I sat on a panel a couple weeks ago about whether #MeToo is a movement or just a moment. The two-hour discussion was broadcast live on KPCW and hosted by the Park City Area Project for Deeper Understanding, a group seeking to fight cultural polarization through public education.
Together, we explored the notion of whether today’s heightened visibility of sexual misconduct and assault will have lasting impacts, or if it will be found by the broom of silence and swept back under the rug.
The seven panelists — who ranged from survivor advocates and researchers to public servants, attorneys and high school teachers — all agreed. #MeToo is most certainly a movement, and it ain’t going anywhere.
Still, there are legit questions to be explored.
Will its momentum move the pendulum of justice too far in the right direction as we seek equilibrium, and end up wrongly punishing innocent people and strip real accusations of their validity? Or, conversely, will it lack the strength to actually impact those who don’t have the power of celebrity or the resources to withstand the possible ramifications of speaking up?
But I think the biggest threat to the success of this movement (and maybe it’s greatest sustainer?) is our rampant misunderstandings about consent. This is something that used to be hard for me to understand. How we could lack clarity regarding appropriate touching?
And then I had a kid.
To be fair, the seed of my understanding was planted when my niece, Cora, became a toddler, and my sister stopped me one day from mandating a hug goodbye. I wasn’t being a bully or a predator, so when my sister stepped in it sort of took me aback. She gently rephrased my question to her daughter asking IF she wanted to give me a hug and then, after reading Cora’s body language, said to her (but really to me), “OK, it’s your choice, and we respect it.”
We do? I mean, of course we do, but all I wanted was a hug goodbye from someone who was literally climbing my body like a jungle gym not even 5 minutes before.
But the hug wasn’t happening unless Cora agreed to it — she was in control.
That moment stuck with me and has informed how I now handle the well-intended but uninvited physical adorers of my son, Harvey.
He’s ridiculously cute, bordering on being edible, so I get the kneejerk desire to give a gentle squeeze to his chunky thighs or to want to have him in your arms. It might not help that we relentlessly post happy pictures of Harvey that might lead people to believe he’s constantly social. But I am simultaneously shocked — sometimes to the point of great discomfort — at how often people disregard his clear signals for autonomy, and squeeze or hug anyway.
In most instances, it’s probably a loving gesture, but intentions, as we learned from Garrison Keillor’s example, don’t always directly correlate with their outcomes.
What any of us perceive as earned or appropriate touching may not feel at all like that to the touched. And asking before making contact is something we should start as early as a child can communicate, “no” — which anyone who’s been around babes knows is remarkably early.
So, when the panel’s moderator, Renai Bodley Miller, asked me at the end of the night’s discussion if I thought #MeToo was a movement or a moment, my response came fast.
Part of it is hope; I’m an eternal optimist who just has to believe we’ll always work to better respect our bodies. But the rest of it is determination, because I’m a mama dedicated to creating a world where her kiddo feels as comfortable with setting boundaries as he will become with respecting others’.
Marina Gomberg’s lifestyle columns appear on sltrib.com. She is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.