By Abby Butler
CW: sexual harassment, assault
“On Wednesday night last week, I was indecently assaulted.”
This is the first sentence of Georgia Mueck’s post to a Newcastle nightclub’s Facebook page. It’s prompted, at the time of writing, over 1,000 likes and hundreds of comments. The status details Mueck’s experience with two men who boasted about touching her in the smoker’s area of the nightclub, before security guards failed to act.
I read the status and immediately shared it, in solidarity with Mueck, because my friends and I have had similar experiences, and because it’s an incredibly important issue to bring to light. My intention was to encourage my male friends on Facebook to support their female friends if they are ever in a scenario of sexual harassment or assault. As I posted the status, I began to slowly scan my own feed and noticed that I had shared a lot of similar posts, and written some of my own. Snuggled amongst poignant think pieces such as “BREAKING NEWS: Puberty was very kind to Hector from Mortified” were statuses I had written about detention centres, feminism and mental health.
I am a certified #socialjusticewarrior (#SJW).
When you Google “social justice warrior”, the first three results are: a definition from Urban Dictionary, a YouTube video titled “Social Justice Warriors Triggered Compilation” and an article detailing the “Totalitarian Doctrine of #SJW’s”. The (urban) dictionary definition of a social justice warrior is an “individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out-way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation”.
There’s an internal conflict that ensues each time I consider posting on my Facebook or Instagram about an issue I’m passionate about. Am I actually spreading any awareness or doing anything pragmatic? Or am I just feeding some self-serving hope that people see me as #woke? Am I, as Ella from the TV masterpiece Please Like Me quips, just “jerking off my soul, trying to glean a smug self-satisfaction from other people’s pain”?
In trying to find out whether such statuses support or scorn, I looked in the same place anyone searching for factual and reliable answers does: the comments section.
The top comment on Mueck’s post was from the nightclub. “Great,” I naively thought. “A complaint on social media, and the mass traction it gained, will force the venue to enact some tangible policy change.” Alas, I was wrong. The comment accused Mueck of being “offensive” for suggesting that the establishment is complicit in instances of sexual assault. This wasn’t a great start in my quest to find out whether something positive can come out of #sjw posts.
The remainder of the comments section was littered with guys tagging their mates, asking if they were the ones who harassed Mueck, and people questioning why she didn’t just reciprocate the assault by punching her attackers. Jokes perpetuating rape culture and victim blaming? I had hit another patriarchal roadblock.
I decided to look towards other examples of online social movements that had made a difference in the “real world”. The fact that “Kony 2012” was the first thing that came to mind wasn’t exactly a great start. Sure, hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #JeSuisCharlie and #LoveWins have raised awareness and informed the public about incredibly important issues. But does sharing a post or tacking on a hashtag actually assist those affected by unfair racial targeting by police forces, freedom of the press and LGBTQI+ rights?
“I think the more we make people aware of this issue, the more likely change is to occur, and social media is the number one way to gain traction and reach people,” Mueck said.
“People who have tried to call out social issues have always been met with opposition, because people don’t like the status quo to be questioned or changed.”
I often feel helpless when I watch a documentary about sustainable fashion or read an article exposing the reality of factory farms, because I have absolutely no idea how to make a tangible change. I know that the icecaps are melting, the Great Barrier Reef is dying, and that sexism, racism and classism exist. I know that I should be doing something to help, but I only have 24 hours in a day and priorities that I refuse to detail because they may involve overpriced breakfast foods and yes I am sorry for perpetuating harmful stereotypes of young people but I am not sorry for #livingmytruth.
I understand where Mueck is coming from, and I think the vitriol and trolling she’s met has a lot to do with the dismissive attitudes towards anything associated with millennials or the Internet. Whether any of us ever do anything truly altruistic is one thing, but it’s undeniable that young people have a genuine interest and passion in issues of social justice. The reason why we are so often categorised as being disengaged with politics and world events is largely because of the way in which we utilise tools like social media to advocate for such issues.
When I spoke to Georgia last, she had put together a form for victims of assault and harassment in Newcastle nightclubs and bars. In collating this database of experiences, she is hoping that venues will crack down on rape culture and the way in which such events are dealt with. Prior to social media, Georgia could never have reached such a large audience in such a forum. She wouldn’t have the ability to collect anonymous stories. She wouldn’t have been able to share her story so quickly after the situation occurred. Sure, a hashtag or online campaign can’t physically change legislation or the policy of a nightclub, but it does have the ability to spark conversations and promote understanding and passion.
(Also, I really cannot criticise anyone who uses the insane gift that is technology for advocacy, when I spend my most of my time watching Project Runway on Netflix. #realtalk.)