Some things are worth getting excited about. March is Women's History Month. While 2017 was a year of regression in many ways—travel bans, slowed immigration, reversing transgender rights and abortion rights, curbing universal health care—it also brought us the #MeToo Movement. In October, the #MeToo hashtag went viral—women all over the country and the world spoke up, called out their abusers and were supported en masse for the first time in history. The Silence Breakers won Time Magazine's person of the year. Women expressing agency and voice; this is exciting. For the first time, thousands of women were supported in their airing of sexual harassment and assault. Individual men were being held accountable for their actions. Sexual assault, the news and the country reported, was not going to be tolerated, not in the workplace, not in Hollywood, not in the farmland.
Women's empowerment. This is exciting. However, it is also just the first step in making the #MeToo movement truly a social movement. We have heard women tell their stories, we have heard of men being held accountable, now we need social solutions to be offered for this most social of problems.
Male violence against women is not new. We named the misogynist culture that normalized women's subordination, their objectification and sexualization, and the violence waged against them, as "rape culture" back in the 1970s. We called out the questioning of women and lack of belief in their stories of violence and abuse. We named this misogyny as victim blaming. Tarana Burke coined the phrase Me Too in 2006 to remind women that we are not alone in our victimization. Burke and other women of color have led the movement to support women and survivors of violence for over a decade. Finally we have listened. We hear you and we support you. But this is not enough.
Outing and firing men for their egregious behaviors is perhaps deserved, but it is not enough. It is not a social solution. Rather, it paints the problem as an individualistic one. Individual bad men did something bad. And he undoubtedly needs to be held accountable. But it does not solve the problem. Other men are still learning toxic masculinity, and although they may be getting the message that this behavior will not be condoned in the workplace, it does not fundamentally change the teachings about masculinity, what it means to be a "man," how we construct relationships between women and men, or how we think about sexuality.
The #MeToo movement, and its offshoots like Time's Up, need to be clear that this isn't about individual bad men, this is about patriarchy. And while we need to transform individual men, it is imperative that we transform society as a whole. It is time to dismantle the patriarchy and misogyny in the whole culture and society: in the way we teach boys to be boys, to look under little girls' skirts, to "cop a feel" and try getting to the bases, scoring and seeing sex with women as competitive sport. Social problems need social solutions. Only societal change will stop the epidemic of male violence against women. We need societal change, in action and in ideology.
The solution might look like a world where little girls and boys are seen and treated equitably as fully agentic human beings with sexual desire and familial, educational, and occupational choice. That is where the #MeToo movement needs to take us. Beyond outing and firing the perpetrators of bad behavior, we need to educate and rehabilitate men (and women) to create a world where basic gender roles are free and liberating for all, with no one complicit or silent. #MeToo