On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet urging women to speak up and out about their experiences with sexual assault or harassment using the phrase “me too.” Overnight, social media erupted, as #MeToo took hold in every corner of the world. By the end of the day, there were similar movements in multiple languages, including Arabic, Farsi, French, Hindi, and Spanish. Today, women in 85 different countries are using the hashtag to bring attention to the violence and harassment they face in daily life and to demand change.
Even though the civil rights activist Tarana Burke started the “Me Too” movement over a decade ago, the global response to Milano’s tweet took many, including Burke, by surprise. What accounts for #MeToo’s overwhelming success in 2017 and beyond? Many point to social media, but that is only part of the story. Existing women’s movements all over the world have spent decades laying the groundwork for what is happening today. By mobilizing communities, establishing strategies of resistance, raising awareness, and breaking down the taboos that have traditionally silenced conversations about women’s rights, these earlier movements allowed #MeToo to become a global phenomenon.
SETTING THE STAGE
Over the last several years, women’s movements around the world have achieved landmark victories on issues such as voting rights, sexual and reproductive health, and equality under the law. To be sure, there is more work to be done: women in Saudi Arabia still live under the repressive male guardianship system, unmarried women in Iran cannot easily access reproductive health services, and women throughout the world are still fighting for equal pay. But recent developments have encouraged women across the globe to be more optimistic about the prospects of change.
Success inspires success. In a networked world, women can quickly and easily learn about the progress made by other women, both at home and abroad. Inspiration becomes contagious—the success of one movement leads to another. It is important to consider #MeToo in
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