Friday, October 20, 2017

#MeToo social media phenomenon resonates in rural America, too

Don't miss Ashley Westerman's story this morning out of western Kentucky, which is where Westerman happens to have grown up.  Indeed this story arose from Westerman's observation that the hashtag #metoo had caught on among those in her home community, something she says is unusual.
People don't usually jump onto social media campaign bandwagons like that ... This is the first time I've noticed an issue campaign like this trickle down in my home community.  
This phenomenon would suggest a greater "feminist consciousness" than is typically associated with rural people and places--though those rural women might not label it "feminist."

One woman Westerman interviewed was Julie Martin, who is probably middle-aged because she has three daughters and four granddaughters.  Martin reported that, especially when she was younger, she was subject to unwanted behavior from male colleagues.  Martin initially worked as a grocery clerk and then in the medical field, but she has spent the last 14 years working at the local school.  Martin is quoted:
They would refer to you as sugar [expletive] or honey bun and sweetheart and darling. And I'm not your sweetheart. And I'm not your darling, you know (laughter)? I had one grab my behind. And after I jumped him and explained sternly that that was not acceptable, I never had that problem with him again. But you always have the verbal harassment--that some guys just feel they have that privilege.
Martin never reported any of the behavior.  Why not?  Well, her answer echoes the rural ethos of  self-reliance:
I've always been one of those that was taught that you deal with problems yourself. You don't shove them on someone else. When he grabbed me on the butt, I didn't go to my supervisor. And to this day, I still regret not going to my supervisor and saying, hey, we have a problem.
Further, she would encourage her daughters and granddaughters to report.  Martin indicated that she thinks women are now more empowered by social media, which has helped to diminish the stigma associated with these incidents.
It doesn't really matter whether you're in a small community or a larger city. That's something that has just always been not talked about. And so many people have faced that. And maybe they felt that they were the only ones. And then when they started seeing me too, me too, me too, they're like, hey, wait a minute. Me too. And it's nothing to be ashamed of.
Here's a great segment on American Public Media's "The World" about sexual harassment around the world.  One woman talked about how having jobs in the service sector, like restaurants, where sexual banter is common can leave one thinking that such behavior is normal--and that you just have to deal it. 

Here's a related post on how the January 2017 Women's March played out in rural places, too. 

Cross posted to Legal Ruralism.


Omar de la Cruz said...

Professor Pruitt, I found this fascinating! The #MeToo wave seems to have really resonated with people on a very deep level. It captured the attention of all women it seems, regardless of their demographics. That's quite the feat. I mentioned the phenomenon in my latest blog post as well. I realize that it's not something that's for everyone and that if it ends here then the entire thing might've been slightly meaningless, but I have to admit that I'm excited at the possibility of national discussion on the matter. The hard part seems to be finding out where to go from here. Do you have any idea about what a good next step would be to capitalize on this momentum?

Aoife Mee said...

Professor Pruitt,

The #MeToo movement on social media is indeed an example of how women can be empowered through social media. However, it is unfortunate that social media can, at the same time, be a source of the disempowerment of women. As I have noted in some of my recent blogs, social media is a key instigator in the objectification of women's bodies through its promulgation of highly sexualized images of women as well as its promotion of the "ideal" body type. In this regard, social media often reduces women to sex objects, which disempowers them by crushing their self-esteem and self-worth. This perhaps, explains why so many women, in rural communities and beyond, are reluctant to come forward when they experience sexual harassment or abuse.

Clearly then, social media can be a power for good or a power for evil. My hope is that more movements like the #MeToo campaign will spring up via social media to make it a more empowering platform for women in the future.

B. Williams said...

Professor Pruitt, I have been similarly impressed with the impact that the #metoo campaign has had on social media. Not only is it affecting women in rural areas and outside the US, I have seen it impact men. Multiple men in my social media feed have come forward with their own #metoo stories and others have commented asking what steps they can take the reduce workplace harassment or to stand up for women. This has also played out in the media with the current allegations made against Kevin Spacey, all involving men. It seems the conversation around sexual harassment is also empowering these men to speak up. Like rural women there seems to be an "ethos of self reliance" and perhaps silence when it comes to men living with sexual harassment... admitting to being sexually harassed is seen as emasculating, weak, or (if you were a straight man harassed by another man) embarrassing/humiliating. It's nice to see that the stigma surrounding that discussion has been seemingly lessened by this increased public attention to/rejection of sexual harassment.