Crunching the numbers of a #MeToo moment
On OCT. 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano sparked a firestorm on social media when she asked her Twitter followers to reply “me too” if they had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted. (“Social justice activist Tarana Burke founded the “Me Too” movement more than 10 years ago as a way to help sexual assault survivors heal.) What followed were 1.5 million responses — many from sexual assault survivors sharing their experiences, others from people showing support and some from critics — all using the hashtag #MeToo.
Meanwhile, SF State Assistant Professor of Economics Sepideh Modrek watched the movement unfold online from her home. Her Twitter feed filled up with friends and acquaintances disclosing details of their own abuse, and something compelled her to start archiving the tweets. One night she stayed up until 2 a.m. taking screenshots of #MeToo tweets, ultimately compiling 400 pages of shots. She didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the foundation for her latest research project.
“I was floored that people were sharing details. They were writing things like, ‘When I was 15, this happened,’” she says. “I was seeing pretty intimate details being shared in a public forum in a way I’d never thought people would do. I was impressed and captivated.”
Her research, published Sept. 3 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is a snapshot of the online movement during that first week when it reached critical mass. With the help of machine learning, Modrek and her research assistant Bozhidar Chakalov studied more than 12,000 #MeToo tweets posted between Oct. 15 and 21, 2017. After applying and gaining access to Twitter’s application programming interface, or API, they were able to count every undeleted #MeToo tweet. They then downloaded a representative subset, which helped them describe the magnitude of the movement in terms of size, demographics and the personal narratives shared.
“There’s clear enduring trauma associated with each disclosure.”
— Assistant Professor Sepideh Modrek
They found that 11% of all novel tweets (tweets that weren’t retweets, replies to other replies or messages with pictures or links) included a revelation of sexual assault or abuse. Nearly 6% of those incidents occurred early in life (any time before age 22). The majority of people sharing were white women between the ages of 25 and 50 — often reporting the events 20 to 30 years after they happened.
“They still remember it. There’s clear enduring trauma associated with each disclosure,” Modrek says.
Modrek’s analysis also showed that some voices were systematically missing. For example, African American women were less likely to disclose details on Twitter, but other data shows that they are equally or more likely to have experienced sexual abuse or assault.
“A lot of people spoke up and publicly shared these experiences,” Modrek says of the #MeToo movement, “and it completely changed our dialogue. I wanted to capture and honor their courage.”
A Colorful Look at Turning Gray
Aging can be rough for anyone. But when you’re part of a marginalized, often underrepresented community — LGBTQ seniors, for instance — it can be extra tough. SF State Lecturer of Health Education Deborah Craig and former SF State student Véronica Duport Déliz shed light on those barriers through a short film that has a humorous yet poignant take on aging.
Co-directed by Craig and Déliz, the documentary “A Great Ride” looks at older lesbians who live in several different communities in Northern California. The film features Professor Emerita Sally Gearhart (pictured above), an LGBTQ activist who was the first open lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in the U.S. — a distinction she achieved while teaching at SF State.
The film premiered at Frameline, San Francisco’s LGBTQ film festival, in June 2018. Since then, it has screened at over 30 festivals in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia, winning five awards so far, including Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. It was also available for viewing on Alaska Airlines flights through June and July in honor of Pride Month.
“Aside from these successes, it makes me so happy to see the film reach broader audiences, which was my goal as co-director,” Craig says. “Although the film focuses on several lesbians and is concerned with aging, my hope was always to develop a film with a wider appeal. We’re all human, we’re all aging and we all need support in making our way through this crazy and sometimes tumultuous world. The characters portrayed in the film are wonderful examples of how to do that with humor and verve.”
The Oregonian newspaper called “A Great Ride” an “understated gem” and “a lovely homage to lesbian herstory.” The film is currently available for viewing on Amazon Prime.
Burgers, BBQ and Being a Man
It’s football season, and millions of Americans are mesmerized by hard-hitting pro and college games. But two researchers say what’s happening outside the stadium is just as fascinating as what’s going on inside. SF State Associate Professor of Kinesiology Maria Veri and Cal State East Bay Professor of Kinesiology Rita Liberti spent five years studying media representations of tailgate parties and traveling to college and pro stadiums all over the U.S. Their goal? Figuring out what makes tailgaters tick. In the process, they’ve completed one of the first comprehensive studies of the phenomenon.
“It’s grown and grown throughout the 21st century. It used to be a modest picnic affair,” Veri says. “But then it became more and more involved, with different kinds of food, small hibachis popping up on the blacktop, then smokers and RVs.”
Despite that shift, tailgating is still a predominantly white heterosexual male enterprise, the researchers say. And even though the super-fans are supposedly at the game to watch, in a way they’re competing themselves.
“Tailgaters are engaged in public performance,” says Veri. “If you’re cooking over a hot flame and things are sizzling, you can put on a show for the folks around you. It’s definitely part of the masculinity. … If you look at food symbolically, meat is often at the center, then veggies and non-meat dishes at the margins — as women are.”
You can read more about Veri and Liberti’s findings in their book “Gridiron Gourmet: Gender and Food at the Football Tailgate,” published by University of Arkansas Press this fall.