- Ingvard Ashby
In late 2017, after the allegations of sexual abuse surrounding entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein came to light, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women on social media to use the hashtag #MeToo to start a conversation about sexual harassment in their own lives.
Social activist Tarana Burke actually coined the phrase much earlier, in 2006, but the serendipitous mix of Twitter, widespread outrage about Weinstein and the experiences of numerous victims coalesced perfectly to spark a movement that continues today.
Now, the #MeToo movement colors and influences relationships of all kinds, causing some to reevaluate what they want in partners and what behavior they will accept.
Angie Ridings, a certified therapist at Tensegrity Counseling Associates in Edmond, has been practicing for 12 years and works with both couples and individuals. She has seen changes in her patients since the #MeToo movement began.
“I’ve noticed that people are becoming a lot more sensitive to what the other person experiences,” she said.
Now, Ridings said, some patients bring up types of harassment that were previously not considered on a wider scale. For instance, many women within the #MeToo movement have spoken out about issues in their marriages, particularly if a partner is pressuring them into unwanted sex.
“It’s interesting the number of people that wouldn’t consider that wrong within the context of a marriage,” Ridings said. “Almost like spouses are property. People are really recognizing that either spouse has a right to say no.”
Part of Ridings’ work is helping patients understand when this and other types of behavior are inappropriate or unhealthy.
“A lot of people do struggle with that, women in particular,” she said. “Usually, they just need someone to tell them that it’s abuse.”
One element that Ridings often emphasizes to her patients is the importance of setting and keeping boundaries. She works with individuals to teach assertiveness and understand what makes them uncomfortable.
“The most important thing is to trust your gut,” she said. “If they’re feeling uncomfortable, there’s a reason.”
Ridings noted that some types of harassers often push those boundaries, wearing down a partner to eventually get what they want.
“If you’re slowly trying to coerce someone, you’re not being forceful and blatant about it,” she said, “but you’re basically saying, ‘I don’t like that boundary of yours, so I’m going to keep trying.’”
While working with patients who have experienced an upsetting situation, Ridings uses trauma recovery as a treatment method.
“A lot of people will blame themselves or feel like they did something to bring it on,” she said. “So I’ll just explain, over the course of several sessions, that doesn’t belong to you. That’s something that happened to you.”
An understanding of a person’s emotions within a relationship will help them know when a personal line is crossed. And Ridings said everyone needs to learn how to say no and take care of themselves, whether it’s in a dating environment or a committed relationship.
Generational “norms”In 2016, Maggie Rose Wyatt founded OKC Socialites, a group that holds weekly social events for women age 20-39. Wyatt, a civil engineer, said she started the group seeking connections with women her age. Several group members approach dating with a different eye due to #MeToo.
“I had a broken engagement in the spring of 2017,” Wyatt said via email, “so that kind of set me back into the dating game right around the time that women really started coming out about their issues with men, such as #MeToo.”
She said that in most cases, the younger men she currently dates tend to be more aware of #MeToo issues.
“I’ve found that [Generation Z] often has less of that toxic masculinity that I see in a lot in men over 30,” she said via email. “But they are also very immature, so it’s definitely a give and take.”
This disconnect between older men who are perhaps insensitive to #MeToo and the younger men who lack maturity has kept her in casual dating circles, at least for now. She hopes men will hold each other accountable as the movement progresses.
Kate Kidd recently joined Wyatt’s group and works in the alcoholic beverages sales industry. She was stunned when allegations against Weinstein led to an avalanche of harassment allegations and the beginning of the movement. It certainly impacted her point of view.
“I think there’s a couple things to be aware of,” she said. “With the #MeToo movement happening, that definitely raised my awareness around certain issues.”
Kidd, a self-proclaimed optimist and people-pleaser, said that her last relationship of about six months opened her eyes to what she wouldn’t tolerate from a partner. She pointed out that it’s sometimes difficult to spot problems while in a problematic relationship, especially at first.
No major trauma occurred, but she said that she found herself allowing things to happen that she didn’t want. Problems would occur that she would recall and turn over later in her head with frustration.
“I think it’s very important for women to be aware of the mental impact that the behavior of the people they’re dating has on them,” Kidd said.
She credits #MeToo and her raised awareness as being instrumental in her decision to end the relationship. Now, for her, connecting on an emotional and intellectual level is more important than the physical.
“I know it’s funny to say, ‘Oh, all guys want is sex,’” she said. “But I don’t feel like it’s a good idea to compromise what you’re comfortable with just because people laugh and say that’s the norm.”