Over the past few days, millions of people have used the hashtag #MeToo to spark continued conversation about the evils of sexual assault and harassment.

As reported by The New York Times:

Women are posting messages on social media to show how commonplace sexual assault and harassment are, using the hashtag #MeToo to express that they, too, have been victims of such misconduct.

The messages bearing witness began appearing frequently on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on Sunday, when the actress Alyssa Milano posted a screenshot outlining the idea and writing "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet."

In the first 24 hours after the tweet was posted, the hashtag was tweeted nearly half a million times. (Actresses Anna Paquin, Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, and Evan Rachel Wood are just a few of the more famous names who have tweeted #MeToo.) Additionally, Facebook said in that same 24 hours that 4.7 million people contributed to the "Me too" conversation by means of more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions.

The #MeToo hashtag is a perfect example of emotional intelligence in the real world. I describe emotional intelligence as the ability to identify emotions (in both yourself and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior.

In other words, it's the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

In a matter of hours, #MeToo showed us exactly how to do that, in the following ways:

1. It gave a voice to the victims.

Part of the emotional impact of #MeToo is that it has revealed how widespread sexual assault and harassment are. Millions, if not billions, of women around the world have suffered due to the amoral behavior of their colleagues, associates, and even friends and relatives.

But so many of these women were afraid to speak out about their experience. This was due to various reasons, but many of them rooted in one of the most powerful emotions of all:

Fear.

Fear of not being taken seriously (or not being believed). Fear of being shamed or ridiculed. Fear of retaliation. Fear that this moment--which was forced upon them--defining the rest of their lives.

But #MeToo gave power to these victims. It gave them a voice. Strength is in numbers, and #MeToo helped women see that they aren't alone.

In fact, they're the overwhelming majority.

2. It woke everyone up.

The goal of #MeToo, as outlined in Milano's original tweet was to give people "a sense of the magnitude of the problem."

In doing so, sexual harassment has become a centerpiece of attention. It has sparked countless conversations between friends, family members...and yes, colleagues. In doing so, it has helped create an atmosphere where bad behavior is discouraged and easier to call out.

As Sophie Gilbert describes it so eloquently in a piece she wrote for The Atlantic:

"Unlike many kinds of social-media activism, [#MeToo] isn't a call to action or the beginning of a campaign, culminating in a series of protests and speeches and events. It's simply an attempt to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society. To get women, and men, to raise their hands...There's a monumental amount of work to be done in confronting a climate of serial sexual predation--one in which women are belittled and undermined and abused and sometimes pushed out of their industries altogether. But uncovering the colossal scale of the problem is revolutionary in its own right."

3. It scared current and potential abusers.

#MeToo was at least partially motivated by the explosive report published by The New York Times on Oct 5 detailing decades of sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, dozens of actresses (and actors) have told their own stories of harassment, with hopes that doing so can help give voice to others who have similar experiences, and stop, or at least slow down, similar behavior in the future.

Will this calling-out help bring more of these perpetrators to justice? Will it stop those in power from using their positions to harass, mistreat and abuse in the future?

Time will tell.

But #MeToo has given them millions of reasons to be afraid.

And it's given victims a weapon with which to fight back.

Published on: Oct 18, 2017
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