Rutgers Dialogue 2018: a year after #MeToo

With the Johannes Rutgers Dialogue 2018 we took a look ahead. One year after the #MeToo discussion, the time has come to take further steps. Brave victims have related their stories in the meantime, lending the hashtag initiative a face. Some perpetrators have felt the consequences of their actions. How might we ensure that this initiative continues, though? How can we ensure that we actually make a substantial change, thereby curbing sexual harassment? Rutgers launched the #BenJeOke (Are you OK?) campaign on Saturday with a view to bringing about a reduction in sexual harassment at nightlife venues in the Netherlands. That is the next step.

What other steps might we take, however? That was the big question posed today. We heard visions and experiences expressed by various sections of society. Two secondary school students who wrote their school research paper on the subject of sex education in schools offered us insight into the state of the education at their schools. Professor Ellen Laan is keen to dispel myths, involve men and teach girls to take control. Behavioural scientist Reint Jan Renes pointed out to us the things that do not work in the field of behavioural change. In criticising the student association Vindicat, Milou Deelen succeeded in really stirring up the slut-shaming debate. Anke Laterveer teaches her children to check if a person still feels comfortable.

Time for change

Everyone was nevertheless convinced that now is the time to make substantial changes. Dutch MPs Kirsten van der Hul and Nevin Özütok insist that political support is indispensable. However, as Rutgers' Executive Director, Ton Coenen, related: funding will have to be made available in that case. This is a complex problem. It is a debate about fundamental forms of interaction between men and women.

Countless parties will have to get involved if we are to truly change the way we treat one another: teachers, employers and employees, sports clubs and the hospitality industry. One cannot change people’s manners within the space of a single year.

It will take quite some time before the whole of the Netherlands realises that #MeToo is neither simply the ravings of ‘box-bike mothers’, nor a witch hunt, but rather an essential debate. It should enable us to make the break from ingrained behavioural patterns, thus rendering society more equal and safer. For everyone.

What can I do now?

Ton Coenen is highly satisfied with the outcome of the afternoon’s proceedings, he explained during the closing discussion with Sofie on the couch. "I am delighted with the announcement by Ciska Scheidel (Director of Public Health at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport) that the funding earmarked for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies is to adopt a broader approach to the prevention of sexual harassment.' He also heard a lot of good ideas that we should be able to apply. ‘We need to focus on girls and boys together, and offer teachers greater support in making sexuality discussable. We are well aware that about half of all schools fail to devote structural attention to the issue. While there is no lack of support and information on offer, it is apparently not always easy to access.’

The idea put forward by two pre-university students that students should be engaged to provide information is a good one. He emphasised that sex education will always be needed. ‘There are always new young people who become sexually active. And there will always be new points of attention.' Sofie concluded: ‘A new standard needs to be set. As is the case with smoking; it's simply no longer acceptable. That also worked as a self-correcting system. It's mainly about the issue: What can I do now,’ Ton added.

Rutgers launched a campaign promoting a simple way to make the subject discussable, basically by asking the question: ‘Are you okay?’ if you suspect something nasty might be going on. This is a low-threshold approach that literally everyone can apply. You can't start laying down the law: you can or can't do this or that; as what is considered acceptable varies from one person to the other. Sofie pointed to the screen behind her. ‘Look, I'm okay'. It depicts a selfie of her with the campaign image and the text ‘I am okay’. ‘This is something anyone can do: upload your photo to and share it on your social media channels.