#MeToo: Why We Need This Now
Trigger warning: sexual harassment, sexual violence, and trauma
“To hold traumatic reality in consciousness requires a social context that affirms and protects the victim and that joins victim and witness in a common alliance.”- Trauma & Recovery, Herman
As a feminist, therapist, and social researcher, I am overjoyed to see women (and all genders) coming together to bring awareness to the issue of sexual violence once again.
Before I begin, I would like to make one thing clear: To anyone who has experienced any form of objectification, harassment, or sexual violence, it is not your fault. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT! You are a worthy person who deserves to fully heal from your experience, and it is our job as a community to support you. You are not alone.
How and why do movements like #MeToo work to undermine the insidious culture of trauma? The science of trauma and healing can help us understand why #MeToo is helping us now.
In 1992, Judith Herman, M.D., published a book called Trauma and Recovery. In it, she describes how trauma gained legitimacy when “shell-shocked” veterans experienced flashbacks and other symptoms. The antiwar movement after Vietnam legitimized the experiences of soldiers from both World Wars and Vietnam. Trauma started out as a men’s issue.
Women did not become recognized as legitimate survivors of sexual trauma until much later, through the voices of feminism. Though Freud first discovered childhood sexual abuse at the root of his “hysteria” cases in 1896, this revelation was buried. Herman notes that Freud could not believe that so many patients had been victims of sexual violence, so he developed psychoanalysis “out of the ruins of the traumatic theory of hysteria… The dominant psychological theory of the next century was founded in the denial of women’s reality.” (p. 14).
More than a hundred years later, psychoanalysis and other therapy methods have evolved to treat the biological and emotional sequelae of trauma. We have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the DSM-V (the big book of psychological diagnoses) and various trauma-informed models of treatment. We understand more about trauma’s effects on the brain, body, and relationships than ever before.
To continue its hold on survivor’s lives, trauma needs two things: terror and isolation.
Terror activates the fear response center in the brain, creating the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. The memory centers in the brain have trouble coding traumatic memories coherently because of this survival mode, so survivors are often left with flashbacks, body memories, and hypervigilance. Trying to process and heal can be difficult because of these symptoms.
Isolation is also devastating, especially after the incident(s). Trauma survivors often feel bad about themselves, ashamed of what they went through, and question if it is their fault. They may feel broken or damaged. They may be afraid that if they trust someone, they will get hurt again, especially if the perpetrator was someone they knew or loved.
These two pieces, terror and isolation, work together against the survivor to keep them afraid and alone. The #MeToo movement lends survivors safety and solidarity to interrupt this vicious cycle.
Notice I am not using the word victim here. I am using the word survivor. A victim is someone who has been hurt by an external force. But our recent cultural discourse has added pathological weakness to this word. Victims are weak, they set themselves up to be taken advantage of. They ask for it. These are untruths that protect non-victims from the idea that anyone could be a victim, even non-victims. These deniers of victim reality and feelings are afraid of what it means if everyone who says they are victims really are simply good people who have been subjected to violence.
We can’t afford this type of self-protective denial anymore.
That’s why I use the term survivor, as many therapists in my practice and people in the world do. People who have experienced objectification, sexual harassment, or sexual violence of any kind are survivors. There is nothing wrong with them, they did nothing wrong, and there is no excuse not to join together with them to allow them to heal. They do not need rescuing, what they need is not to be objectified and violated in the first place.
#MeToo takes a stand much like this choice of words, to flip the script on the systems that perpetuate this trauma. #MeToo gives people a legitimate platform to come out of isolation and into a group of people who are allies, who will not blame them, and who will validate their pain.
When Lady Gaga performed Till It Happens To You at the 2016 Oscars, there was a visible shift in popular culture toward lifting survivor’s perspectives. The Hunting Ground addressed the sexual violence on college campuses and the institutional shaming and denial that were subjugating women’s’ experiences, again. Not anymore. The Harvey Weinstein accusations may be another nail in the coffin of victim-blaming and our cultural acceptance of objectification and sexual violence. We cannot afford this anymore. We never could.
We will not be silent. We will create safety in numbers. #MeToo
Briana Bogue, MFT
DeMaria, Weeks, & Twist (2017). Focused Genograms, 2nd edition. Chapter 9: Abuse, Violence & Trauma.
Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and Recovery.
The Hunting Ground
Till It Happens To You
Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score.