If you think the #MeToo movement is over, think again. In 2018, #MeToo has entered its new iteration as not just an American movement, but an international one. Countries that had previously not considered gender inequity and sexual assault parts of their national agenda are now beginning to see a rise of women who are finally saying enough is enough.
The hashtag began with Tarana Burke’s accusations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein in October of 2017. Actress Alyssa Milano first tweeted the saying, encouraging women who were able to share their stories of assault. It spread like wildfire around social media, illustrating the prevalence of the problem of sexual misconduct through all walks of life while simultaneously expressing widespread support of the women sharing their stories. The support is not limited to the United States, but has been shared worldwide, gaining particular traction in South Korea, among others.
South Korea, ranked 118th out of 145 countries in gender equality by the World Economic Forum in 2017, has been rocked by the outpouring of sexual assault stories, from gropings to rape. Members of the highest echelons of government have been exposed, including potential presidential candidate Ahn Hee-jung.
From Seoul, the movement has spread from a “radical” feminist movement to a people’s revolution, with significant legislative response. The maximum sentences for sexual harassment have been raised, as well as the statute of limitations on how long after an incident it can be prosecuted. South Korea has a terrible track record of prosecution: in 2016, only one of 552 total sexual harassment claims ended in prosecution, so the effective enforcement of these laws remains to be seen, but it is an important step and a sign that those in South Korea are open to both political and cultural change. The movement cannot be allowed to fade away; a constant fight against injustice is required to tackle deeply entrenched patriarchal institutions.
Of course, South Korea is not the only nation where patriarchal institutions continuously objectify and dehumanize female bodies. The hashtag has inspired action in countries all over the world, such as India, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, Egypt, France, and many more.
India has particularly embraced the movement, which brought allegations against tech giant Mahesh Murthy back to the surface of public consciousness. Murthy, who some have called “India’s Weinstein,” originally denied all allegations from over six women, but was finally arrested in Feb., due to the resurgence of evidence, this time backed by popular support of the women.
India faces widespread problems of inequality across all marginalized groups, not just among women. There have been numerous stories of horrific rape—including one in 2012 that took place on a moving bus in New Delphi—that led to stricter sentences for sexual harassment convictions (including adding the death penalty), and they've seen an increase in reported incidences of assault since the legislation was put into place (however, the reported cases only represent a fraction of those that actually happen). Systemic cultural standards make it hard for a woman to report assault, as she risks judgement, accusations of “asking for it,” or impurity that make it hard to move on with one’s life. The #MeToo movement could be the start of a long-term push for acknowledgment and change in individuals, as well as a re-structuring of the systems that make it okay for men to harass women everywhere on a daily basis.
A part of Indian culture has been child marriages, which have been in the news recently for the attempted legislative crackdowns, with mild success. Traditionally characterized by the marriage of a young teenage or pubescent girl to a significantly older man, the girl is taken out of schooling to live and work in her husband’s household. This pattern not only affects the girls involved, but the whole country, as it robs the girls of potentially impactful futures that education can have. The problem has a complex cause, but can largely be attributed prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. Parents marry off their young girls to preserve their virginity (or purity) before they can be sexually assaulted, which lessens their chances of being married. The misogyny seen in India is the root cause of many problems in society that governments are only treating the symptoms of, if they are being treated at all.
With all this being said, it is important not to point fingers at the rest of the world, particularly countries such as South Korea and India, and attribute their misogyny to their culture. American culture too, is highly entrenched in inequality—racism, capitalism, sexism, and a police force that serves to maintain those structural inequalities. When looking at these countries embracing #MeToo, remind yourself to not exotify or alienate their cultures. Intersectionality is too often forgotten in #MeToo, and we must remember that the lived experiences of non-American women are different from those that are American. Be glad that women have found the platform to speak on their rights (or lack thereof) on an international level, but do not speak on behalf of them. Because when it comes to #MeToo, it is not a fight of us vs. them. It’s a fight for all women, of all walks of life.