21st Century Weariness
It’s been a long year. For so many of us, I know, this year has dragged into eons, each day bringing new, impossible public challenges. And for many of us, these challenges have motivated — to educate ourselves on the issues, to speak truth to bullshit when it is rubbing itself in our faces. But we all know deep down, there is only so much we can do. What do you do when your President doesn’t know basic facts about legislation, or foreign policy, or anything resembling what it means to be the President? What do you do when he doesn’t care about American citizens whose climate has thrown them back into the stone age? Or premiums in the healthcare marketplace? Or anything, really, except how he did on the back nine in his latest round of golf? Or thinks that some Nazis are “very fine people”? We do not want to be so complacent as to be complicit, normalizing that which, from our vantage point, is not normal, and is in fact dangerous. But after each angry tweet, or strongly worded letter to our Senator, or conversation with a likeminded friend, the voice in the back of our heads knows that, for the most part, we are shouting to each other in an echo chamber — no one is listening who needs to listen.
The same frustration can be applied to all sorts of marginalized groups fighting for their voices to be heard: when another black boy is shot down in the street, when women’s healthcare rights erode, when trans people are told the US military no longer wants their service, and in fact sees them as both a threat and a drain to the system. We raise our voices. We hear each other. But beyond that? I honestly don’t know.
Which is perhaps why this latest wave of social media activism has had such an impact. #MeToo derives its power from its sheer broad applicability; nearly all women face or have faced sexual harassment or abuse in their lives. And as #MeToo gained traction, women, men, and non-binary folks alike were forced to at least recognize the sheer magnitude of the problem. But the other powerful thing I think the #MeToo campaign embodies is our utter collective weariness. You, people I love, need me to “admit” that I have faced rampant sexual harassment in order to turn it into something that is not just relegated to the upper echelons of Hollywood, or, ahem, the man who lives in the White House, but is systemic and pervasive to the point of near universality?
Just as with the muslim ban, the women’s march, and the fight to preserve the ACA, #MeToo provides solidarity for its participants, while at the same time estranges them from the people they believe need to hear them most. I am encouraged by some of the reactions I’ve seen. And I am optimistic that, given the right amount and kind of continued pressure, we can create change. Because, while the personal is indeed political, #MeToo is not about politics insofar as it doesn’t necessarily involve large-scale institutions. It is the man who follows the woman a bit too close, trying to get her attention even as she begins to walk faster. It is the married superior at the office who hopes the 23-year-old won’t know how to turn down his persistent advances. It is the guy who tells his buddies his date was a bitch because she didn’t put out. It is the guy who seems very nice who thinks a good way to console a drunk, crying girl is to penetrate her with his fingers without her consent. Or so, so much worse.
We may try to laugh these incidents off, or forget about them. But they stay with us. And as much as #MeToo is about solidarity and awareness, its very syntax belies the root of its problem. Like all other movements, reactions, and groundswells in the past nine months or so: we, the ones who say #MeToo, and the ones who simply think it, are so damn tired. But, while we may have to wait until 2018 and 2020 to truly do something about our national politics, all of us, women and men, liberals and conservatives, have the power to do something about the sickening, heart-wrenching deluge of #MeToo’s. The only question is, do we have the energy anymore?