Ever since early October, when The New York Times and The New Yorker first shared the stories of the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long abuse of women, the hashtag #MeToo has exploded on social media worldwide, as a means for women to share their stories.
Originally, the term was coined by the social activist Tarana Burke, in 2006 as part of a grassroots campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of colour who have experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities. The phrase was then picked by actress Alyssa Milano, who encouraged women to tweet their experiences and thereby show how widespread misogynistic behavior is, not only in Hollywood: “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.”
The hashtag has spread like wild fire to at least 85 countries, using variations on the phrase, like for example “BalanceTonPorc” (Denounce Your Pig) in France. It seems as if the country where the MeToo-revolution caught on the strongest is Sweden, which might be surprising as Sweden is also rated as one, if not the, most gender equal society in the world. On the other hand, maybe it is precisely because feminism has a strong position in Sweden, that so many women have been able to break the silence, ranging from actors to lawyers, doctors, engineers and media people, to mention but a few. The Swedish government has declared loud and clear that it is a feminist government and by definition, therefore, has to and will listen. Several politicians have had to leave or take “time out” as a result of the debate, and the same goes for several figures in public television.
The research project ”World value survey” shows that Sweden and the Nordic countries rate values like gender equality high, higher than in many other of the 61 countries where approx. 350,000 interviews have been conducted. This, for example, means that a majority of the population believe that women and men should have the same opportunities and rights when it comes to education and professional work, as well as the opportunity to become political leaders. No doubt the tradition of a strong popular movement and the high number of trade union members also contribute to the force of the movement in Sweden, as well as the country being on-line and social media savvy.
First stories, now action
To date, millions of women have shared their harrowing stories of abuse and harassment worldwide and now the time has come to move on and get to work. Companies and organizations, schools and institutions are rising to the occasion to arrange seminars, coaching and training sessions so that employees see and know and feel that the issue is taken seriously and that all the stories have not been told in vain, but will actually result in definite change and improvement. The advertising and media industry in Sweden in fact included the #finalbrief in their appeal, stating the challenges that they expect CEOs within their industry to address and work on as part of the solution to the problem. Statements to counter-balance any feared back-lash are being made by organizations and corporations as well as by individuals, like for example Björn Ulvaeus, the former ABBA-member who wrote a chronicle in one of Sweden’s largest daily papers: “It is exciting to be part of a breaking-point in history. We are observant of our behavior, but in a positive, almost excited way. Only opportunities lay ahead of us now. It is nothing to be afraid of.”