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.