I’ll begin this post by discussing the origin and history of the #MeToo movement briefly (as briefly as possible while still acknowledging the complexities and sensitivities of this movement).
I believe that this hashtag blasted the social media door wide open, filling up spaces on screens with discussions on sexism and inequality.
Anna North (2019) published an article in Vox titled ‘7 positive changes that have come from the #MeToo movement.’ While bias exists in the article’s subjective title which immediately places the movement as positive in evoking change, I find North’s writing poignant and knowledgeable.
Tarana Burke, who started the MeToo campaign in 2006, and Alyssa Milano, who sparked the movement with a tweet in 2017, both tasked the hashtag with “spread[ing] a message for survivors: You’re heard, you’re understood” (North, 2019). Following Harvey Weinstein’s infamous fall from his golden Hollywood throne, the reporting of sexual harassment scandals against powerful men in entertainment has heartened many.
The celebratory tone of this media-coverage assumed that women would be compensated or otherwise acknowledged for their traumatic experiences, but almost three years later, controversies around the success of the popular hashtag continue to spark. Discussing whether or not this hashtag was and is indeed successful will be the topic of a follow-up post, but now my attention turns to personal experiences on harassment and gender inequality.
I consider myself remarkably lucky in that I have not (yet– foreboding interlude) experienced major sexism, misogyny or harassment to the same level as the original ‘first wave’ of women speaking out against Harvey Weinstein did. I emphasize this phrase because, as with all popular movements, there are backlashes of the #MeToo hashtag that are regressive, harmful and, to be blunt, pretty pathetic. I’ll get to that later.
For now, the only sort of sexist behaviour that I have personally been confronted with — besides the cat-calling, slut-shaming and verbal harassment rhetoric that is, undeniably, a part of the South African University campus culture (and the world. Dramatic pause.) — was on an intellectual field.
In 2018, a national news outlet – Netwerk24 – started a trend wherein students across South African campuses could write about any experience or topic, submit their writing, and have it published in a dedicated category called “Die Student” (Afrikaans for ‘The Student’). Three of my articles were published and were trending on the Netwerk24 website on a day when I sat at in Stellenbosch’s student centre with a friend drinking a coffee. He had also been writing for ‘Die Student’, but alas, his articles were not trending at the time.
Amidst recollections on our shared memories of our hostel, and after laughing and gossiping about mutual acquaintances, we began discussing the great initiative offered by Netwerk24 in spreading student voices on a national news platform.
Naturally, the conversation turned to our writing in ‘Die Student’, and to my trending articles. (Here’s where the suspenseful, solemn silence fills the room.) My so-called friend’s way of congratulating me and acknowledging my writing capabilities was to say, very straight-faced and nonchalantly, that the photo accompanying my articles was…wait for it… ‘hot’. (Gasps in disgust, accompanied by head-shakes and disproving ‘tsks’.)
With a voice so self-righteous that I could barely hint the jealousy behind it, he said the only reason why my articles were popular was that the photograph I had chosen to accompany them showed off my ‘pretty face’.
This ground-breaking, oh-so-original opinion was given as if it was the most normal, obvious observation in the world. Never did it cross his mind that my writing was popular because of my writing (shock!). In the eyes of this student in an (advertised to be) progressive university, I had passed the ultimate test of recognition for any woman in the intellectual field. I was pretty to look at.
I had passed the ultimate test of recognition for any woman in the intellectual field. I was pretty to look at.
Below is the “hot” photograph I submitted so that people reading my article could put a face to the name. It’s also the photo that popped the bubble of my perfect idealism and belief in gender equality… at a university…between friends…on supposedly equal grounds.
Kathryn van den Berg
When trying to come up with an alias for my blog, I turned to words people have used to describe me for inspiration. The term 'control freak' popped up in my mind, but I'm not that confrontational and opinionated (anymore...). And so came into existence a happy compromise between my A-type personality and sense of humour.
Kathryn is The Control Enthusiast.