While #MeToo has been trending on Facebook and Twitter, teen voices can get lost in this sexual harassment wake-up call. First off, young people prefer Instagram and Snapchat. And there are other reasons teens come to #MeToo from a different position than the adults who started it. Youth Radio talked to four teenagers–Hermes Arevalo, Sierra Fang-Horvath, Michael LeTang, and Aria Bendy–about why they think it took awhile for #MeToo to get to them, and to hear what they think about the conversation.
Hermes, 17: I heard about #MeToo from my mother. She was like, “Did you see any of your friends do the #MeToo thing?” And I was like, “What’s that?” And she was like, “It’s a hashtag about sexual assault.” And that kind of scared me, because I have a lot of female friends that I care deeply about, and I was dreading going onto social media and finding out that they have also been affected.
Sierra, 17: Just as it’s alarming to see your parents cry, it’s alarming to see that the adult world has more flaws than you expected. You hear “boys will be boys,” and you think they get all their fratty behavior out in college, maybe it trickles off in mid-twenties. But you see these 60 or 70 year old men being completely inappropriate and absolutely abusing women in these ways, and you expect this behavior to stop. We’re realizing it never really stops. And it’s not just the element of safety. I don’t want to just be able to feel physically safe, no matter who I’m with, what I’m doing, what I’m wearing. I want to feel comfortable.
Hermes: If you’re more mature, there’s a higher chance you’ve had time to cope and deal and figure out these things. So you can talk about and reach out for support. Because that’s a hard thing to do, about something like this. It also has to do with the platforms that Facebook and Twitter are. When I go onto Instagram, I see a picture and an aesthetic blurb. Snapchat is very temporary. When you say something this important and impactful to yourself and people around you, you don’t want it to disappear.
Aria, 15: The #MeToo campaign opened eyes for me because I have a bunch of little siblings that go to public school, and I can’t be with them all the time to take care of them. So #MeToo at first seemed like something people just made because it’s what old people talk about. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized, this could be an ongoing problem for me and the rest of my siblings.
Michael, 19: For the next generation coming into adulthood, I think it’s important that we have this dialogue, so we know stuff like this happens. What’s important, in making this issue something that can be resolved, is no matter what generation we come from, we can come together and share with fellow victims, bystanders, and perpetrators, and create a web of communication.
Aria: Women can dress any way they want to and they can talk any way they want to, they can have their hair anyway they want to. They can be going to the grocery story, the strip club, the pharmacy, the bathroom, and [you don’t have the right to] make them feel uncomfortable in their setting because you feel like you’re more powerful than them.
Sierra: Sexual harassment can take so many forms. It’s not necessarily rape, or groping. It can be cat-calling someone. It can be making someone uncomfortable by standing too close to them. A lot of that understanding will come from empathy. We need to ingrain empathy into younger generations and make them understand the feeling of discomfort from a very young age, so by the time they grow up, they know, I’m not going to treat someone this way because it’s not how I want to be treated.
Michael: In order to protect our sisters and moms and aunts and make sure they’re safe, it’s only fair to hold everyone accountable, and not joke about it or make it seem any less than it is.
Hermes: I sometimes go to parties with a couple guy friends and a couple female friends, and most of the guys do look out for the girls, which is a really good thing. I remember recently we went to a party, and me and my friends were just staring at this guy who was dancing with one of our friends, mugging him and making sure he wasn’t doing anything bad. And what I didn’t think about at that moment was, as much as we talked to my female friend about how to signal if she needs help, that us guys should have a talk with each other–to make sure we’re not becoming someone who someone else needs to be protected from.
Aria: As teenagers, as much as being woke is a trend right now, some things we just don’t want to talk about, because we feel like we don’t have a place to talk about it, if it hasn’t happened to us. Which I think is entirely untrue for our generation. Regardless if it has happened to you or it has not, we should definitely take time to talk with our friends and our family about how we want to be treated and what’s the plan if someone wants to take advantage of us in the outside world.