that has existed for nearly a decade. Although the use of this catchy phrase going viral is “new news”, its use of it as a way of creating conversation between those with similar experiences is not.

‘Me too’, also seen as #MeToo,  went viral around the time news began to break about the double truck bombing, which exploded in Somalia (less than 24 hours before Milano’s tweet). The New York Times reports that 270, possibly more, people died as a result of that attack. Around the time my Facebook and Instagram newsfeed became flooded with ‘Me too’ status updates, no one was posting about Somalia, except one anonymous person I follow on Instagram, which made me consider the timing of ‘Me too’. “We” all seemed to be too caught up in the drama of our own accounts of being victims of “our” culture’s vices drawn out by the constructs of patriarchy. Meanwhile, the news media coverage about Somalia was unobtrusive, and its presence in the realm of social media appeared nonexistent.

The timing of the wave of ‘Me too’ makes me feel like “we” are behaving the way Washington behaves. This sort of behavior appears dual in nature. Something happens that grabs people’s attention, distracting them from what is going on, while in the background, something else is happening.

Take the Comey trials as an example. Remember them? It was midday, the time of prime-time TV.  America’s attention was acutely focused in on Comey’s trials, which amounted to nothing much. Sometime after the public trials, the general public learned that while our attention was focused there, in the background, shielded from the public’s attention—because the public’s attention was engrossed in prime-time TV—Mitch McConnell had a go at picking away at the healthcare bill. And months later, where exactly are the Comey trials? I am not sure, but I do know that they are well out of the spotlight—leaving plenty of room for the headlines brought on by ‘Me too’.

I have to catch myself here now because someone else will. 

Yes.......I just equated “our” use of ‘Me too’ to frivolous TV. In saying that, again, I am not dismissing the significance of being able to come out about the ways in which some of us have been harmed. I have blatantly come out in this article has someone who has gone through these kinds of experiences. But something is happening here. Not only is our behavior distracting from other events happening in the world but also in fashioning our sexual harassment and sexual assault into a compact hashtag for the purpose of advertising on social media, “we” are turning our personal experiences into commodities, something to be packaged and exploited further.

Since when did my or anyone else’s experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault become a commodity? Something to monetize in the Western World? And although there is a collective of autonomous beings who have gone through these experience, in labeling them all under a singular hashtag, how does this not homogenize the very personal nature of each one of them under the somewhat arbitrary category of ‘Me too’?

For me the behavior of ‘Me too’ happening alongside the truck bombings in Somalia seems systemic of Washington. Most obviously, Trump tweets something outrageous, racist, sexist, classist, narcissistic, all of the above plus more. Then, the crowd (us, the people and perhaps pawns of Washington’s game) get fired up about it. Our attention is reeled towards it. In the meantime, Washington is in the background shredding order to pieces and making deals without our knowing. Trump’s show simmers down because either our devotion to his behavior extinguishes itself as our fatigue reduces our exhaustion to ashes, or, Trump sets off another twitter-trigger, redirecting our attention. The negotiations in Washington continue.

It is too easy to point a finger and say Donald J. Trump is solely responsible for us adapting this kind of behavior where we impulsively spew stuff all over the Internet for strangers to read, and consequently, judge about ourselves. Blaming him alone though would give him too much credit for aspects of intellect he seems to lack. Plus, although I am offering a critique of ‘Me too’ here, now, it would be hypocritical for me not to say that I am so often on social media as an active user of the sites, posting, ‘liking’, and commenting on what people post. I mean, I too made my own ‘Me too’ post on both my Instagram and Facebook accounts. I too made an effort to divert my social media audience, and more than that, myself from the destruction of Somalia in order to present myself as a victim of what happens when people abuse the power dynamics drawn out by capitalism. And I too, after contemplating all of this, continue to use my social media accounts. So what gives?

I will close this post in leaving a couple of questions for us to consider.

A question more linguistic in character: 
     How was “our” use of ‘Me too’ this month influenced by what    we as an American society are focusing our attention on these days?

 Is there a way to redirect our attention, or perhaps settle it in one place for longer than the effect of a tweet?

And then a question perhaps more psychological in nature: what exactly is going on? 
People are bombed and “we”, those of us who were not killed, start shouting that “we” are victims of our own culture’s vices. 

Meanwhile, those who have died remained silenced both because they are dead and because any voice we could be giving them and their situation is occupied with our personal dramas. 

Why this dichotomy? Why did some of us feel a need to say “Me too” instead of saying, “What’s going on in Somalia and where do our responsibilities lay in relationship to it?”