Two Years Since #MeToo Went Viral, What’s Really Changed?

Photographed by Eylul Aslan
This time two years ago, something happened. The air crackled latently as many of us fired off tweets, DMs and WhatsApp messages not just to our friends but to other women who, finally, were saying "Me Too"
It woke us all up from the ennui that comes with the summer fading away. Suddenly the beginning of autumn felt less like a seasonal no-man’s land, where all there is to look forward to before Christmas is Halloween, and became a time when it felt like game-changing, epoch-making stuff could really happen. The news felt relevant in a way it hadn’t done before. 
For decades – no, centuries – women had, as Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (the New York Times journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story) put it in their new book She Said, "been harassed with impunity" and we weren’t going to put up with it anymore. 
And so, what began as a harrowing story about the hubris of and harassment committed by one man who, outside of Hollywood and media circles was reasonably little known, turned into a historic moment and became a movement. 
Of course, Me Too was actually not at all new. The two-word phrase came from activist Tarana Burke but it was only when her words were (perhaps unconsciously?) echoed by the actor and producer Alyssa Milano on Twitter on 15th October 2017 that these two words became international shorthand for describing experiences where, all too often, language falls short and fails us.
What happened next was astounding. Within a week, Twitter confirmed to CBS News that there had been 1.7 million tweets including the phrase and that it had reached 85 countries. By that point it wasn’t even really about Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow or Harvey Weinstein anymore. Me Too had become a radical viral feminist campaign and men – regardless of whether they held professional positions of power or just inhabited the relative power of being a cis male – were taking notice.

The possibilities of Me Too seemed endless. It was messy, not yet fully formed and, day by day, consisted of women’s private stories – and many lumps in dry throats – now shared in public.

The possibilities of Me Too seemed endless. It was messy, not yet fully formed and, day by day, consisted of women’s private stories – and many lumps in dry throats – now shared in public. At once individual and collective, it felt like the perfect antidote to the nascent neoliberal #GirlBoss feminism we were being fed, the antithesis of sanitised branded activism and something, finally, more accessible than a two-day summit at which already powerful women espoused their views on feminism in front of an audience who had shelled out hefty wads of cash for a seat in the crowd. 
Like anyone who grew up after the late 1960s in a post-second-wave feminism world, I had long been familiar with the phrase "the personal is political" as a rallying cry and maxim to live your life by when the Weinstein story broke, lighting a furious fire that burned with the anger of thousands of women underneath Me Too. And like so many women, I had a story to tell. 
It was one that I’d never told anyone because I had never really even told it to myself before Me Too. It wasn’t the hashtag that gave me the language to finally articulate what had happened to me; the words – rape and assault – had always existed. The problem was that I didn’t think they applied to what I had experienced until I read other women’s stories, using that terminology. It was like a light, though not an entirely welcome one, had gone on at the back of my brain and lit up a mottled memory I had worked hard to archive. 
I finally told my own story of what happened on a high summer night in 2010 as I wrapped up the final weeks of university. Though I spoke it out loud to my friends, some of whom were there at the time and saw it happen, I stopped short of sharing it online. Still, to this day I have not tweeted, Instagrammed or written a Facebook status update about it and, honestly, I’m not sure I ever will. 
Looking on as other women from all walks of life, all over the world shared their angry, sad, brutal and visceral stories, joining the dots of their experiences was like seeing a thousand pins drop at once, lighting up as they marked the location of an abuse of power. But I felt I was on the periphery of it all, significant as it was. Why? Because, deep down, I knew I would never report the incident because my chances of getting justice were so slim. 
Something didn’t sit comfortably with me. Was Me Too really a sustained shift towards a new era, one where men and women would finally be more equal? Or was it something more reactionary, which could only ever be ephemeral as long as a man who had once said "grab 'em by the pussy" sat in the White House? 
Almost exactly a year on from Me Too, Christine Blasey Ford stood before the world and forced us to ask those two questions again, sparking another movement: #WhyIDidn’tReport. Long dormant stories about power and assault erupted like hot lava, coagulating around a hashtag once again. 

One year after Me Too were women, once again, doing the emotional labour of trying to effect change only to find that the system would not support them?

Were women, once again, doing the emotional labour of trying to effect change only to find that the system would not support them?
Now, two years on in Britain, that third question is still worth asking. In July, new Home Office data analysed by The Guardian revealed that just 1.5% of all (886) rape cases reported to the police in the year 2018-19 led to charge or summons. For context, that’s only one in 65. In the year 2015-16, 14% of (4,908) cases reported resulted in a charge or summons.
Then the London Rape Review, a report from Claire Waxman, the capital’s Victims’ Commissioner, found that only 3% of rape allegations looked at in 2016 resulted in a conviction.
By the same token, post-Me Too there is now arguably, more than ever, an awareness of misogyny, sexism, lad culture, consent, sexual harassment and assault. There is more scrutiny, too. Nonetheless, the gender pay gap persists. And a recent report from the Young Women’s Trust found that 32% of young women don’t know how to report sexual harassment at work, while 24% said that they would be reluctant to do so for fear of losing their job. 
Two years on from Me Too – in the era we call 'post-Me Too' as though we experienced a true historical turning point – it’s actually very hard to tell whether we are progressing or regressing when it comes to equality.
Perhaps that’s the wrong question to ask ourselves. In her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Susan Faludi said that any push back against women’s liberation is "set off not by women’s achievement of full equality but by the increased possibility that they might win it. It is a preemptive strike that stops women long before they reach the finish line."
So, perhaps the glaring signs that Me Too has not yet succeeded do not mean it has failed but that it is as necessary, two years on, as it ever was. 
Some lament that Boris Johnson has become prime minister despite the events of the last two years. Those same people decry Brexit as proof that progress is being undone, rolled back. But what if we are living through a backlash – an uncomfortable moment of reckoning in which we figure out what a new order might look like?
Women are still telling their stories. Women like Annie Tisshaw, who is currently campaigning to stop the counselling notes of rape survivors being used against them in court, or Jenn Selby, a rape survivor who is running for election as a Women’s Equality Party candidate against Mark Field – the Conservative MP who grabbed a woman protestor by the throat – to make a point about the lack of justice for women. 
The two-year anniversary of Me Too is really the anniversary of one viral moment that makes up part of a movement started by Tarana Burke in 1997. In turn, what Burke tapped into two decades ago was just another moment in centuries of women telling each other their stories. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that they will continue to tell them, getting louder and louder until things do change. 
As time goes by, we find we are bound together not by shame and silence but by the stories we have in common.

More from Politics

R29 Original Series