*** Trigger Warning: This blog post and/or references, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors. ***
#MeToo #TimesUp #WhyWeWearBlack #RapeCultureIsWhen #LarryNassar #HarvyWeinstein #RapeCrisis #SexualAssault #StanfordRapist #BaylorScandal #CampusSexualAssault #ThingsLongerThanBrockTurnersRapeSentence #WomensMarch #InvestigateUSAGymnastics
In the last year, many of these hashtags have circulated the internet and social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and even on websites that don't typically use hashtags were covered with these phrases. What is the common denominator? They're public responses to incidents involving rape and sexual assault.
With the reignition of #MeToo, originally created by Tarana Burke in 2007, many people who were/are victims and survivors of sexual assault and harassment came forward in waves, standing in solidarity with others who have had the same experience. The hashtag #MeToo alone was used over 42 million times. These hashtags and movements received some mixed reviews. Some survivors found it triggering to be reminded of their assault, while others felt that it was a way to stand in solidarity with one another. Some felt that it wasn't gender/sex inclusive, while others adjusted their use of the hashtags to include any survivor. Some felt it was a way of gaining attention and recognition for surviving, while others felt it was a pressure to be confronted with their assault when they felt they did not owe their story.
Being my first blog post, and a survivor of sexual assault, I want to dive deeper into what my research focus is, and how collaboration with interdisciplinary academic peers can lead me to a better understanding of rape and sexual assault culturally and turn that into pedagogical means for consent communication. I am a rhetorical communication and critical scholar at heart and am deeply interested in the language we use in the United States when talking about rape and sexual assault and how that language use gives insight to the ways that we culturally understand the two. This is why I am intrigued by the use of hashtags and these specific movements.
So, despite their controversy, an overarching question remains: Do these words, through these hashtags, do anything? Is it really helping?
Kenneth Burke would argue that the language we use reflects the way that we see the world. The words that we are taught, and the way in which we use them, create pathways to understanding worldviews, both of others and ourselves. He argues that words are not just stagnant, but that words are in themselves symbolic action. They bring us to understand the world around us, and also invites others to see the world in the same way. Although hands may not be moving and the bodily understanding of action may not be taken, action is being taken cognitively through thought, worldviews, and perceptions.
I believe these hashtags stand as representation of how words are symbolic action. Besides starting conversations that in the past have been silenced, they have transformed beliefs and attitudes that resulted into powerful movements. In turn, they have changed in the way we talk about rape, sexual assault, and survivors.
From this symbolic action, not only is the conversation changing, but now physical and judicial action are being taken as well. Survivors are speaking out in solidarity against serial predators. Marches are being held to fight against sexual violence. Entire organizations are standing up to say #TimesUp and we will not tolerate this anymore. People along with survivors are speaking out to lend a hand to those who are struggling through the process of recovery.
These iterations of words are changing the conversations that we have, changing the way we understand these violations and as a result, are changing the action and stances we take against sexual violence. Because these hashtags live through technology, it gives an even greater effect to their circulation and their strength. This stands as a form of cyberactivism, that in turn results in other forms of activism.
If this is the case, how can we take these movements and the action associated with them and replicate this in other places? Your workplace? College campuses? Academia?
What do you think?
With the theme of this article of starting conversations in mind, I invite any and all conversation/comment around this specific topic, relative topic, or intersections with open arms! Let's start a conversation!
Burke, K. (1966). Language as Symbolic Action. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.