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The Impact Weinstein And #MeToo Must Have For Younger Generations

25/10/2017 16:51 BST | Updated 25/10/2017 17:45 BST

harvey weinstein

The fall of Harvey Weinstein after decades of alleged abuse of power and predatory sexual behaviour has brought some positives. His demise has been swift, once the New York Times were finally able to make public what was whispered about for years, and the scandal has forced other powerful men to account for their behaviour, which has for too long gone unchallenged.

Weinstein is another extreme example of obvious power imbalance - like the cases of sexual exploitation that have been uncovered in the BBC and beyond in recent years. While it's good to address these situations, as with sexual education in schools, for lessons to resonate we need to move on from just addressing issues at their most drastic and explore the routine harassment that many, women and LGBT+ people in particular, face on a regular basis.

The #MeToo response to this has been positive in encouraging people to categorise what was previously behaviour to be endured, such as cat calls and unsolicited invitations, to be seen for what it really is; sexual harassment which causes discomfort to its recipient.  Looking at the #MeToo posts in the wake of Weinstein's fall, they have been successful at illustrating what sexual harassment looks like in all its varying degrees; mobilising a vocabulary to describe experiences, offering reassurance that others have been through similar things and confirmation that such behaviour is not ok.

I hope in some way that the posts can give people the conviction to call out inappropriate behaviour. And the encouragement that while saying no or speaking back to power is difficult, it is worth it in the longer run, and there are networks of support to help with this.

 

But it is not without its limits or its flaws. #MeToo is not a conversation about how to actively address how and why this behaviour has persisted, and will persist once the fallout of Weinstein dissipates. Nor does it explore what the conditions are that allow that to happen. Public forums like Facebook and Twitter don't seem to me, to be the places for acknowledging and addressing that this behaviour begins and happens in our homes, between friends and peers from a very early age.

The majority of people speaking up and speaking out are older (by which I mean 20+). These #MeToo posts often reflect what they 'wish they had known'.  Noting that in their youth they didn't have the voice, the language and the support to recognise and challenge their experiences of sexual harassment - and that things might have been different if they did.

People who can recognise their experiences as violence have probably received education or support from others to develop a language and a feeling that they should be heard.  And a sense that they are entitled to positive experiences, to pleasure, to care, to love and to nurture. This is a privilege many of the young people I work with don't have.

 

This suggests to me that we need to talk to children and young people about these things more actively, but, that it's vital we don't focus on extreme 'bad examples'. In light of Weinstein, we need to talk about what care looks and feels like, what respect and consensual sexual experiences entail.  We need to teach about boundaries and why they are positive in helping to develop a sense of self.  We need to cultivate defiance, making clear that while saying no can be awkward and uncomfortable, it can be constructive too. 

By doing this, new generations of children and young people will be supported to recognise, process and ideally minimise their experience of, and their potential to do, sexual violence now and in the future.

classroom children

Currently, in schools, and in some families, children are taught that saying no, being defiant and putting their needs and pleasures first, is not ok. Children are taught from a young age that saying no to adults in power can get you into trouble. They are taught that their bodies are not their own; from being made to give family members a kiss, to being taught that a good student must sit still and be silent.

This restricts children and young people's exploration and development of their own boundaries. We are teaching them that saying no (to older people), comes with a variety of consequences, and that they will be rewarded for compliance.

Research suggests that young women tend to do better in schools, because they take up less space, follow instructions well and are rewarded for being quiet. Through this process girls, more than boys, are stripped of the competence and confidence to transgress.  They are not encouraged to take up space, to make noise, to say no or to question and counter power.  All of the things that many #MeToo post-ers wished they'd have been able to do earlier in their lives.

Family settings and routine, school hours and peer culture all serve to reinforce the norms of sexism and silence that girls and young women have been brought up in - hammering home a message that they must be compliant. Without and addressing this, children and young people could be forced to endure the same unhappy fate of silent suffering that so many #MeToo post-ers are only now being freed from.