Japan’s #WithYou Movement pairs with the #MeToo Movement to form a powerful global support group
The beginning of the #MeToo movement
In 2006, Tarana Burke first used the phrase “me too” as a way to offer solidarity to people who survived sexual assault, according to a timeline from the Chicago Tribune. Over 10 years later, actress Alyssa Milano Tweeted, asking those who have survived sexual assault and harassment to respond with those two words to demonstrate the scope of the problem. The words quickly became a hashtag and, eventually, a movement
The #MeToo movement was a platform people could use to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment, often in their professional lives. It was encouraging and powerful. Many who had been scared or anxious to share their stories in the past developed a newfound confidence in their own voices and a community of individuals just like them who had struggled in the same way.
Japan’s differing attitude toward sexual harassment
In Japan, the #MeToo movement didn’t catch on quite as strongly as it did in the United States. Women everywhere hesitate to speak about sexual harassment, but this hesitation is particularly strong in Japan, given the way sexual harassment is often viewed as a lesser issue. Take for example, one of Japan’s high-ranking leaders, Minister of Finance Taro Aso: “Sexual harassment isn’t a crime (in Japan). It’s not the same as charges of murder or sexual assault.”
These comments came after the department experienced a whirlwind of media attention thanks to Aso’s Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda, who was accused of harassing a reporter. Aso initially chose not to investigate the issue, though Fukuda did eventually step down from his position.
The Japanese #MeToo counterpart: #WithYou
Aso’s initial decision to ignore the problem, coupled with his later comments about sexual harassment not being a crime, prompted a series of protests and marches organized under a powerful hashtag: #WithYou, “an expression not only of victimization and anger, but of solidarity,” according to the Daily Beast.
Since then, the #WithYou movement has taken the region by storm. In a society where many women struggle to speak about these experiences, the focus shifted from the individual’s story to a message of support. It offers a space where those who do not wish to discuss their experience — or have not experienced assault — can positively contribute to the movement.
Solidarity is an important part of any movement. It conveys to people that they aren’t alone and that those who may not share their experiences are still backing them up. It helps people feel understood, have strength, and heal.
How many of us have reached out to a friend to ask their opinion on something? You want to gauge what their reaction is to a situation in your life. There is a need to feel as though we aren’t alone in feeling a certain way. #WithYou says that while the experience might not be shared by two individuals, one is capable of supporting the other and recognizing the hardship experienced as valid and important.
Which conversation should we be having?
For many, the #WithYou movement may feel more inclusive. An individual doesn’t need to share the experience of sexual harassment or assault to participate. They can use that hashtag to show support of those who have their own story to tell.
However, there is no #WithYou without #MeToo. In many cases, it’s critical that those who are able and willing to share their stories do.
Of course, there are a range of opinions about an individual’s responsibility to speak out when they have experienced any kind of sexual assault, which became a major debate around the #MeToo movement in general. Many feel the #MeToo movement puts too much pressure on victims to tell a story they might not want to relive by sharing.
For that reason, I feel there needs to be room for both conversations. People who want to share their stories should do so loudly and without fear, knowing that so many are there, ready to support them. Success will be magnified if we’re able to accommodate both movements, allowing the best of each to complement the other.
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, we encourage you to anonymously rate the employer and shed light upon the issue.
Alyssa Huntley lives and works in Washington, D.C. She has written about a range of topics, from technology to real estate to women’s issues.