Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR| Women stand in solidarity with each other during the #MeToo movement
In Oct. 2017, the #MeToo movement erupted on social media. The movement was for those who had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted to show the magnitude of the situation across the nation. The movement has encouraged and empowered many to speak out against their assailants. This has been a movement leading to both private and public action, as seen in many instances nationally, including cases against Harvey Weinstein or Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who has more than 150 women come out against him.
Penny Rosenthal, director of the Women’s Center at the University of Rhode Island, said that it is about time a movement like this is sparking the social change that has been much needed.
“I think it’s absolutely empowering for women and for men to understand an experience that has primarily been women,” Rosenthal said. “But to me it… has shifted attitudes and awareness in a way we haven’t been able to do before.”
Not only has the movement worked on a national level, it has even sparked change here at the University of Rhode Island. Rosenthal says she has seen a clear change on campus with more people having conversations about the topic and an increase in students going to the Women’s Center to seek support.
“I have to believe that there is not increased incidents of violence, I’m going to take the stance that there is more courage and bravery and intolerance in silence for the victims and survivors,”
“I have to believe that there is not increased incidents of violence, I’m going to take the stance that there is more courage and bravery and intolerance in silence for the victims and survivors,” Rosenthal said, explaining how the movement has given more courage to those affected by sexual harassment or sexual assault.
That courage is seen in members of our community taking part in the movement, including Rosenthal, senior Anyse Carey, fourth-year student Samantha King and senior Elizabeth Felag.
Rosenthal said that she had many experiences throughout her life that she did not recognize as harassment or assault until she was older. According to Rosenthal, she thought, “that’s what it’s like to be a female in society, weird stuff happens to you.” Unfortunately, that is the mentality that far too many women have. It was those experiences that made her want to take part in the movement.
“If you’ve not experienced that violence and that oppression and that fear, it’s hard to imagine and I don’t want people to imagine,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t want people to experience it. One person’s actions in three minutes can change a person’s life for the rest of their life. And you don’t just forget that.”
Rosenthal added that those experiences are just as valuable to her in her career as her degrees are, and sometimes even more so.
Carey said that she experienced sexual harassment/assault in high school and again in college, though she isn’t ashamed of what happened and wants people to know that it is okay if they feel that way too. She took part in the campaign because she felt it was important to put a face to the statistic.
“It’s easy to say one in every four college women are going to be sexually assaulted but that doesn’t really, for a lot of people, impact them that much,” Carey said. “But when you see all over your social media people saying me too, I think it really says something about it and put emphasis on how many people it really affects.” She added that sometimes people don’t realize who in their life is actually affected by this, as she herself was surprised to see the amount of people who were impacted by the same thing that had happened to her.
From this campaign, Carey says that she has seen the impact it has had all over.
“I think that the most impact it has is on the survivors,” Carey said. “I know the whole point of it was to show it to people who weren’t affected by it, but I think to survivors it kind of makes them feel a bit at ease like they’re not alone in it.” She has had and heard lots of conversation regarding not only the movement but sexual harassment and assault in general.
Felag has also seen more conversation and has taken part in conversations with others about sexual assault. She said she took part in the campaign because with issues such as this one, visibility is important.
“I’ve been affected and I’m in a position where I can talk about it,” Felag said. “I did this in part to give a voice to those who couldn’t speak out.” A sentiment echoed by Carey, wanting to give the voices back to those who have experienced sexual harassment or assault.
King took part in the movement because she hoped by sharing her own experiences could help others find similar strength.
“Sexual assault and violence is rarely talked about, yet is an issue that affects so many,” she said. “After my own assault I felt very alone and alienated. It wasn’t until I met other women and survivors that I found strength and empowerment.”
King added that she believes the participation of many URI survivors has opened the eyes of “those privileged enough to be ignorant to these issues.”
“When we speak our truth, when we tell our stories, when we share our stories, then the victim survivors don’t feel alone and can move from victim survivor to empowered survivor to forget that [they’re] surviving because [they’re] thriving,” Rosenthal said.
While some conversation has been brought forward, Felag and King said that it is hard to see tangible change at the University.
“Our community needs to be willing to recognize and identify problems,” she said. “It is not until ownership of our failures is taken that we can begin to solve them.” URI has initiated a new culture of respect initiative that started off the ground this year and will hopefully lead this in the right direction.
The #MeToo movement is only the beginning for bringing awareness and making change about this constant issue. To those who want to be an ally to survivors, all four women say to listen, to believe and to not shame or judge those trusting you with their stories.
“You weren’t there, you don’t know what happened, you have no right to try and say who’s right and who’s wrong in this,” Carey said. “If someone is telling you that they’re hurt, you have to respect that they’re hurt, and you can’t downplay their feelings and their experience.”
“The processing of my own trauma was so difficult because when I disclosed, I was ignored,” said King. She added that she just wants more people to be allies and educated themselves on this very real, very present issue.
“I think we need to keep talking about it,” Felag said. “We need to keep offering support for survivors, and we need to keep drilling into people’s heads that this is not okay.”
For those who have been affected by sexual harassment or sexual assault, want to have more of a conversation about it or need support, the Women’s Center on Upper College Road has a dedicated staff ready to help whenever the need be. There are support services for individuals who can call and get a live person to speak to. All of that information and more can be found at web.uri.edu/womenscenter