By Madeleine McDonald, Sarina Shimizu, and Enming Zhang
Graphic by Ana Isaacs
This piece was originally published in ‘Pleasure and Danger’, Bossy’s 2020 print edition.
Coined by civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, to provide a phrase of solidarity amongst young women of colour within her community work, the #MeToo movement achieved global notoriety in 2016, when Hollywood actresses began sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment in the film industry. The rampant abuse of power by men in executive positions that #MeToo revealed, opened a new conversation about the intersection of gender and power. Although conceptualised in the west, the #MeToo movement spread across the world, manifesting differently in each country. This piece is a collaborative work featuring perspectives on the #MeToo movement, what it meant for us, what it showed us, what it changed for us, by women from Australia, Japan and China.
#MeToo – Australia
#MeToo meant the men around me began worrying about how a growing dialogue around sexual assault and harassment interfered with their life, rather than what it meant for the women around them. #MeToo left me stuck in the corner of house parties listening to a self-diagnosed woke bloke expressing, with attempted sincerity, how the movement has affected his confidence in having one-night stands.
“What if they wake-up and say they were too drunk, that is wasn’t consensual, that I pressured them?”
“One night could ruin my life; I have to be more careful now”.
And my favourite: “You know me, you know I’d never do something like that”.
#MeToo generated a distinct type of single-mindedness in a large number of men, who failed to comprehend that the movement was not about them, it was about us. It was about women sharing stories that were diverse, personal and, above all, ubiquitous. The #MeToo movement spread across the world precisely because it embodied a shared experience, a shared problem with a single perpetrator who goes by the name of Entitlement. But despite its globalisation, numerous men misread the hashtag as an invasion of their sex life. Talk to any woman about sexual harassment and she will have a story for you, but talk to a man about it and it’s more likely than not that he won’t. It leads me to wonder if it’s merely the force of the wind brushing against my butt in crowded spaces.
What #MeToo did not do for me was open a conversation about how guilt intersects with consent. I wanted to talk about the times I didn’t want to have sex but gave a blowjob instead because, although there was no explicit complaining, the sense of disappointment that I could intuit compelled me to satisfy them in other ways. It didn’t ignite a conversation about how to NOT be polite to the overbearing guy trying to hit on you. Emotional intuition and empathy, traits which are far more engrained into the upbringings of young girls than boys, intersect with consent because it hinders our capacity to be assertive in our rejections. It hinders our capacity to say no without a concoction of guilt and undeserved sympathy brewing inside us. Guilt, gives horny men the power to get what they want without being explicitly forceful. Physical force is obsolete if you can compel someone to fuck you simply by being mopey, doughy eyed or raining the silent treatment down on them. Verbal pressure is obsolete if you can exploit a woman’s empathy and redirect it to guilt trip central.
#MeToo started a revolutionary dialogue about consent, but it didn’t change the fact that if we want to convey our experiences and perspectives to men we still have to use language that is diplomatic, sensitive, hedged with “yes, no, no I know you wouldn’t but…”, in order to get the point across. Next time a hashtag about the female experience emerges and rises to global infamy, I want it to be unrelenting, direct and brutally honest in its message.
#KuToo – Japan
#MeToo is known as a movement which encouraged women to speak out against discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. Today, this phenomenon has spread worldwide, informing women that you have a right to speak up and are not alone. The #MeToo movement took a slightly different path in Japan.
Growing up in Japan and moving to Australia, I noticed a difference in what is socially acceptable. For example, if a woman wearing revealing clothes gets assaulted in Japan it will be seen as their fault. However, in Australia, many people will support and argue that you can wear anything you want and that it was wrong for the other person to disrespect you. So, when the #MeToo movement soared, and I saw women not only speak up, but gain public support, it was a new concept for me.
Yumi Ishikawa, a young author, took issue with workplaces that required women to wear high heels. She tweeted her frustration that it is inefficient and discomforting to work in heels. In the blink of an eye, women all over Japan responded to this with pictures of their bruised and bloodied feet from being forced to work in heels. With the agony (Kutuu) they have to go through in these shoes (kutsu) this movement soon became known as the #KuToo movement. However, all voices were not positive. In Japan, the stereotype of feminism is that it is a movement which only advocates for women’s rights and that supporters believe women are superior to men. People who didn’t support the movement said that Ishikawa should have just emphasised that there is a health problem concerning the dress code in a specific company. She claimed further that these dress codes were unjust because only men get to wear flat shoes. People retaliated against #KuToo, because it was “unnecessarily” focusing on discrimination against women.
The #KuToo movement created a more open community in Japanese society; to be able to shout out, “me too, I have also experienced this” without feeling ashamed. It will take time for the society to realise that feminism isn’t about just women’s rights. Everyone who wants equal rights for all is a feminist. In the future of Japanese society, I hope that feminists can have a consistent argument and their goals addressed. I hope that our society can grow to be more receptive to movements like #KuToo.
#MiTu – China
Growing up in a conservative society dominated by Confucian ideas, reprimands and intimidations surrounding sexuality are a compulsory course in the life of a Chinese woman. Sit down with your legs closed, or you’ll be treated like a slut. Do not have premarital sex, since no man will treasure you if you’re not a virgin. Dress decently, walk decently, talk decently. Go back home before 8 o’clock at night, or you’ll become prey, a target, an oblation. And you definitely deserve it, since you were badly behaved.
When the #MeToo movement broke out in China, following western countries, it revealed a cruel fact: every woman, no matter how cautious you are, could become prey under the patriarchy. The hunter, on the other hand, could be any male around you: your cousin, your teacher, your friendly neighbor who loves playing PS4, the leader of an NGO which you can’t wait to join, or even your family members. Those golden rules instilled in us as we grew up, suddenly lost all the magical effects. You could try your best but still fail to protect yourself.
#MiTu started with a public disclosure of sexual harassment posted by Luo Qianqian, a former Ph.D. student in a renowned Chinese university who now lives in the US. She was inspired by this campaign and decided to talk about her experience which had been concealed for 12 years: Her supervisor, Prof Chen Xiaowu, harassed her and kept threatening her during her Ph.D. After realising that there were many other victims, one of which resulted in a pregnancy, she decided to speak out. After that, many women took to publishing their allegations on WeChat and Weibo (Twitter-like social media platform in Chinese). The hashtag ‘MiTu’, which in Chinese translates to ‘Rice Bunny’, was cleverly devised to evade government censorship, where a highly elaborate algorithm is able to quickly detect political discussion and opinion online. Celebrities, influencers, even the chairman of the Chinese Buddhist Association, were widely accused of sexual assault. Until this point, everything was pretty similar to what was happening in other countries – women were speaking out against the widespread issue of sexual harassment. One thing changed this in China. The pervasive internet censorship mandated by the Chinese government, eventually detected and deleted all the appeals and stories of anger. This is the typical lifecycle of internet movements in China which contain any potential triggers of ‘social instability’.
But to me and many of us, this was not an end but a beginning. What the victims’ experience taught us is how easy it is for a man to harass you, and how many protections this toxic system will offer him. Women became much more attentive to the jokes, crude behavior and rhetoric that reflects inequality between men and women, that has been passively accepted for such a long time. The word for feminism is “女权” in mandarin, the second character (权) has exactly the same pronunciation and tone as the character “拳”, which means ‘fist’. Male netizens love to use the word “女拳” (meaning “fist comes from a woman”) or just the emoji, 👊, to mock how aggressive, hysterical, and unreasonable we became, even though we are not even remotely close to the justice that we deserve.
Due to the traditional Confucian ideas of a woman’s role, the conservative social environment and powerful censorship, feminist movements in China are destined to face many setbacks. Being able to argue about feminism itself is a privilege. But I do believe that #MeToo is a meaningful start. It let many Chinese women realise the structural inequalities in China and encouraged women to express themselves more honestly. #MeToo has proved that we can go further, no matter how many obstacles are ahead.