As women, we live in a different time than that of our grandmothers and our mothers, even. Like them we're subjected to sexual harassment and all manner of gender bias. The hands of time haven't changed that grim fact. Yet today we have a secret weapon hitherto unavailable to us. We have—for better or for worse—social media, and it is a powerful tool. From the moment news broke of Jian Ghomeshi's firing from the CBC, the floodgates opened. Conversations erupted online. Accusations and confessions trickled out from behind closed doors and into public forums. Voices that dared not speak up before, at last spoke. It wasn't pretty, but no one could look away.
Alone, the voices were feeble, little more than a din. But taken together, the voices became something formidable, a cacophony loud enough to make an entire nation perk up its ears and listen. Really listen. No sooner had Lucy DeCoutere made her allegations against Ghomeshi public, the hashtag #IBelieveLucy had prompted more than 2,000 tweets. Since then, social media has witnessed a kind of snowball effect, with more women coming forward, finally feeling brave enough to speak out against a figure as powerful and prominent as the former CBC broadcaster.
Emboldened, others felt driven to seek legal counsel in their own right. In the wake of Ghomeshi allegations, Howard Levitt, senior partner of Levitt & Grosman LLP, saw a significant jump in the number of women approaching his firm of employment lawyers for representation in unrelated cases. That's not just meaningless white noise, people. That's real action.
Social media fosters solidarity. It is easier to confess something unspeakable from behind the safety of a laptop screen. It is easier to reach out to others without fear of being silenced or reproached. Trolls do exist, but the sheer volume of 'likes' and 'retweets' and 'shares' ultimately drowns out the haters. Witness the impact of the recent Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported, in which Canadian journos, Antonia Zerbisias and Sue Montgomery, disclosed their personal stories of rapes in 140 characters or less.
The Ghomeshi allegations are only the latest example of women taking to social media to lobby against crimes against them.
The list of grassroots campaigns is long and far from comprehensive: It started with the #YesAllWomen hashtag, prompted by a murdering misogynist in California, while #WhyIStayed began following footage of domestic abuse by an NFL player that led to #WhyILeft. Here in Canada, young aboriginal women across the country took their lead from Holly Jarrett, and held up signs that read #AmINext in response to the federal government's apathy over the disappearances.
When we take to social media as a collective, our voices are too loud to mute. Now that we've finally started talking, ladies, let's be sure we never shut up again.