#MeToo is certainly a sign that the world is changing. But has it made a real impact?
On 15th October 2017, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too.' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem."
By the 24th, the hashtag #MeToo had been used 1.7 million times on Twitter.
This felt like the start of something big. In the aftermath, we saw big stars, including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Ed Westwick, accused of sexual assault, with career-ending consequences for some. However, four months on, little has changed for most people.
Still, #MeToo crops up regularly in the news. Rather than commanding any sort of legislative or industry-wide change, however, it appears that most of the changes made in the wake of the movement are largely performative.
A few days ago, Manchester Art Gallery took down a JW Waterhouse painting entitled ‘Hylas and the Nymphs.’ Clare Gannaway, the museum’s contemporary art curator, stated that the #MeToo movement was a key factor in the decision to remove the artwork, which features several nude women and a clothed man. Gannaway said of the painting: “For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner...we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly.”
This move seems ill thought-out. Why would anyone associate a painting from 1896 with the attitudes of the present day? Whilst the artwork is arguably in poor taste, this should be a judgement for the viewer, and not the gallery, to make. The decision itself won’t affect many people, but could open the door for all kinds of artistic censorship. It certainly doesn’t aid the #MeToo movement in virtually any way. I agree with Gannaway: Manchester Art Gallery has definitely forgotten to think about this issue properly.
Another meaningless stunt was pulled at this year’s awards ceremonies. Attendees of the 2018 Golden Globes and Grammys were encouraged to wear black outfits and white roses respectively, in order to show their support for #MeToo. What purpose does this serve? Both symbols are hardly out of the ordinary at awards ceremonies, and require prior knowledge of the movement to understand. Much like Manchester Art Gallery’s decision, these clothing choices are purely for show. Wearing black or a white rose is purely meant to grab attention; it is a cry for acclamation. Celebrities know that they will garner positive press for doing essentially nothing. No victim’s pain will be lessened, nor will any abuser be stopped, because an actress decided to wear a slightly darker colour than usual at the Golden Globes.
The #MeToo movement is undeniably well-intentioned. However, it has been co-opted by people who simply want to appear to doing something. #MeToo has an important message and great intentions. If the rich, famous and powerful people who purport to support it were to use their abilities in support, the campaign could affect serious change.
In 2011, actress Jessica Chastain used her position as a famous white actress to command greater pay for her The Help co-star Octavia Spencer. This year, Chastain helped Spencer negotiate five times her initial salary. If the #MeToo movement were to use the same tactics as Chastain, the impact could be ground-breaking. Supporting less privileged people with our own personal power - be what that may - is the key to securing equality.
Instead of ostentatious stunts like taking down a painting or wearing a white rose, activists should understand that #MeToo could signal real change for everyone, not accolades for a select few in Hollywood.
Lily Sheehan is a second year Politics and Modern history student at The University of Manchester