British Columbia

Best response to #MeToo is pledging #IWill and taking action, says Vancouver writer

Alexandra Samuel, a Vancouver-based technology writer, said these kinds of social media campaigns can be a powerful way to draw attention to an issue, but she hopes to see concrete change as a result.

Social media campaign focuses attention on sexual harassment and assault

Women are posting "Me too" on social media to indicate they have been sexually harassed or assaulted. (Mihai Surdu/Shutterstock)

The hashtag #MeToo is flooding social media after a call to action by American actress Alyssa Milano, asking women on Twitter to change their status if they've ever experienced sexual harassment or assault.

Thousands of women and some men have responded, sharing stories and "Me Too" posts, but it's far from the first time a social media campaign has tried to highlight the prevalence of sexual harassment.

Jennifer Berdahl, a professor of leadership studies, gender and diversity at UBC, said this case is different from previous social media trends.

It's taking stories from the individual to the collective and changing the narrative of sexual harassment, she told CBC guest host of On The Coast Gloria Macarenko.

"We've reached a tipping point where we've moved beyond individual harassers … and individual victims who call out the harassers to a social phenomenon, a social movement where women are saying 'me too' and you're starting to recognize the magnitude of this problem," Berdahl said. 

Alexandra Samuel, a Vancouver-based technology writer, said this kind of social media campaign can be a powerful way to draw attention to an issue, but she hopes to see concrete change as a result.

"At the end of the day, for women to name their experience is great, but it's men who are going to have to change their behaviour," Samuel told CBC host of The Early Edition Rick Cluff.

Many of the posts focus on harassment in the workplace, following backlash against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who faces a growing list of allegations from women he's worked with.

Forty-three per cent of Canadian women reported that they'd been sexually harassed at work, according to a 2014 poll by the Angus Reid Institute.

'I Will'

Samuel said that, from what she's seen of the "Me Too" campaign, this is the first time many women are sharing their stories publicly.

"These experiences that women have long talked about behind closed doors in some cases are now being made visible in a way that is quite shocking to many men in particular, and even some women simply in its universality," Samuel said.

Following the flurry of "Me Too" came a response — "I Will," a promise to take concrete steps against sexual harassment and to speak up, Samuel said. 

"My friend Tammy Wittes posted the hashtag #IWill and encouraged people to commit to specific actions that they would take in response to this outpouring," she said. "People are now actually using this really widely to make commitments ranging from 'I will speak up when I see this,' to 'I will hire more women.'"

Taking action, Samuel said, is key to addressing sexual harassment.

"It takes people going from observing this mass phenomenon to actually making some specific commitment," she said. "That's actually where social media is really good, it gets people to think about their own personal stake in an issue."

To hear more, click on the audio links below.

With files from The Early Edition and On The Coast