When the #MeToo movement went genuinely viral two years ago, it was a hashtag. To be involved you were likely on Twitter, perhaps Facebook, in October 2017, watching, sharing and participating in what was essentially a mass purging of violence and sexual transgressions against adult women. Everything from minor sexual harassment to rape came under the umbrella of women putting their hand up to say: it happened to me, as spurred on by activist Tarana Burke's original two-word summation of so much trauma. Celebrity statements ticked past on the timeline, beneath the darkest once-secrets of ordinary women. But most of those involved – sharing their stories, or just witnessing the movement on those particular social media platforms – seemed to be in their mid-twenties onwards.
Two years later, we're seeing more clearly the problems and limitations of a grassroots movement then re-shaped in the hands of some of the most recognisable (largely white) women in entertainment. Young people's perceptions of the #MeToo movement are now bound by privilege and power and who gets to speak. We're also getting closer to understanding its legacy, as something vital but amorphous. I have frequently wondered if the movement broke out in London and other major cities in the UK, and had an impact fully felt offline. How did teens feel at the time? Did they think the movement was relevant at all to them, a generation who were already having significant conversations about identity politics and rape culture online?
From the teens who didn’t quite understand what the movement was to those who thought it’d gone too far, when I asked young British people what they really thought of the #MeToo movement I was surprised. Their answers might surprise you:
Rebecca, 18, Salisbury
Teenagers definitely didn’t feel included in #MeToo: it was for women in power. I didn’t feel that if I came forward about something that happened at school, it’d have the same power as celebrities or women with more privilege. We had a big debate in politics A Level about Brett Kavanaugh – the girls all felt in our guts it was wrong and he shouldn’t be allowed that power and the boys all didn’t think it should affect that. They didn’t think it mattered, what he’d done.
Unless you were politically involved, on the whole, my generation didn’t engage with this. My friends who didn’t do politics didn’t think the #MeToo movement was relevant to them. The only reason I knew about it was through feminist Twitter, really.
I don’t think it’s had an affect on the way boys behave. Most boys at my sixth form were on board with the narrative that it’s a war on men, and they can’t do or say anything anymore. It didn’t help that a male tutor even said that sexual harassment is just being chatted up by an ugly guy. It’s like the boys have the same attitude my granddad did and I don’t think there’s this big generational divide of opinion about these things as people believe, or at least progression that we’re seeing generally with women.
This isn’t going to have any impact for working class women or women of colour, only the women who get to the same level in the future as those who were coming out with their stories in the first place.
Ben, 20, Cardiff
When I think of ‘#MeToo’ what comes to my mind is people speaking out traumatic incidents. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s just talking about bad things that’ve happened to you, whether a home invasion or a robbery or a sexual assault. It’s talking about something that has really impacted them as a person.
I don’t go on Twitter, I stay on Facebook and Instagram, so you don’t really see any links or whatever. I don’t think it was on the minds of people my age because on Instagram we mainly just see pictures. Social media played a big part in who saw #MeToo and how the message was spread. Honestly I still think it wasn’t spoken about enough in the places we look to – it was easy to not see it. When it comes to Instagram, it’s all about ‘I’m really happy’, it’s not ‘read this article’. On the one hand, it’s easy to talk about things online but we also get judged very easily. So people might not want to come out about that kind of stuff.
There was nothing around school about #MeToo: no people coming forward, no talks about it happening. I only knew about it because of being online. We were quite a small and tight year group so if anyone was bad or something happened everyone would know about it and we were good at working out what had happened and policing that and making sure people were alright. In high school, guys said really bad stuff they should never have, when I look back on it. But we all spoke openly to each other already. All us guys had common sense and wouldn’t do anything that cruel or stupid.
Jess, 19, Manchester
I’m massively into politics and women’s rights so it’s always been on my radar. My parents pay attention to politics and encourage healthy discussion about things but a lot of people’s parents aren’t like that. There are so many people my age who are massively sexist – you might be surprised to hear that. It’s scary: some of my generation think #MeToo is a load of shit. I remember this one lad I went to school with went on this massive Twitter rant about the whole thing and was like ‘I’m infuriated that we instantly just believe women – what happened to innocent until proven guilty, anyone can just say what they want’. That annoys me the most because unfortunately that’s a common way a lot of young people still feel.
A lot of young guys felt like they were being attacked and that 'women all hate men' and 'what about male rape survivors' and 'false rape accusations.' A lot of the guys I know they felt a bit made out to be a massive problem because they felt that they hadn’t done anything yet.
The problem with #MeToo is that it failed to provide a space for younger women to speak about the issues they face – there is no space for that. It didn’t teach younger people how to have healthy relationships. It didn’t really manage to open up the space to normal women either. We thought 'if these women aren’t safe, us young girls definitely aren’t safe'. I think it made us trust men less. It was a scary time.
Our generation would still have these conversations – we already were, really – but #MeToo has fast-forwarded the debates.
James*, 19, Southampton
The #MeToo stuff never affected my school at all – it was an internet thing. It’s become a bit of an excuse for women to say anything about us. I spent most of my time gaming or on Reddit and sometimes Facebook so most of what I saw was guys talking about how #MeToo had gone too far and fake accusations, or some older friends of my sisters or cousins sharing some posts about what had happened to them.
I don’t think it’s had that much affect on my generation to be honest with you – I think Tumblr and Twitter type feminists have always been saying stuff about sexual abuse or assault or whatever about men. #MeToo was more of a celebrity thing or something for older girls. It is weird that we didn’t have a school or college part of the #MeToo campaign though – I did think girls would start saying stuff about us or teachers at school, because we have had stuff with assault or dodgy things go on with students and teachers. I’m glad it hasn’t though because false words and stories about stuff can ruin lives or take things too far.
Maggie*, 21, Glasgow
When it broke but I was completely shocked by the amount of people coming forward. I had just finished school and started a first job, and moved out of my small village to a big city. I worked in the fashion industry, where no one was talking about it. The majority of people who worked there were guys and the way they spoke about women was horrible. They’d say things to me like, ‘oh, you’re so small, I can’t believe you actually have stretch marks’. At uni guys would be bragging about girls they’d slept with who were so drunk they couldn’t get up and I was just there thinking, 'that’s rape.' #MeToo made me much more aware that these things were as common as they are. I went to art school so thankfully a lot of girls and guys were talking about #MeToo – a lot of work was influenced by the movement – but if I was at another uni I don’t think it would’ve been a proper conversation.
I think #MeToo should have been more inclusive of men – I saw some men be shut down. They’d come out and say they got groped in a bar or something and women would say, ‘You haven’t been spiked or raped, like me, have you?’ That’s how things have to change.
I wish #MeToo had happened before I went to school. Our school was massive, and I always remember one of the sixth form boys was really creepy with me when I was really young. I think if I’d known then about #MeToo I could’ve told an adult.
Sam, 19, Essex
I don’t think teachers took any conversations seriously – they just joked about it if it did come up. It made the girls who were involved at all in those chats understand, but most people thought it wasn’t anything to do with us and went too far, which made people even more think that it was relevant. People where I’m from can be surprisingly conservative. It doesn’t surprise me at all when people my age don’t know about it because if you weren’t on Twitter or looking at the news every day, why would you engage? It doesn’t feel for us.
The focus was on celebs, but education is needed to actually bring it into the classrooms. Our sex ed was so shit, any consent at school always ends up being about how not to get raped for the girls but never about why the boys shouldn’t rape. The #MeToo movement should have turned into something that helps young women and empower them to reach out and speak about issues. But also to tell the boys what’s right and wrong. You think they’re woke and modern men and whatever but they still don’t know what is fine and isn’t fine. It didn’t change anything. To be honest with you I still don’t know much about #MeToo, and I don’t know if it’s something I’d go back and spend time looking into it all.
Amy, 20, London
I can’t recall anyone I know of or from my school coming forward, but then they haven’t had exposure of the workplace and what have you. For my generation it was more about shocking us and widening our idea of what was happening, showing us what a large problem it was. It’s definitely normalised it for us younger people to talk about sexual assault and stuff.
I worked in an advertising office at the time and no one spoke about it at all. The only reason I knew about it was because I go on Twitter, there was no one in the workplace talking about it. No one my age watches the news. I mentioned to my friend about #MeToo earlier and she was like ‘what’s that?’ and had no idea. I honestly don’t think it’s trickled down to my age – young people I know didn’t speak about it.
One important thing has been all the documentaries and things have come off the back of the #MeToo campaign or come at the same time – like the R Kelly or Michael Jackson films – and that’s what has made people my age think about what rape is and what’s OK or not. We watch films and video a lot where we’re not engaging with the news. We’re not sitting down with our families to watch the same shows and have discussions about what we see. Everything is on demand and we’re all seeing whatever we want – that’s why #MeToo didn’t reach younger people.
Outdoors advertising is so powerful. Ads on your phone are so catered to what you’re watching or already clicking on but if you took the #MeToo movement outside to the streets everyone would have to engage with it – whether they were interested or not.