#metoo: The Hashtag Heard Round the World

In the wake of revelations about Hollywood producer and serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, women around the U.S. have been tagging social media posts with the hashtag #metoo. (And the French hashtag #balancetonporc is trending now, too.)

The hashtag is a show of solidarity among women who’ve been harassed—which, if my Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, is essentially every woman in the world.

French hashtag #balancetonporc

Alyssa Milano got the ball rolling for the #metoo hashtag with this tweet:

Note that Milano did not come up with the “me too” wording. A woman of color (and non-celebrity) did.

#metoo is also (or should be) a wake-up call for men who are blissfully unaware that their girlfriend, wife, sister, mother, etc. have all experienced sexual harassment at one time or another.

These violations, per the testimonies I’ve read and the personal stories of women I know, range from a supervisor’s inappropriate comments to being raped while unconscious.

And no, I’m not going to dignify the yeah-but-rape-is-worse argument, where “logical” men claim that unless a woman experiences sexual assault, she doesn’t really have much to complain about.

As several women commenters have stated online in rebuttals to these obtuse men—and the occasional woman—just because you weren’t sexually assaulted doesn’t mean that you can’t be mad when a colleague tries to kiss you against your will at the end of a work function involving alcohol.

I also think that the explosion of the #metoo hashtag is a collective venting on women’s part of the disgust they feel when they think about their own experience with harassment.

The Rise of the French Hashtag #balancetonporc

And it turns out that—surprise, surprise—American women aren’t the only ones who experience sexual harassment.

As I write these words, the French hashtag #balancetonporc is all over Twitter. (The verb balancer means “to rat out” or “to squeal on.” The French women tagging their posts with #balancetonporc are encouraging others to “squeal on your pig.”)

Journalist Sandra Muller started the hashtag with an account of an executive who harassed her. According to the New York Times, tens of thousands of women have since used Twitter to voice their disgust.

Whereas the English #metoo puts the focus on women who’ve been harassed, the French hashtag #balancetonporc emphasizes the man doing the harassing.

Here’s Muller’s original tweet:

You have big breasts. You’re my type of woman. I’m going to make you come all night.

And then Muller names her harasser, whose lawyers have since demanded that Muller delete her tweet.

Oui, French Women Know Harassment

It’s not just journalists or celebrities, though, who have taken to social media to speak out.

In a tweet that many women can unfortunately relate to, Twitter user @remartine had this to say:

Rough translation?

36 years old, my boss, seat in commercial court, his weight against my back, his breathing, his smell, 20 years later, vomiting still

French media have taken notice. Monday’s headline in French daily La Libération was Porcs sur le gril (“Pigs on the barbecue”).

Having lived in France for two years, I have to say that this groundswell of public disgust among French women surprised me. (And I can’t believe the tweets I’ve read aren’t full of French swear words.)

Not because I thought that French women never experience harassment, but because I always saw French women as more reticent to reveal personal stories of trauma and embarrassment than American women. They always struck me as playing their cards pretty close to their vest.

Of course, no one who has spent any time in France can say with a straight face that women don’t experience sexual harassment. On a regular basis I witnessed French men cat-calling women in the street.

In fact, the American women who I knew in France seemed to all have a story about hearing a sifflet (whistle) while walking to class or work.

The French Propose Anti-Harassment Law

But the French hashtag #balancetonporc on its own has its limits. If nothing changes, then it’s just a Twitter trend.

But change may indeed be afoot. The French are thinking about imposing fines on men who catcall or exhibit otherwise licentious behavior toward women.

Marlène Schiappa, who is France’s junior minister for gender equality, says that legislators are trying to figure out exactly how to define public harassment as well as how steep the fines should be.

Over a quarter of France’s legislators are women (26%, 2016 data from the World Bank), so we’ll see how this proposal plays out. I suspect it’s going to depend on how many men in France’s parliament are allies in the cause.

Here’s a list of all members of France’s National Assembly, one of its two houses. (The other is the Sénat.)

In addition to criminalizing street harassment, French legislators are considering a new age limit below which a minor cannot legally consent to sex.

This discussion comes on the heels of a case that prompted outrage among, well, anyone with any shred of morality whatsoever: French prosecutors decided that when a 28-year-old man had sex with an 11-year-old girl in a stairwell, it wasn’t rape but was instead consensual.

Italian Women Get Harassed, Too

Also trending on Twitter right now is the Italian hashtag #quellavoltache, which means “that time when.”

This tweet from actress Asia Argento might be the most retweeted instance of #quellavoltache:

And So Do Spanish-Speaking Women…

Do a quick search for #yotambien (“me too”) on Twitter and you’ll find reading material to last you the better part of a week.

A translation of Alyssa Milano’s tweet is also making the rounds on Spanish-language social media:

If you’re a woman who has ever been harassed, then you know that many men—but, unfortunately, not all—are your allies.

We men have a moral obligation not just to not harass women—which is Common Human Decency 101—but also to call out sexual harassment when we see it, believe women who report it, and empathize with those who don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

I think that this is true in any language, in any culture.

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