Since the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment accusations in early October, more than 100 celebrities have been accused of some sort of sexual misconduct, including Kevin Spacey, James Franco and Morgan Spurlock. These public accusations sparked a much-needed conversation on sexual misconduct, assault and harassment, topics not previously addressed in media because they were considered taboo.
Of course, at first, I believed this discussion to be a good thing. Society would finally be comfortable with discussing these types of harsh subjects, and, because of this, a more open-minded and understanding view would be encouraged when speaking about the matter at hand. This did happen, for a time. People worldwide discussed, and denounced, sexual harassment in the workplace, in educational environments, and family settings.
I did not anticipate what would happen next, but I know I should have predicted it, especially because this is what my generation does as soon as we become comfortable with something: we make memes about it.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across a meme that showed the picture of the awkward kiss on the cheek between John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson, and, as if that picture is not uncomfortable enough, its caption read “When your new boss is hitting on you again, but you’re lowkey trying to get that sexual harassment settlement.” Later, I came across a picture of Tom Hanks (who, we can all agree, should be the Eighth Wonder of the World) underneath the headline “Another Actress Steps Forward Accusing Tom Hanks… of Being Nice.” Needless to say, I almost had a heart attack. First of all, why would someone mess with such a wholesome human being? Second, and most importantly, sexual misconduct accusations are not something to be made fun of.
The people, mostly women, that have come forward and revealed their experiences are extremely brave, and the fact that their statements are now the basis of jokes is highly disrespectful. The accusations were made to get justice and to call attention to the reality of sexual misconduct. Unfortunately, they also started a wave of black humor and messed-up memes.
Thanks to the women who came forward about their nonconsensual sexual encounters with Harvey Weinstein, more people have come forward about their situations because now the definitions of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault are better understood. Unprecedented numbers of people are coming forward, making it almost normal to see new accusations toward celebrities on a daily basis. This, in turn, has been normalized, and because it’s a regular thing, it is now a meme.
Sexual misconduct is not funny, and nothing funny should come from this movement. Now that sexual harassment is the basis of “lighthearted” (and incredibly rude) memes, the accusations are being considered less seriously than before, and the definition of consent is being played with. Memes are undermining the victims’ bravery and reducing the gravity of the situation.
Here’s the thing: I love memes, I really do. I’m down for some memes about dogs, Vine culture, the Kardashians and song lyrics. But please, let’s not belittle concepts like sexual misconduct because it can cause significant consequences, and could even be discouraging people from coming forward with their stories. These memes are not funny, and they are definitely not making my generation look as “woke” as we claim we are.
Oriana Gonzalez is a second-year literary journalism major and a gender and sexuality studies minor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.