The first person I talked to about the Harvey Weinstein story was my mom. She was visiting me in New York and we were about to go on a week-long trip to Paris. Once we were in Paris, I remember feeling distinctly happy for the opportunity to turn off my phone and ignore the news. My mom and I didn’t talk about it at length, in part because I didn’t yet know about the ripple effect of the Weinstein revelations—if you can call them that, considering how many people knew about his abuses long before two New York Times reporters exposed them. I was just happy to be on vacation, to be away from the news cycle.
At night, I’d scroll through Twitter for a minute or two before stopping, for reasons that I had trouble articulating to myself at the time. It already felt like too much; the hashtag and the subsequent stories seemed to move as fast as a bullet train. The feeling that I would never catch up had settled in. In these moments, I would click my phone off and talk to my mom about anything else. Then I got a text from a friend, its arrival several hours delayed because of my intermittent Wi-Fi access. “Have you been keeping up with this shitty men in media thing?” she asked. I didn’t know exactly what she was talking about, but I knew what she was talking about. I wrote back: “You’re going to have to be more specific.”
Abuse is devastatingly, heartbreakingly, and mind-achingly common. #MeToo has not only emboldened victims of sexual harassment, assault, abuse, rape, and other forms of gendered violence to come forward—it has also, crucially, asked the rest of us to stand by and to bear witness; a form of emotional labor that can be grueling. As listening to survivors has become something closer to the norm in my circles rather than a rare exception, it’s also become a form of citizenship. Believing survivors demands and creates another iteration of citizenship, one that, in this political climate, you’re asked to renew it over and over and over.
Believing is a leap of faith, but since the Weinstein story, #MeToo as asked us to make it nearly every other week—everytime, at least, another story of harassment or abuse breaks. That level of sustained and engaged duty to each other can mean reliving traumas, or re-examining and questioning experiences you once thought to be ironclad and learning that they are not. Taken to its logical extreme, an earnest critique of structures that the #MeToo movement aims to dismantle can mean accepting that you, too, have a story to tell.
Like many women I know, I have become personally familiar with this kind of vertigo over the last year. The deluge of stories that began to rise in October of last year and hasn’t stopped has made my head spin. Every time there is a new one in the news, I ask: How many are left? In these moments I attempt some basic mental math: How many industries face the same level of harassment as the entertainment industry; how many communities have even less power to curb it with less access to the media? How many victims are still out there? How long has it gone on?
When I get a tight feeling in the back of my throat, I stop trying to calculate. But I know the answer: there are innumerable stories. The deluge of #MeToo is endless; these stories of abuse will flow forever.
To the likely disappointment of men seeking comebacks, for fans seeking the return of their disgraced heroes, there will be no “end” to #MeToo. To put faith in such a fantasy is to also be satisfied with the fiction that the public first heard about how difficult it is to be a woman when the Weinstein story broke. (Rest assured: Everyone knew. Tarana Burke began her work more than a decade ago. Last October was just a date on the calendar that marked the point at which the public could no longer easily look away.)
But 2017 is a handy bit of history-making; it says, this awareness started in full on this one particular autumn day, suggesting that, if we work really hard, we can put this to rest one day, too. And I hope that we can. But I’m not sure that we will. Meaningful structural and legislative reform takes time but changing cultural norms takes even longer.
I have begun to wonder which is more important: Writing protections for women and workers and other vulnerable populations into the law, or creating a new country for this new citizenship, one where those laws are enforced, where people care about the transgressions of men and the hurt they enact on others, where people care enough, perhaps, not to confirm these men to the Supreme Court. Take, for example, Senator Susan Collins who said that she found Christine Ford’s testimony on Brett Kavanaugh to be “heart-wrenching” and “compelling.” But Collins also said, “I do not believe that Brett Kavanaugh was her assailant. I do believe that she was assaulted.” The rhetoric of #MeToo was enough for Collins even as the hashtag’s trenchant critique was completely stripped away.
It is not enough, then, to simply “believe women.” “Believe women” cannot be #MeToo’s greatest cultural contribution. It is necessary, but so are many other things. If #MeToo can catalyze another form of citizenship, we will be lucky—one that concerns itself not just with bearing witness, not just with suspending our reservations every time we are confronted with a story about a woman’s life being ruined, but with seeking a way to make amends, to bring justice to a deeply unjust world. We didn’t just find out it’s unjust this year. But the next year will be a test of how much we care.