You don’t owe the internet your trauma, even if everyone else is doing it


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You don’t owe the internet your trauma, even if everyone else is doing it

#MeToo is a great tool, but you don’t have to participate

It’s been a very strange, demoralizing, depressing week to be a woman on the internet (and in the world).

In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, a seemingly endless torrent of accounts of assault and harassment emerged. Women have banded together, sharing their own stories and supporting each other. Today’s #MeToo hashtag is a perfect example of how powerful and positive that support can be.

But among all the women (and men) who have been able to share their #MeToos, it’s important to remember that for some of us the stories are too painful to share. Since it began on Sunday night, the hashtag has been used over 200,000 times (which shows the miserable, staggering scale of sexual abuse and harassment as an every day experience). Perhaps because of how endemic it seems to be, although #MeToo is intended as a constructive movement — and it largely is — it can be a traumatic, odd environment too.

But what it comes down to is this: you don’t owe the internet, or anyone else, your trauma. The #MeToo hashtag is a positive idea, but it fits into a wider culture on the internet where pain and secrets, especially women’s, are commodified and thrown into an endless pit of first person stories. In an environment where publishers compete every day for the most salacious, scandalous or eyegrabbing headlines, a personal account that someone could have spent months and weeks on, soul-searching about whether or not it was right to make it public, could be forgotten about in a few days.

Or worse, it could go viral, and invite deluge of abuse with it.

“Not everyone is granted the power of authoritative speech,” writes Carina Chocano. “It has always taken courage for women to speak up for themselves and out against the way things are, especially against female oppression.” It’s true that #MeToo, and the sorry saga of Harvey Weinstein has had a silver lining, it gave women the anger, and courage, they needed to speak out.

But at my most cynical it’s hard not to get pissed off that that’s what it took. Because men – and women – in the movie industry, and the media, and every other institution where systemic misogyny exists, knew that it was going on. But it took years, decades of abuse with a bloated, human face on it to make everyone believe that it was happening. The burden is still placed on women to perform their own traumas and experiences to be listened to because by default, we’re still not believed.

“It doesn’t take much,” says Mary Beard. The classics professor was writing for The New Yorker about how easy it is for women to be abused online when speaking up, after being threatened with rape for posting her support for the new Jane Austen £10 note. “The abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts – it’s the fact that you are saying it.”

The fact is that putting a story out there for all to see can be dangerous. Already, women are being attacked for sharing their stories, as though they’re doing it to earn political points or further their careers (the irony).

Last week, journalist Helena Donahue courageously chose to share an account of her abuse at the hands of a man working in media. Despite not revealing his name or his face, she was roundly ridiculed and attacked online.

Luckily, there were also plenty of people supporting her, but if she, or anyone else, was still feeling traumatized from her experience, reliving abuse online is upsetting and can be dangerous.

Sharing stories is cathartic, and if we didn’t do it, there’s a chance that men like Harvey Weinstein would never be exposed. But if you feel like you can’t do that online, it doesn’t make you a bad feminist. It doesn’t mean you’re somehow undermining the sisterhood, or that you are somehow less brave than everyone else. Write it down, even if you don’t intend on showing anyone else for now, or ever. Support other girls who have posted their #MeToos. Speak to family, friends and maybe, one day, when you feel strong enough, share it online.

But you don’t owe the internet your experiences.