THE BLOG

Why Men Need To Be Cautious About Tweeting #ItWasMe

19/10/2017 2:58 PM IST | Updated 19/10/2017 2:59 PM IST
pixdeluxe via Getty Images

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, the hashtag #MeToo has been a powerful tool enabling women to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. It's allowed us to show naysayers once and for all that rape culture does exist, it isn't a fictional concept invented by "angry feminists".

My own newsfeed has been filled with women sharing their stories or simply posting those two powerful words, and the fact that both men and women have commented to thank them for speaking out has given me hope for a better future.

But now, a second hashtag is doing the rounds that's left me feeling both vulnerable and infuriated.

Men are responding to #MeToo by posting admissions of guilt, using the hashtag #ItWasMe. The hashtag is used by men wishing to identify themselves as either a perpetrator or bystander of sexual assault or harassment, with a promise to do better. A typical tweet might read something like: "I've catcalled women, I've groped women in clubs. I'm sorry. I will do better #ItWasMe."

Let me start by saying it's great that #MeToo has led to men rethinking their own behaviour. If we are going to end sexism, men must be involved, and #ItWasMe is a sign many are stepping up and taking responsibility. But while the majority of #ItWasMe statuses are positive, there are some that could have devastating effects.

Some of the longer #ItWasMe admissions, particularly those posted on Facebook, contain information that makes the women spoken about identifiable.

In one example I've read a man describes his guilt about pressuring his ex-girlfriend into having sex with him when she explicitly said she wasn't ready to. The man provides details of himself and his then-girlfriend, such as their ages.

If you are friends with this man, you may well know who he dated in his late teens. If you went to school or university together, you may even still be friends with his ex-girlfriend on Facebook. That woman may not want you to know that someone pressured her into having sex.

For a start, public discussion about the incident could be triggering for the woman involved. As numerous articles have pointed out over the past few days, women shouldn't feel pressured to share their #MeToo experiences. For some it may be cathartic, but for others it could be traumatic.

Sadly, there is also a culture of shame that follows harassment and assault that means many of us choose to stay silent. I write about personal experiences of catcalling, nightclub groping and everyday sexism on a regular basis, but there is one past incident I never touch on. Because I'm not ready to. Because it's still painful to think about. Because I don't want to change the way my friends and family think about me. And because that's my choice. To have that choice taken away from me by the perpetrator posting an #ItWasMe status would feel like being violated all over again. If men think these types of posts are helping, they're wrong.

The second issue I have with some of the #ItWasMe posts is the language used, because in some instances it only risks fuelling misconceptions about assault and harassment.

Two posts that riled me up include the phrases such as "I had sex with her when she didn't want to" and "I tried to penetrate her [while she was asleep]".

To make things clear: there is no such thing as "sex" with a woman who doesn't want to have sex. It's rape. If you tried (but failed) to penetrate a woman while she was asleep, that's attempted rape. Let's call these crimes what they are and stop sending men mixed messages about consent.

As a side note, these men have also potentially opened themselves up to prosecution in the future. I'm no lawyer, but I'd hazard a guess that if you've admitted you're guilty of rape on Facebook, then a woman decides to prosecute, telling a jury you didn't understand the language you were using may not wash.

My final grievance with these statuses is the sanctimonious tone of some of them. Posting a status stating that you have never harassed a woman but apologising if you have ever been a bystander feels disingenuous. It feels like the most half-assed kind of apology there is, like when celebrities say "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" rather than simply saying "I'm sorry". Why are men posting these statuses? It's not an admission of guilt, it's not even really a promise to try harder, so I can only assume you are posting this to get a few likes and boost your own ego.

Again, I want to stress that I am not talking about all #ItWasMe posts. Many have been created sensitively and it is uplifting to see men finally take part in a conversation about sexual harassment - something that's been seen as a "women's issue" for far too long.

But before you post an #ItWasMe status, please think about why you're posting it and who you are posting it for. Take a step back and look at the language you've used. Can a woman be identified? Are you whitewashing assault with euphemisms? If you want to join the movement, your status is just as valid if you post those three words, and nothing else.

Alternatively, check out the hashtag #HowIWillChange. Instead of dragging up incidents from the past that could do more harm than good, the movement looks towards the future. The hashtag is full of men promising to never catcall a woman again, committing to never touch a woman's body without her permission and insisting they will speak up next time they hear a sexist comment. We've done a lot of talking about sexual assault and harassment over the last few days, but if we truly want to enable a culture shift, it's time for positive action.

More On This Topic