By Zoe Ashe-Jones
When Mira Rahili’s friends go on dates, her biggest fear is that they won’t make it home.
“Every woman I know, we text each other before going on dates,” said English teacher Mira Rahili. “We text our locations, drop a pin [on Google Maps], text when we’re in our house. Even now that I’m getting married, I still text my friends to make sure they’re in their house.”
According to RAINN.org, every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. 9 of of 10 rape victims are female. According to a February 2018 NPR article, 81 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment.
While the reality is scary, the growing number of marches and movements working to give a voice to women give hope for the future.
“Our voices are becoming recognized,” said junior Joala Downey. “We are becoming more united. That counts for something.”
The #metoo movement, which gained popularity in the fall of 2017 thanks to a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano, works to give autonomy to victims of sexual harassment and assault. The tweet, which reads “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a response to this tweet,” has over 68,000 replies, 24,000 retweets, and 53,000 likes.
“I think it’s good that people are speaking out against their abusers and bringing awareness to a serious problem that was previously getting little attention,” said freshman Jahna Davis. “When more people in a position of power use their platform to speak out against it, maybe it will be recognized as a serious problem to be addressed. However, it’s not clear if or when with this government a change will be enacted as they have so easily ignored other problems as serious as this.”
While Milano’s tweet revitalized the #metoo movement, she didn’t come up with the idea on her own. Tarana Burke created Just Be Inc. in 2007 to support women of color who had been victims of sexual assault. Burke used #metoo at Just Be Inc. workshops and online to give a name to her movement. In an interview with the New York Times, Burke acknowledges the position she and Milano have been put in.
“I think it is selfish for me to try to frame Me Too as something that I own,” Burke said. “It is bigger than me and bigger than Alyssa Milano. Neither one of us should be centered in this work. This is about survivors.”
While Rahili worries when her friends go out to dates or parties, sexual harassment is not uncommon in professional spaces. A Time article from October 2017 says that 48 percent of women in the United States workforce have been harassed at work.
“There was a colleague who would tell me, while we were at meetings, that I had a ‘beautiful smile’ and that I ‘wear that dress very well’,” said Rahili. “I didn’t report it because I questioned if it was crossing the line. I wondered if I was dressed inappropriately.”
The #MeToo movement isn’t only affecting the way women perceive moments of harassment or assault. Some also see it as a learning experience for their communities at large.
“Most of my male students hadn’t heard about the #metoo movement,” said science teacher Mika Twietmeyer. “I would love the #metoo movement to keep going and to influence policies and trainings at out school. For example, the dress code policy limits what young women can wear, mainly because if the items are too revealing it is considered ‘distracting’ and ‘inappropriate.’”
The Women’s March was started by Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Bob Bland in direct response to the election of Donald Trump as president. The march, which happened the day after Trump’s 2017 inauguration, has spurred sister marches, including ones in Durham, New York, and San Francisco. These marches serve to spread awareness about issues that affect women. Despite the fear associated with speaking out, people are coming out in droves to speak up for their rights.
Some wonder about how effective the movements are. Will anything change, or will these movements die out like others?
“It’s been almost 100 years since women could vote,” said a Riverside teacher who did not wish to be named. “They still don’t make the same amount of money. Neither the [#MeToo or the Women’s March] movements are making good, lasting change. The only thing that makes a difference is laws.”
While neither of the movements have changed laws, they have changed the conversations people are having.
“The movement has impacted me by making me feel like I am part of a whole,” Twietmeyer said. “For a long time the issues that are being discussed – date rape, catcalling, reproductive rights, pay equality, menstruation have not been topics that are safe to talk about in public or with others, let alone men. Now that social media is a huge thing, issues are being spotlighted for everyone to hear.”
In the 2016 presidential election, women made up 63.3 percent of the voting pool. The impact from the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement is already starting to be felt. In Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones won an election to fill a Senate seat. His Republican opponent, Roy Moore, lost by 21,924 votes.
“Women are a majority and impact elections in big ways,” said Twietmeyer. “At the end of the day I have been inspired. I have called and written my representatives more often, joined groups with other women advocates, and started calling out the patriarchy.”