Young women are feeling empowered to raise awareness of sexual harassment since the unfolding of the #MeToo movement. While this has resulted in a greater willingness to partake in political conversations, for some, their voices and experiences remain unheard.
The #MeToo movement first originated in 2006, when Tarana Burke began using the phrase to tell all women who had experienced sexual violence that they were not alone. Five years ago, actress Alyssa Milano made a long-lasting impact on women who have been sexually abused by replying “Me too” to someone else’s tweet. This created a ripple effect of several women sharing their personal stories of sexual harassment, which led to a viral international phenomenon. Since #MeToo began, it has left some women feeling heard, hopeful, and optimistic about justice. But it left others feeling vulnerable, embarrassed, and ashamed that society now deemed them to be victims. This demonstrates that social media can be a great tool for raising awareness, but there can be a viciousness to it. To mitigate this, we need to recognise that sexual harassment is not a problem faced only by individuals, but a global problem, one that will require a diverse cultural force and innovative solutions.
Equal Opportunity to Create Impact
Social media does have immense potential for achieving positive social change. Think of the Human Rights Investigation Center Lab, launched in 2016 at the University of California’s Berkeley Law department, which investigates human rights infringement and war crimes by sifting through social media content. Since this revelation, human rights and feminists advocates have used social media as a platform to increase the visibility of women’s issues and share stories to create a global impact and enact social change. However, are we ignoring the fact that many people have limited access to technology, and are therefore excluded from this global social media conversation?
According to OECD research, the ability for women to collectively participate in social media activism is limiting to those who have these disadvantages, and are potentially the ones who have more personal stories that need to be brought to the forefront of the political conversation. Despite social media circulating these necessary discussions, the reality is that this form of activism can be limiting.
The revolution of #MeToo is about more than raising awareness of sexual violence: it’s about providing support for women who have raised their voice, and in turn, doing something about it. However, the same power structures that enable sexual violence also present barriers for women to engage with political systems. And women know that the only way to do this is to be actively engaged in political matters around this issue. This creates potential risk for algorithmic bias, which is particularly devastating to Women of Colour, and the increasing instability of some platforms, such as Elon Musk buying Twitter to turn it into a libertarian carousel.
The movement raises more concerns than we thought were apparent. Why should young women have to share their traumatic stories of abuse on social media for everyone to see without participating in political decision-making and leadership? While Twitter has amplified the impact of the #MeToo movement, how do we ensure these 2.3 million tweets from women around the world are recognised, and not just relegated to the cultural zeitgeist of 2017? The #MeToo movement does stand a risk of being seen as a slogan related to a very certain time period living in the cultural consciousness with little relevance to other eras, if momentum isn’t maintained.
What are Young Australians Doing About it?
As Co-Chair of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC), the national voice for young people, I know that young people are growing more and more uncertain over how the next government is going to provide solutions to youth matters, such as cost of living, climate change, and mental health, and are hungry for the opportunity to participate in creating change for their futures. A vital element in AYAC’s ability to make this happen is empowering young people to lead and influence national policy and increase the representation of young people in public debate.
The Australian government needs to remain committed to tackling this issue now and for generations to come by committing to represent and advocate for young women. This is just one step to ensuring the issue of sexual abuse and women’s rights brought to the forefront of social media through the #MeToo movement can create meaningful change.
The Outcome of Political Consciousness in Young Women
The continuing impact of women’s increased political participation can ultimately lead to young women having an increased level of political consciousness, and belief in justice and systematic change. Furthermore, these conversations on women’s rights and gender equality should be a reoccurring discussion at the decision-making table at local, state, and federal levels to develop democratic transparency across the country and the world. And more to the point, the decisions will inevitably positively shape the future for young women by having their concerns addressed.
Sarah Ramantanis is Co-Chair of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition. She is currently a Marketing Officer at Philanthropy Australia, an Advisory Board Member for the Centre of Youth Policy and Education at Monash University, and completing a Master of Communications at Monash University.
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