The ground began to shift on October 5, 2017 when two reporters for the New York Times, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, wrote an article titled “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.” Soon afterward, Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” re-invigorating a phrase and a movement originated by Tarana Burke 10 years before. And in December 2017, Time magazine acknowledged that what was happening represented more than just a handful of women’s stories when it chose The Silence Breakers—women standing up to sexual harassment, abuse, and assault—as the 2017 Persons of the Year.
It has only been a few months and the floodgates have opened, with women of all ages and from all walks of life now writing about their #MeToo experiences. Blogs, tweets, personal essays, opinion pieces, books, plays, poetry, jokes and musicals…
There seems to be no genre that has not been impacted by women finally feeling able and welcome to tell their stories. A recent Google search with the words “#MeToo articles” returned 6.6 million results. To those of us who have been paying attention, seeing the internet filled with so many women’s voices, including so many new voices, is a remarkable thing.
I’ve noticed a shift in my writing; I feel gutsier and less apologetic. More of my personal essays focus on sexual issues. I’ve joined a number of online women’s writing groups and started writing for The Syndrome magazine whose motto is “Empowering women, one laugh at a time.” I even manage to work in #MeToo moments in essays on other topics—for example, this wry line from an article I wrote for The Syndrome on women and aging: “… [I]f we women look too old, how are we going to get powerful men to sexually harass us and construction workers to catcall us? After all, if a woman isn’t in constant fear for her safety, is she actually a woman any more?”
After noticing these changes in my own writing, I wondered how other women writers felt about the #MeToo movement and whether they had seen a similar shift in content, tone, or confidence. So I decided to interview a few women writers for this three-part article. This part will focus on women from a variety of genres, while the next will look specifically at women writing comedy and satire. The last essay will include tips for using your own #MeToo moments to empower your writing.
4 Writers Discuss How the #MeToo Movement Impacted Their Work
Jennifer Chambers has a new book out entitled Abigail Scott Duniway & Susan B. Anthony in Oregon: Hesitate No Longer. It’s a nonfiction account of the women’s journey on wagon and horseback to help women gain the right to vote in Oregon.
Jennifer told me that she believes #MeToo has changed her confidence. “What I thought made me so vulnerable, the things I thought made me feel broken, aren’t so different from so many of my sisters. Now I want to share my story, with all its scars and ugly bits, and I want to hear theirs.”
Duana Welch is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do. For her, #MeToo has primarily changed the content of her writing. “In my first book, which is about using science to find and stay in a healthy relationship, I emphasize the necessity of finding someone kind and respectful. But in my next book, which is specifically for single parents and those dating them, I’ve realized I need to get into the nitty gritty of what abuse looks like, and how to avoid abusers.”
Duana told me that although she knew empirically about how widespread sexual abuse and trauma was, #MeToo changed her gut awareness and reassured her that her own experiences were not the exception, they were the norm.
Lawyer Giugi Carminati, author of the blog Argue Like a Girl, has written about sexual assault and harassment for a while, but has recently written about her own personal sexual trauma in her three-part series of articles titled “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: Coming of Age as a Sex Object.”
She noted that one of the changes she has experienced in the past months is that she doesn’t have to explain how widespread rape is and that it is about power not than sex. She noted, “I do still write about that, but it is from a place of greater legitimacy. #MeToo also provided the groundwork to really illustrate that men and women live in different worlds.”
Journalist, activist and filmmaker Shanon Lee started writing about sexual assault prior to #MeToo. She is an official member of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) Speakers Bureau. She too has noticed that she too has opened up about her own personal stories in a way she hadn’t before, especially in her writing for The Lily, including her poignant essay entitled “I’m a rape survivor. I’m afraid I can’t protect my disabled daughter.”
She told me, “I feel the #MeToo movement has created a hunger from readers who see themselves in each woman’s story. It has given us permission to tell our stories and to legitimize the stories of other women.” She also noted that publishers are more open to featuring those stories as well.
In summary, it seems that the #MeToo movement has influenced women’s writing (and probably also men’s, but that’s another story) in four primary ways.
- We’re writing more about what it’s like going through life as a woman and specifically about sexual issues, from gender differences in sexual relationships to sexual harassment at work to sexual assault.
- We’re less likely to feel restrained or guilty when writing our own truths. When I used my experience with a date rape in my novel many years ago, I questioned whether I had the right to use that story, even fictionalized. That feeling has passed. Perhaps because I’m angrier and less apologetic, as many women seem to be these days.
- Self-acceptance. Seeing how many other women share our experience helps us doubt ourselves less and feel more confident in all our writing. As the ground has shifted, perhaps the glass ceiling is also beginning to shatter. There’s definitely a feeling of greater freedom in women’s writing today.
- We have each other’s backs. Sure, many of us have been in writers’ groups and networked online with other women writers, but there’s something about knowing that we share a depth of experience that draws us together in a way that seems more solid. As Jennifer said, knowing that what makes us feel vulnerable and broken is shared with so many others gives us strength.
Where we go from here is completely up to us. To quote Shanon, “We’re just at the beginning of this movement. There are so many stories to be told.”