This week marks the anniversary of #MeToo going viral. Here, five women recount how a global movement has affected their day-to-day lives.
“I stood by the woman who accused my friend”
“In January a Twitter account called “John Smith* is a rapist” followed me. On it, the victim had written the details of her rape; I realised I knew the guy. He was part of my wider friendship group. My initial reaction was to feel sorry for him, that it must be awful to be shamed so publicly.
“Was this the best way she could have dealt with it? I had to check myself. The woman behind the account had set it up after her university failed to act. She felt desperate. And since then, around a dozen more women have come forward.
“Before #MeToo, I would have focused on his embarrassment rather than her pain. The movement made me question what we’re taught to normalise as women. I recently found out he’s returned to classes and she’s shut the account down at the request of their university.
“I wrote to the university expressing my outrage that she still has to sit in classes with him. I haven’t been in touch with him since. Now, I feel like it doesn’t need to have happened to me for me to do something. That’s the thing about sexual assault, the weight is all on the victim’s shoulders. #MeToo means we should all carry some too.”
“I finally realised I was sexually harassed at work”
“After the #MeToo movement swept through the news and social media, it dawned on me that I had, in fact, been bullied by my previous business partner, with strong sexual connotations attached: invading of personal space, touching, verbal abuse. He would purposely block exits out of a room or grab me in a large bear hug from behind in front of colleagues as a way to undermine my authority.
“At the time it was happening, there was never a question of calling it out. I, and those around me, fobbed it off as, ‘Oh well that’s just his way’. I actually conditioned myself into believing it was normal. I covered up my fear and anxiety around him with a fierce personality and an unhealthy work ethic.
“This came to a head when I couldn’t take the job anymore; I left the business and sold my shares. At the time, I believed this was because I was disillusioned with the business and the fact that I was exhausted and generally really unhappy.
“I put what had happened to me in a box of things too painful to access. After #MeToo, I began to understand it was because of him. I now believe the behaviour of that man affected my mental health, self-esteem and played a huge part in my decision to leave a successful business that I had built up over many years.
“I’ve started talking about it for the first time.”
“I spoke about my rape publicly for the first time”
“I was raped while I was at university. It happened after a society event; a guy said he lived in the same direction as me and we walked home together. He was friendly, nonthreatening. When we got to my house, he asked if he could come in for a glass of water. I thought nothing of it. It was once we were inside that he became really aggressive. I later found out he lived on the opposite side of town; it was planned.
“I looked at the university website, which just told me to report it to the police. I didn’t want to face a two-year long ordeal; I wanted to focus on graduating. So, I went into denial about it.
“In April 2017, I founded Revolt Sexual Assault as a platform for women to share their stories anonymously. After #MeToo, we had an influx of stories – women were recognising what had happened to them as assault for the first time. I decided to share my story shortly after in an article for The Guardian, it felt like a relief. Since #MeToo, not only have more women come forward, but the universities we approach are much more receptive.
“We’re discussing implementing systems to safely report assault and training sports captains and society leaders on how to prevent it. It feels like there has been a cultural shift in how people are responding to us; what women have always known has been validated by #MeToo.”
“I’m seeing changes in the legal cases I work on”
“I started working as a lawyer specialising in sexual harassment and discrimination in 2005. I hoped that, maybe naively, I could be part of change. After 12 years, I felt depressed and demotivated. Overall I hadn’t seen any real change, most cases were dealt with in out-of-court settlements anonymously. I thought, what’s the point of my job? I felt like I was part of a system working against women.
“I saw a lot of glass ceiling issues, such as women coming back after maternity leave to have their clients taken from them. In the last year that has changed. I get calls from women seeking advice after they’ve been sexually harassed at work and then deciding to move forward with proceedings. That didn’t happen before. I’m seeing differences in the way employers are dealing with accusations, too. In one case, the man was disciplined and the woman was offered an exit package or a promotion with a pay rise. I’d never experienced that before. I feel enormously motivated again.”
“I’ve started calling out male friends”
“My friends are mostly male, which had never been a problem before #MeToo. I felt like feminism was a fringe belief I held – something I did that my friends didn’t have to be involved with. I presumed we all held roughly the same opinions, anyway. The aftermath of #MeToo was the first time I noticed the gender divide.
“As a woman, I tend to be a people-pleaser, so when they made sexist comments before, I would just laugh. I didn’t want to appear to be a spoilsport by making a fuss. Since #MeToo, I’ve stopped doing that. I speak up and question things. I’m confrontational. For example, we were all discussing Love Island and a friend called Megan a slut.
“Before I would have shrugged, maybe even agreed. Instead, I asked him what he meant by that. Did he mean she’s a bitch? Was he referencing her sexual history? I think it’s given me a reputation for being difficult and they avoid bringing certain things up around me. It’s made relationships tense at times, but it’s worth it in the long run.
“Language is so important, if we change how we use it among our friends it has a ripple effect.”
For advice or support around sexual harassment, call the Rape Crisis national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year)
*Names have been changed