UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

The “Translation” of the MeToo Movement in Germany – Understanding the Adoption and Adaption of #metoo by German Twitter Users

The “Translation” of the MeToo Movement in Germany – Understanding the Adoption and Adaption of #metoo by German Twitter Users

By Annalena Wolcke

When the hashtag #metoo went viral on Twitter, MeToo quickly became a transnational movement. However, journalists noticed that one country was surprisingly quiet: Germany. Compared to others, Germans were posting significantly fewer tweets containing the #metoo hashtag and almost completely abstained from publicly accusing prominent figures of sexual harassment or assault. Yet, in attempts to explain the relative silence surrounding MeToo in Germany, journalists paid little attention to the role that the hashtag #metoo played in the adoption and adaption of the movement into a German cultural context.

I thus propose an interdisciplinary study of the MeToo movement and its “translation” in Germany as a way to understand the role it did (not) play in Germany. A combination of critical literary and translation theory as well as gender, sociology, and media studies, this paper examines the attempts of adoption and adaption of the MeToo movement in Germany by closely analyzing the use of the #metoo hashtag as a literary tool. It concludes that the untranslated #metoo hashtag constantly reminded the German public of the movement’s American origin, making it more difficult for the German public to adopt the movement as their own, and overshadowing the feminist message of the movement. Indeed, the creation of both the hashtag #ichauch (a more literal translation of #metoo into German) and #metwo (created to talk about discrimination against second- and third-generation immigrants) points to the desire of German Twitter users to turn #metoo into something with which they could identify more easily.


When the MeToo movement gained momentum in the United States after film producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault and harassment in October 2017, the hashtag #metoo quickly went “viral” on Twitter, with women from all continents calling attention to sexual harassment and assault. The MeToo movement can in many ways be considered a transnational movement, as many countries translated the English hashtag into their own languages. In Spain, #metoo became #YoTambien (literal translation of “metoo”), in France it became #BalanceTonPorc (“squeal your pig”), and in Italy it became #QuellaVoltaQue (“that time when”). Headlines like “The #MeToo campaign continues to rock our world” (Powell) appeared in many newspapers around the globe. But while the movement was gaining international attention, journalists were noticing that “one major country remained noticeably quiet: Germany” (Kirschbaum). Similarly, French journalist Sarah Besson Vigo wrote that “other European countries have almost not been impacted by the campaign at all, especially the Balkans and Eastern Europe and, surprisingly, Germany,” in a November 2018 article, more than a year after the hashtag #metoo had gone viral.[1]

Few journalists offered explanations for why Germany was noticeably silent on the issue in comparison to other countries.[2] Journalist Vigo suggested that it might simply not be part of Germany’s culture to publicly denounce prominent figures, writing that “Germans have a cultural tendency to avoid public denunciations that could generate conflict.” But what stands out is that all of the journalists declaring Germany to be “silent” with regard to MeToo use the same way to measure the impact of the movement, which is by counting the number of tweets containing the #metoo hashtag. This method, however, limits the MeToo movement to the platform Twitter, thereby ignoring the digital divide between countries and neglecting the socio-political changes that the movement might have brought about in countries in which not many people tweeted the hashtag. Consequently, the approach of measuring the effects of MeToo in Germany by only taking into account the number of #metoo tweets completely disregards the fact that Germany has a different cultural context than the U.S., where Twitter is more widely used. The influence of Twitter in Germany is simply lower than in the U.S., making it much harder for any movement that relies on the virality of a hashtag to have a tangible impact in Germany.

The MeToo movement has become a platform to demonstrate solidarity, to demand social and political change with regard to how women are treated in a society, and to call out alleged perpetrators. But MeToo is also a literary movement, a framework to tell personal stories and connect them to the broader context of a transnational social movement. The hashtag #metoo has created a canon of tweets, which – taken together – create a shared MeToo narrative. In a way, MeToo has led to a narrativization of Twitter, where, instead of one user writing a story in several consecutive tweets, everyone can contribute to the MeToo story with their tweets and personal experiences. I therefore argue that while there are some aspects of the MeToo movement that can better be understood from a sociological or quantitative perspective, there are some aspects of the movement that can be better understood from a linguistic and literary perspective. Thus, instead of analyzing the mere number of #metoo tweets posted by Germans to assess the reception of the MeToo movement in Germany, I propose to conduct an in-depth analysis of the content in #metoo tweets through the lens of translation theory. I will treat the German MeToo movement as a translation of the American original, in the same way in which one would discuss a German translation of a well-known American novel. Examining the German MeToo movement from this perspective allows us to better understand why the process of adoption and adaption – necessary for a movement to gain momentum in a different culture from which the movement originally stems – might have failed.

There is one fairly recent and often-cited tradition of translation theory that can help elucidate the translation of the MeToo movement in Germany and the struggle of the German public to feel a sense of belonging to the movement.[3]This theory, which focuses on the language used in a translation, was first introduced by German philosopher Rudolf Pannwitz (1881-1969) and further developed by American translation theorist Lawrence Venuti in The Translator’s Invisibility in 1995. What Pannwitz and Venuti value most in a translation is “an aesthetic of discontinuity,” where the translated text becomes a “site where linguistic and cultural differences are somehow signaled, where a reader gets some sense of a cultural other” (Venuti 264).[4] If one were to apply this way of looking at a translation to a German translation of an American novel, one would thus judge the translation by whether it reminds us of linguistic and cultural differences between the original language (English) and the target language (German), by, for example, leaving certain words in the German translation in English, or maintaining a sentence structure that is typical of an English sentence structure and atypical of a German one.

However, Venuti’s standard for a good translation of a text poses a dilemma when applied to the translation of a social movement such as MeToo. What follows from his standard is that a (good) translation is never perceived as one’s own, but rather as coming from a different culture, a different language. Yet, in order for people to participate in a movement, they have to feel that the movement is addressing an issue that is relevant to them. “Behaviors are only likely to be copied if observers identify with the norms and social identities of those observed,” writes political scientist Sean Scalmer (494). In other words, people need to feel that the movement and its cause are relevant to them; instead of merely adopting it, they have to adapt it to their own cultural context.

Through the lens of Pannwitz’ and Venuti’s translation theory, this paper examines the attempts of adoption and adaption of the MeToo movement by closely analyzing the use of the #metoo hashtag and its variations #ichauch (a more literal translation of #metoo into German) and #metwo (created to talk about discrimination against second- and third-generation immigrants). Using this lens, I come to the conclusion that the movement was translated in a way that follows Pannwitz’ and Venuti’s standards of disruption in a translation. This, however, posed a problem. After all, Germans would not suddenly claim that an American novelist was a German author, just because their work was translated into German. Similarly, if the MeToo movement was translated in a way that is continually reminding the German public of the movement’s American origin – resulting in exactly the kind of discontinuity that Venuti favors in a translation of a text – then it becomes impossible for Germans to feel that the movement is relevant for them, instead perceiving it as an American other. The untranslated #metoo hashtag constantly reminded the German public of the movement’s American origin, making it more difficult for Germans to adopt and adapt the movement. Indeed, the creation of both the hashtag #ichauch and #metwo point to the desire of German Twitter users to adapt MeToo.


The Debate About the MeToo Movement in Germany – A Short Introduction

It is strikingly difficult to examine the MeToo movement in Germany without comparing it to the American original.[5] In fact, German’s first MeToo case had notable similarities with the Harvey Weinstein case that inspired the #metoo hashtag and the resulting transnational movement. This first case revolved around Dieter Wedel, who was accused of several cases of sexual assault in a January 2018 Zeit article. Curiously enough, Wedel – like Weinstein – is a prominent German film producer. Like Weinstein, he allegedly harassed and assaulted women over decades, and was finally exposed under the MeToo movement.[6] After the allegations first became public, German social media users started calling for a transparent discussion of MeToo issues such as sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Many journalists pointed to the similarity between the two cases, writing that “wer sich die Vorwürfe gegen den Starregisseur Dieter Wedel im Detail ansieht, kommt nicht umhin, von einem deutschen Fall Weinstein zu sprechen” (somebody who looks at the allegations against star director Dieter Wedel in detail is bound to speak of it as a German Weinstein case) (Langer). Yet, this comparison posed a problem for the German MeToo movement. Because the two cases were so similar, many came to expect that the movement would manifest itself in Germany in similar ways as it had in the U.S. This, however, was not the case.

One of the effects of the first MeToo case in the United States was an increase in media attention to MeToo issues and an increase in public allegations against prominent figures. While U.S newspapers were and continue to be filled with accusations against high-ranking politicians, musicians, actors, comedians, and fashion photographers, “Germany stayed silent” (Luyken) and continues to be silent. The majority of journalists covering MeToo in Germany agree that it is striking that there were no other prominent figures that were publicly accused besides Wedel (Seelig). And it is still unclear whether and what kind of impact the movement had in Germany. “Ein Jahr nach Beginn der MeToo-Debatte gibt es … noch keine konkreten Zahlen, an denen sich eine Wirkung messen ließe” (one year after the start of the MeToo debate there are no concrete numbers yet with which one could measure an effect), writes journalist Frida Thurm about the number of sexual assaults in Germany after #metoo first reached Germany. Although this article was published almost a year ago, it is still true that there is simply no data yet to show a clear effect of the MeToo movement in Germany. For the moment, these modest – or as of yet unprovable – effects of the MeToo movement seem to corroborate the claim that the MeToo movement barely had an impact in Germany.

But while journalists from outside of Germany perceived the country to be silent when the movement gained transnational momentum, Germans themselves saw the movement as rather successful. In an email, Monika Schröttle, a social scientist who studies the MeToo movement in Germany, writes that the movement “[kam] durchaus gut an in Deutschland” (was received quite well in Germany). Many German Twitter users showed solidarity with the movement, posting tweets containing the hashtag #metoo, such as “wird jetzt endlich auch in Deutschland die überfällige Debatte um sexistische Strukturen in der Filmwelt geführt?” (will the over-due debate about sexist structures in the film world finally take place in Germany?) (@tvspielfilm). Others used the hashtag to make sense of their personal experiences with sexual assault, as for example this German Twitter user: “Ich wehre mich. Fast immer. Und werde dafür nicht selten lächerlich gemacht” (I defend myself. Almost always. And am often ridiculed for it) (@dieingrid). The poetics of this tweet is quite worthy of analysis: its message sways between empowerment and powerlessness. While the first sentence is an agential assertion, the next two are modifications to that first statement, presented in two incomplete sentences. In the last sentence, the empowered agent of the first sentence becomes the powerless object, who is, moreover, ridiculed for her attempts to empower herself. In a sense, this tweet is exemplary of the MeToo movement: women unite and empower each other by sharing their individual experiences of moments of powerlessness. Tweets like these refute the claims that Germany was completely silent when the #metoo hashtag went viral in many other countries.

Outsiders (international journalists) and insiders (German scholars and Twitter users) seem to disagree quite strongly on the impact the MeToo movement had in Germany. What stands out is the international journalists’ claim that Germany stayed silent. This declaration of Germany’s silence can easily be refuted by the German tweets using the #metoo hashtag, suggesting that there was at least not a complete silence surrounding the movement. Thus, it seems that what these journalists actually mean is not silence, but a relative absence of tweets surrounding the MeToo movement in Germany. To better understand this relative absence, we will therefore now turn to an analysis of the German #metoo tweets that did break the silence. Applying Pannwitz’ and Venuti’s translation theory to MeToo and treating it as a translation helps elucidate the rather modest (but certainly not entirely lacking) reception of the MeToo movement in Germany.


Understanding the German MeToo Movement as a Translation of the American Original

Treating the German MeToo movement as a kind of translation might seem daunting. MeToo does not have an archive of texts and sources that one could simply visit – it is constituted of projections and ideas that do not have clear borders, which makes a close-reading of the movement or any social movement an extremely complicated exercise. Moreover, one usually thinks of translation as something that is done with texts or speeches, not as something that can be done with a social movement. Here, it is helpful to go back to the very roots of translation. The word ‘translation’ stems from the Latin word “translatio,” which means “to bring or carry across” (“The History of Translation”). In the original meaning of translation there is no limit as to what can be carried across (i.e. translated into) different cultures – it could be texts, but it could just as easily be a social movement.[7] Yet besides one scholarly article from 2000, there is no literature that focuses on the translation of a social movement from one culture to another.[8]

On a very basic level, “translation is a procedure in which an original text, often called ‘the source text’, is replaced by another text in a different language, often called ‘the target text’” (House 9). In our case, the MeToo movement in the U.S. is the source text, the MeToo movement in Germany is the target text, and the German people – more specifically, social media users, journalists, and politicians – are the translators. According to German philosopher Pannwitz, “the basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue” (Rudolf Pannwitz qtd. in Benjamin 262). What is important for Pannwitz is that the language of the translated text is allowed to be affected by the language of the source text, thereby making visible the difference between the source language and the target language in the translated text. In his version of a “good” translation, the translation and the original are in a kind of conversation with each other. Venuti agrees with Pannwitz’s approach to assessing the quality of a translation when he writes, “A translated text should be the site where linguistic and cultural differences are somehow signaled, where a reader gets some sense of a cultural other … a translation strategy based on an aesthetic of discontinuity …” (Venuti 264). Venuti wants disruption in a translation – he wants readers to be aware that they are reading a translation. He specifies how exactly such disruptions can be achieved by explaining that “discontinuities at the level of syntax, diction, or discourse allow the translation to be read as a translation” (Venuti 1993, 217). For a translation of a social movement, disruption could mean that the ideas of the movement are transferred to a German cultural context, while parts of the key words or claims remain in the original language or while parts of the movement are acknowledged not to be applicable in a different cultural context. Specifically, in the case of the MeToo movement, the hashtag #metoo played an essential role for the virality of the movement. Its (non-)translation was critical to how the movement was received by the German public.


Hashtags, Hashtag Activism, and #metoo

In order to understand the centrality of the hashtag #metoo in the MeToo movement and how its (non-)translation affected the movement in Germany, it is necessary to understand how exactly a hashtag can be used to advance a social cause. In general, a hashtag is used to “create shared meaning” (Xiong et al., 10) and serves as an “indexing system on social media” (12). A hashtag thus has two practical benefits: on the one hand, it is easy for tweeters to bring their tweet into a broader conversation by using a hashtag, thereby creating a connection between theirs and other tweets that express similar content or ideas (Tsur and Rappoport, 643). This is what I call content equivalence between tweets connected by the same hashtag. On the other hand, it is easier for other Twitter users to find tweets that fall under a category that interests them. For example, if someone wants to draw attention to their tweet, using the hashtag #selfie will ensure that their tweet will be seen by someone who is searching for tweets that contain selfies. Because a hashtag functions as an indexing system, it becomes an indicator of equivalence; it creates the expectation that all tweets containing the same hashtag will revolve around similar content and that these tweets can be compared, which makes them useful for online activism.

Hashtags in the Context of Social Movements and Activism

In recent years, hashtag activism – “the act of fighting for or supporting a cause that people are advocating through social media” (“Hashtag Activism”) – has become more prevalent. [9] Social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter (used to call attention to violence against African-Americans), #BringBackOurGirls (used to convince kidnappers of Nigerian high school students to return the victims), and #Aufschrei (“#outcry,” used in Germany to call attention to sexual harassment in 2013), are all examples of hashtag activism. Hashtags can serve “as a tool to empower publics” (Xiong et al. 20) and can be used to initiate action (13). In fact, “some studies have shown that hashtags function as a vehicle to create awareness and discussion, spread ideas, better affiliate individuals with a community, and integrate resources from the Internet” (11). They are appealing for social activists because they can be used to demonstrate “allyship” (Bailey cited by Nicodemo), which occurs when a tweet goes viral. Hashtags, like tweets, are meant to “go viral.” What this means is that they are meant to be adopted by different people in different cultural contexts in order to reach as many people as possible.

But translating a social movement that began on Twitter does not necessarily mean translating the hashtag that has come to be associated with the movement into a different language. Rather, it means translating the ideas and connotations of the hashtag so that people in a different cultural context are able to feel a sense of connection to the hashtag and the social cause for which it stands. Thus, one can still speak of the MeToo movement in Germany as a translation, even if the hashtag itself was not translated. In fact, most people in Germany who posted tweets concerning MeToo used the English hashtag #metoo instead of a German translation. However, what is important to consider is that the same hashtag had an added meaning in Germany that it did not have in the U.S., as is discussed below.

The Meaning of the #metoo Hashtag

According to hashtag activism expert Ying Xiong, the MeToo movement is a clear example of hashtag activism as “a form of participatory culture [that] enables individual users to form groups around particular topics and events” (Xiong et al., 12). The #metoo hashtag has undergone quite a journey – it started as one hashtag in one tweet before it developed into one hashtag used in many tweets, until all of these individual tweets containing the hashtag created the narrative that we now call MeToo. On the one hand, there is a very clear and specific implicature in the hashtag – expressing that someone, too, has been sexually assaulted or harassed – that suggests an implicit functional equivalence between tweets using the same hashtag. On the other hand, the hashtag is not only used to share personal stories about experiences of sexual harassment or assault anymore, but also to demonstrate one’s solidarity with the movement and to talk about the movement itself; there is no one usage or implication of the hashtag.

While the hashtag provides an interpretive frame for a tweet, it can be a misguided frame, potentially causing tweets of very different functions to be lumped together, thus creating a false sense of equivalence. Because a tweet criticizing the movement and a tweet sharing one’s personal experiences with sexual assault can both appear under the category #metoo on Twitter, one can hardly argue that the hashtag creates functional equivalence between different #metoo tweets. In fact, even two tweets sharing personal MeToo experiences will hardly ever be equivalent, even though the lack of nuance in the condensed message of a tweet might suggest otherwise. “Es geht darum zu zeigen, dass es keine ‘typischen Opfer’ gibt” (it is about showing that there are no ‘typical victims’), writes one German journalist about the purpose of MeToo (Mahlknecht). At first, this appears to be a paradoxical statement – the very nature of a hashtag implies content equivalence between tweets containing the same hashtag, and yet this German journalist writes that MeToo is about highlighting the singularity of someone’s personal experience. But maybe the hashtag itself can reconcile this paradox. While #metoo serves to connect tweets under a common denominator, it also invites survivors to tell their singular stories; each of these stories is unique, and at the same time contributes to a MeToo narrative that is bigger than one singular story.[10]

The Meaning of #metoo in Germany

In Germany, too, tweeters posted the hashtag to share personal experiences, demonstrate solidarity, and criticize the movement. However, in a German context, the hashtag gained an additional meaning that it did not possess in the U.S. – that of being an “American” hashtag. In its untranslated form, #metoo became representative of the English language and of American values. Not only does the non-translation of the hashtag mean that it is inaccessible to some in the German population (especially to older generations and to Germans living in the East),[11] but it also bears the danger of someone misunderstanding the hashtag. One German Twitter user asked: “#MeToo? wollen die auch alle mal?” (#MeToo? Do they all want it, too?) (@SiggiWeise), which indicates that the original connotations of #metoo might have gotten lost when transferred to a German cultural context. Furthermore, a plethora of psychological studies has shown that people feel an emotional distance when they hear, read, or say something in a second language in comparison to the emotions they feel when hearing, reading, or saying something in their mother tongue (Reiter). This suggests that Germans reading or using the English hashtag #metoo feel emotionally distant from it in a way they would not feel if the hashtag was translated, especially because the hashtag, pertaining to a first-person pronoun, is attached to highly intimate experiences.

The non-translation of the hashtag becomes even more problematic when considering that, in recent years, “Germans have been showing an increasing reticence toward trends coming from the United States” (Gienow-Hecht qtd. in Kirschbaum). According to German history professor Jessica Gienow-Hecht, the reason why Germans were not able to feel some sense of connection to the MeToo movement is due to the fact that “There’s a greater skepticism toward things coming from the United States these days… It’s like, ‘Is this just another American thing coming over?’” (ibid.). It seems that it might actually have been beneficial if something – in this case the “American connotation” – had gotten lost in translation. The attached cultural baggage of “American-ness” obscured the relevance of the movement and its cause,which influenced negatively how the movement was perceived by the German public, resulting in a feeling of alienation from MeToo.

This sense of alienation can be illuminated by returning to translation theorist Venuti. The non-translation of the English hashtag is an example of a disruption in a translation. While the ideas of the movement were translated, that is, transferred to Germany, a key feature of the movement – the #metoo hashtag – remained in its original form, reminding Germans of “some sense of a cultural other” (Venuti 264). This “good” translation of the American original actually hurt the movement in Germany because it left the German public feeling alienated from its cause: “Was nützt ein Hashtag aus Hollywood den Frauen in Stuttgart oder Erfurt?” (what good is a hashtag from Hollywood for the women in Stuttgart or Erfurt [German cities]?) asks a German Zeit journalist (Thurm). The personification of the hashtag and the alliteration in Thurm’s question create a tone that is comical at best, and most probably conveys a sense of cynicism and skepticism toward the usefulness of the hashtag in Germany. It is precisely this sense of alienation from the American movement that resulted in German Twitter users attempting to adapt the hashtag in order to feel some sense of connection to the movement.


Adapting a Hashtag – How #MeToo Became #IchAuch and Then #MeTwo


Soon after the hashtag #metoo went viral, German tweeters started using a literal translation of #metoo – #ichauch – to share their own experiences with or opinions about sexual harassment, assault, or gender discrimination, much with the same purpose as the English hashtag.[12] For example, a tweet containing #ichauch from October 2017 reads “Männer, die Frauen unerwünscht berühren, sind keine Männer” (men who touch women unwantedly are not men) (@iHans2M). What is interesting about this tweet is that it is a tweet by a man, positioning himself as a spokesperson of MeToo, demonstrating ally-ship without contributing to the MeToo narrative. In a way, one could argue that the tweeter acts, or tries to act, as a kind of translator between the female voices of the movement and an imagined community of male addressees, threatening men with the loss of their masculinity when committing acts that have for a long time been accepted or condoned as being part of a “masculine narrative.” Using the translated hashtag instead of the English one has several advantages: not only is the #ichauch hashtag accessible to more Germans and less prone to misinterpretation, it also loses the negative American connotation of the #metoo hashtag, allowing the German public to have a greater sense of connection to the movement. Whereas the English hashtag alienates some Germans from MeToo, the translated hashtag is both able to unite Germans under a common cause and to demonstrate that MeToo is indeed a topic that is relevant in Germany (instead of only in the U.S.). In fact, some Germans were very optimistic about the impending success of #ichauch, suggesting that “das kann so gross werden wie meetoo. #ichauch” (sic.) (this can become as big as metoo. #ichauch) (@PeterHuth).

However, the sentiment that this tweeter expresses can become problematic: it is one thing to use a German hashtag as a way to adapt an English hashtag, but it is another to clearly distance the German movement from the American origin. By suggesting that #ichauch could become as big as #metoo, Huth creates a sense of competition between the two movements, setting #ichauch apart from #metoo instead of embedding the German hashtag in the broader context of the global movement. This sentiment is exemplified in another tweet that reads, “Finde es irgendwie unangebracht mit “metoo” zu antworten, obgleich es die richtige Antwort auf die Frage ist. Daher #ichauch” (finding it somehow inappropriate to answer with “metoo,” though it is the right answer to the question. Therefore #ichauch) (@cwobermayer). While it is unclear to which question this Twitter user is referring and why exactly he thinks that using the hashtag #ichauch is more appropriate than #metoo, we see a discernible reluctance to use the English hashtag. The word choice “unangebracht” (inappropriate) stands out. It seems as if @cwobermayer has almost a kind of moral objection to using #metoo. These are examples of a considerable number of German tweets in which #ichauch fails to demonstrate ally-ship with the global MeToo movement. Instead of better affiliating “individuals with a community” (Xiong et al., 11), #ichauch is used to better differentiate between communities.

There is, of course, an easy fix for this dilemma: using both the English and the German hashtag together in a tweet. And indeed, many German Twitter users did use both hashtags, as for example in this tweet: “Sonntag, Oktoberfest: Ein Typ schreit seine Freundin an: ‘I’m not fucking violent!’ Dude, warum glaubt sie dir bloß nicht? #metoo #ichauch” (Sunday, Oktoberfest: A guy yells at his girlfriend: “…!” Dude, why is it that she doesn’t believe you?) (@gesellman). This is an exemplary MeToo tweet, offering both narration and commentary in a single post. But what is apparent in this tweet is that, once again, a sense of the American other prevails. Above all the American slang word “dude” produces a similar sense of disconnect from the movement and its cause as using the English hashtag #metoo does. Moreover, the use of the English citation in the tweet indicates that the “dude” @gesellman is addressing is an American tourist, which reinforces the sentiment that sexual harassment and assault is an American (or at least a foreign) problem, thereby creating distance between Germans and MeToo.

There are other drawbacks to using the German hashtag. On a purely phonetic level, #metoo has an advantage over #ichauch. While both hashtags have the same number of syllables – and short hashtags are more successful on Twitter than longer hashtags (Caleffi 48) – the hashtag #metoo, when spoken, is more empowering than the hashtag #ichauch. While it is easy to put emphasis on the ‘t’ in #metoo and while the mouth is relatively open by the end, the ‘au’ in #ichauch forces speakers to almost close their mouth. The repetition of the sound “ch” is somewhat off-putting, as it does not often occur in natural speech. Furthermore, the hashtag ends with the very soft, hardly audible ‘ch,’ which makes the hashtag, when said out loud, clearly less empowering than its English equivalent.

Another weakness of #ichauch is that it did not take the same place as #metoo in the public debate. It is close to impossible to find a tweet with the hashtag #metoo that has nothing to do with the movement. One German Twitter user, for example, posted a tweet, saying “#Metoo, ach nee, ist besetzt: #ichauch” (#Metoo, ah no, it’s taken: #ichauch) (@exandthecity). While Twitter users are clearly aware of the connotations of #metoo, #ichauch does not have the same distinct status among German tweeters. #ichauch is used to talk about a wide range of issues that are not necessarily related to #metoo, such as debates about changing daylight savings (@HH-Rick) or struggling to find one’s reserved seat in a train (@Frauenchemie). Last fall, it was a trending hashtag in a debate about veganism, often paired with the hashtag #govegan. While the English #metoo gained transnational acknowledgement, the German #ichauch failed to even be acknowledged by all German Twitter users as a hashtag standing for one clear social cause. Indeed, while translations of the #metoo hashtag in other languages are cited in international media, the German translation of the hashtag is hardly mentioned. There seems to be an insoluble dilemma in the usage of the #metoo hashtag: in its untranslated form, it has an American connotation which is considered negative by many, and in its translated form, it fails to attain a similar distinctiveness and status in comparison to its English counterpart. The creation of the #metwo hashtag can thus be seen as a direct response to this dilemma; contrary to #metoo and #ichauch, #metwo neither had an American connotation nor was it used for different purposes on Twitter, instead becoming a distinct marker for a distinct social cause.


#metwo went viral in July 2018 and marked the beginning of a new social (Twitter) movement in Germany. The hashtag was created by “Ali Can, a 24-year-old journalist of Turkish descent, following the furor over Turkish-German soccer star Mesut Ozil’s resignation from the German national team” (Grieshaber).[13] The hashtag “has become a rallying point for scores of second- and third-generation immigrants in Germany, who have taken to Twitter to share their accounts of everyday racism and how they still struggle to be accepted as Germans” (ibid.), as for example in this tweet:

2009 war Ich student in München. kurz vor meiner Diplomprüfung, suchte ich eine Wohnung. Es war dringend. Ein antwortete auf meine Mail und schrieb:du nix kriegen Wohnung. (sic.) (In 2009 I was a student in Munich. Shortly before my diploma examination I was looking for an apartment. It was urgent. Someone responded to my email and wrote: you no getting apartment.) (@Sindibadofbasra qtd. in “#MeTwo –Migranten erzählen”)

In a video on Twitter, Can explains the motivation behind the #metwo hashtag: “Warum zwei? Weil ich mehr bin als nur eine Identität … die zwei Seiten verschmelzen, sie stehen nicht in einem Widerspruch” (Why two? Because I am more than just one identity … the two sides [of me] merge, they don’t contradict each other) (Can qtd. in @PDmedien). Within days after Can first tweeted the hashtag, thousands of Germans had used #metwo on Twitter to share their personal stories of racism and discrimination and to demonstrate solidarity.

#metwo is an obvious adaption of the hashtag #metoo, and, at the moment, is in the process of creating its own rightful canon, just as #metoo created a canon over time. But instead of an adaption and translation of the ideas and causes behind #metoo, the hashtag #metwo is an adaption on the phonetic level, of the sound of #metoo. Even though it bears no connection to the origins of MeToo, it appears as a kind of sequel to MeToo: as if #metwo was part two of #metoo. In a way, the concept of #metwo can be seen as another model of translation, a model of two-ness without hierarchy, where two identities are allowed to remain side-by-side instead of being forced into an either-or paradigm. What is even more striking is that the hashtag, although created in Germany, is in English and was hardly ever translated into German.[14] While this might be puzzling at first, as using an English hashtag makes the movement less accessible to some parts of the population in Germany, using a non-German hashtag in this case has several advantages. Since the hashtag was not created in the U.S., #metwo does not have the same connotation of being an American other as does #metoo. Furthermore, I would argue that the primary purpose of MeToo is to draw attention to how women are treated in a society, and turning this into a transnational movement is secondary to that first purpose. With #MeTwo, however, the transnational aspect is at the very core of the movement – it is used precisely to call attention to the variety of cultural identities of a second- or third-generation immigrant in Germany. Not using a German hashtag therefore aligns with the cause of the movement, which aims to highlight multiculturalism.

On the other hand, using hashtag activism to draw attention to this issue seems almost counter-productive: while the purpose of the movement is to call attention to diversity, the inherent brevity of a tweet creates possibly misguided equivalence between tweets using the hashtag. Moreover, there are drawbacks to using a hashtag that echoes the widely known #metoo. Often, #MeTwo is described in relation to MeToo in the media and not as a completely independent movement when it is, for example, characterized as the hashtag “which echoes the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment” (Grieshaber). On Twitter, the two hashtags are often used in the same tweet as a way to call attention to a general sense of injustice and marginalization of minorities, as for example in this tweet: “Zusammengenommen sind #MeToo #MeTwo #MeQueer und andere Marginalisierte sogar die Mehrheit” (Taken together, #MeToo, #MeTwo #, #MeQueer and other marginalized groups are actually the majority) (@Hartmut Schrewe). Because the two hashtags sound exactly the same when said out loud, there is danger that one movement might overshadow the other, as it is not clear about which movement Germans are talking without knowing more context. A few months after the hashtag #metoo had gone viral on Twitter, the #MeTwo movement was receiving at least as much attention on German (social) media as MeToo. The popularity of #MeTwo might have been another reason why the MeToo movement in Germany had a rather modest impact – #MeTwo might have competed for and deflected attention from MeToo.[15]



In this paper, I have discussed multiple approaches to adapting the MeToo movement to a German cultural context[16]using translated and untranslated hashtags. I have explained why the use of the hashtag #metoo led to the German public feeling alienated from the movement and why German Twitter users consequently attempted to establish a sense of connection to the movement with the hashtags #ichauch and #metwo. The analysis of how the choice to translate or not to translate the hashtag affects the success of the MeToo movement in Germany leads to another important question: what does it mean for a movement to “happen”? Is the story of MeToo in Germany a story of a movement that did not “happen,” overshadowed by the success of another movement? From an American viewpoint, MeToo hardly left any traces in Germany, suggesting that the movement did, in fact, not “happen.” But, there are many different factors that one would need to consider in order to understand the context into which MeToo entered in Germany. For one, MeToo did spark a debate about gender in the German language, which is considered sexist because of an underrepresentation of female nouns, above all with regard to job descriptions.[17] Moreover, the #Aufschrei (#outcry) movement in 2013 and the resulting changes in legislation might have reduced the momentum of any like-minded movement in the following years. In other words, the changes that #Aufschrei brought about might have reduced a sense of urgency among the German public to make new changes in legislation or to even debate once again issues that are at the core of MeToo.

Secondly, it is important to recognize that there is still little research on the effectiveness of hashtag activism.[18]Experts disagree on the extent to which tweets actually represent what society at large is thinking and how Twitter affects behavior offline. Some argue that “online interactions can initiate offline sociopolitical change” (Clark 801) and that hashtag feminism can “empower its users to take control of the sociocultural narratives associated with their identities and subjective experiences” (798). Others argue instead that “Twitterdiskurse repräsentieren nicht, was die Allgemeinheit bewegt” (discourses on Twitter do not represent what moves the general public) (Werthmann) and that Twitter activism might change “die öffentliche Debattenkultur, aber nicht, wie sich Menschen verhalten” (the public debate-culture, but not how people act) (König cited by Galli).

While merely looking at the number of #metoo tweets by German Twitter users is clearly not an effective way to assess the impact of MeToo in Germany, perhaps analyzing the tweets for their content is only one of many pieces necessary to understand how the movement was received. Maybe MeToo will never affect other prominent German figures after Wedel, but it might well have influence on legislation, work policies, or report rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in the future. The establishment of the help center Themis, “Vertrauensstelle gegen sexualle Belästigung” (trust center against sexual harassment) in Berlin, for example, was founded as a direct consequence of MeToo and has been receiving substantial financial support from the government since October 2018 (Themis-Vertrauensstelle).

On the other hand, there have been no changes in legislation so far that were influenced by MeToo. While there was a reform in legislation for sexual crimes in June 2016 called “Nein heißt Nein” (No means No) that made sexual harassment punishable with a prison sentence of up to two years or with a fine (“Sexuelle Belästigung – die Rechtslage”),[19] some have been voicing their concern that Germany could be doing more. They are proponents of the adoption of Sweden’s “Yes means Yes” legislation, in which every sexual act where no explicit consent in words or actions was given is illegal and punishable (Becker). This legislation has not been discussed by the German parliament.

So far, it is also not clear whether the MeToo movement changed public opinion on issues such as sexual harassment, assault, or domestic violence in Germany. While one poll found that the majority of Germans think a discussion about MeToo is important (Tholl), another poll found that the opposite is true (“Sexuelle Belästigung – die Rechtslage”). And in general, German scholars appear to be more pessimistic than optimistic about the effects of MeToo. In contrast to her optimistic view quoted above, social scientist Monika Schröttle also criticizes that the underlying message of MeToo has not yet reached Germany as “sexuelle Übergriffe auch jetzt noch oft als ein persönliches Problem dargestellt werden, als gehe es nur um einzelne Männer, die sich falsch verhalten” (sexual assaults are even now still portrayed as a personal problem, as if it was only about individual men who misbehave) (cited by Thurm). Additionally, a study by Spiegel found that, out of 5000 interviewees, about half said that the MeToo debate did not produce any concrete improvements (Klovert et al.) with regard to sexual harassment at work or in the interviewees’ social environment.[20]

For now, the impact of the MeToo movement in Germany is ambiguous – at best. But it is quite simply too early to conclusively determine any tangible, long-term success of the movement. And even if there are no tangible effects that the MeToo movement brings about in Germany, the very fact that it inspired the #MeTwo movement – a movement whose cause was and is similarly pressing as the issues to which MeToo is calling attention – is proof of the movement’s power to bend Twitter’s platform towards narrative, and to inspire and fuel much needed public debates. ■


Works Cited

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Aalai, Azadeh. “What Is the Real Impact of Hashtag Activism?” Psychologytoday.com. Sussex Publishers, 26 Apr. 2018. Web. 27 Apr. 2019.

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Kirschbaum, Erik. “Germany had seemed immune to the #MeToo movement. Then a prominent director was accused.” Latimes.com. Los Angeles Times, 31 Jan. 2018. Web. 7 Apr. 2019.

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@aggroEnte. “Als weißer alter Mann darf ich nicht mitreden wenn es um Rassismus, Diskrimierung und Frauenfeindlichkeit geht. #metwo ( was issn das für‘n bescheuerter Hashtag?) #ichZwei.” 18 July 2018, 1:52 am. Tweet.

@cwobermayer (Christian W. Obermayer). “Finde es irgendwie unangebracht mit “metoo” zu antworten, obgleich es die richtige Antwort auf die Frage ist. Daher #ichauch.” 22 Apr. 2018, 3:36 pm. Tweet.

@dieingrid (Ingrid Felipe). “Ich wehre mich. Fast immer. Und werde dafür nicht selten lächerlich gemacht. Auch das hindert am #aufschrei. #metoo @ORFImZentrum.” 5 Nov. 2017, 2:11 pm. Tweet.

@exandthecity (Nicki Jacobse). “#Metoo, ach nee, ist besetzt: #ichauch.” 15 Mar. 2018, 9:49 am. Tweet.

@Frauenchemie. “Deutsche suchen IMMER so panisch nach ihrem so wichtigen reservierten Platz. Ist der Zug auch noch so leer, sie sitzen garantiert auf ihrem reservierten Platz. #ichauch“ 22 June 2018, 1:29 am. Tweet.

@gesellman (Christian Gesellman). “Sonntag, Oktoberfest: Ein Typ schreit seine Freundin an: „I’m not fucking violent!“ Dude, warum glaubt sie dir bloß nicht? #metoo #ichauch.” 9 Oct. 2018, 5:39 am. Tweet.

@HartmutSchrewe (Hartmut Schrewe). “Zusammengenommen sind #MeToo #MeTwo #MeQueer und andere Marginalisierte sogar die Mehrheit.” 9 Apr. 2019, 10:33 pm. Tweet.

@HH_Rick. “Wie aus “informierten Kreisen” verlautete: 80% der Teilnehmer an der #EU- Umfrage haben sich _gegen_ die #Zeitumstellung ausgesprochen – und wollen mehrheitlich die #Sommerzeit *ganzjährig* behalten. #IchAuch.” 29 Aug. 2018, 3:33 pm. Tweet.

@iHans2M. “Männer, die Frauen unerwünscht berühren, sind keine Männer.” 19 Oct. 2017, 2:02 pm. Tweet.

@PDmedien (Perspective Daily). “Ali Can kämpft als Gründer der »Hotline für besorgte Bürger« gegen Vorurteile und Alltagsrassismus. Nun steht er hinter einem neuen Hashtag gegen die Diskriminierung von Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund: #MeTwo.” Video. 24 July 2018, 1:11 pm. Tweet.

@PeterHuth (Peter Huth). “Das kann so gross werden wie meetoo. #ichauch.” 29 May 2018, 7:57 am. Tweet.

@SiggiWeise (Siegfried Weise). “#MeToo? wollen die auch alle mal? #IchAuch? Einfach nur dumm. Warum haben die das nicht gleich angezeigt?” 19 Oct. 2017, 10:49 am. Tweet.

@Sindibadofbasra. “2009 war Ich student in München. kurz vor meiner Diplomprüfung, suchte ich eine Wohnung. Es war dringend. Ein antwortete auf meine Mail und schrieb:du nix kriegen Wohnung.#MeTwo.” 27 July 2018, 1:49 am. Tweet.

@tvspielfilm (TV Spielfilm). “Wird jetzt endlich auch in Deutschland die überfällige Debatte um sexistische Strukturen in der Filmwelt geführt? #Wedel #MeToo #IchAuch.” 25 Jan. 2018, 8:51 am. Tweet.


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[1] It should be noted that many countries in Africa, Asia, and South-America did not participate in the MeToo movement, if we measure the movement by tweets containing #metoo that were posted in each country. This would suggest that the MeToo movement was a Western movement rather than a transnational one. For the sake of my paper, however, I will not make a distinction between the movement as a Western vs. a transnational one, as this distinction would require me to find a way to measure the effect of the movement in each country’s specific cultural context, which would exceed the length of this paper.

[2] According to the organization Frauenotruf (Women Emergency Call) study, 1 in 7 German women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. In the U.S., 1 in 5 women will be victims of rape during their lifetime (National Sexual Violence Resource Center).

[3] “The German public” is, of course, a broad generalization. In this paper, the term refers to that part of the German population that publicly participated in debates about #MeToo on social media and above all Twitter.

[4] This concept is also known as a “foreignizing translation” (Venuti, “Translation of Cultural Politics: Regimes and Domestication of English”).

[5] The lines between what is an original and what is a translation when it comes to a social movement and especially to tweets and hashtags is, of course, blurry. For the sake of simplicity in this paper, I refer to the movement in the U.S. as the “original” and the movement in Germany as the translation.

[6] Two years since the article was published, there has not been a trial yet. Most of the acts of sexual assault and rape of which he is accused are statute-barred, and he has not officially been charged with any crime (yet).

[7] In fact, the article “Cultural translation: An introduction to the problem, and Responses” by Boris Buden et al. argues that people, too, can be translated across borders and cultures.

[8] The one article that does analyze the translation of a social movement across cultures is “Translating Contention: Culture, History, and the Circulation of Collective Action” by political scientist Sean Scalmer. In his article he laments that scholars have neglected the examination of “the transnational flow of collective action” (510). This does not appear to have changed in the last 19 years.

[9] The term “hashtag activism” is nowadays often used in a derogatory manner and dismissed as “mere” hashtag activism which stands in contrast to “real activism” that inspires action offline instead of “only” calling attention to a problem online. Scholars cannot agree on “the extent to which it [hashtag activism] can serve to facilitate social activism and ultimately lead to political change” (Aalai). In this paper, I use the term in a neutral manner, without making a claim about its successfulness or its effectiveness when compared to offline activism.

[10] Yet, the extent to which this statement by Mahlknecht is meant to be empowering is unclear. On the one hand, it attributes power to the movement and its ability to call attention to sexual harassment and assault. On the other hand, Mahlknecht’s use of the term “Opfer” (victim), in contrast to using a more empowering term such as survivor or simply woman, implies passivity.

[11] A 2014 study showed that almost 40 percent of Germans between the ages 60-69 and almost 60 percent of Germans with the age of 70 or older have no proficiency in English (“Englischkenntnisse der Deutschen”). And a 2015 study found that Germans living in those eastern states that used to belong to the DDR (German Democratic Republic) when Germany was divided have lower rates of English proficiency than Germans in the western states (“Better, aber nicht hervorragend”).

[12] The term “literal” translation is not quite correct. The literal translation of metoo is “mich” or “mir auch,” which does not make much sense in German. “Ich auch” is not the literal translation of “metoo,” but it is the best translation when taking into account German grammar and syntax. Personally, I think “ich auch” reflects the spirit of MeToo better, as it makes the “ich” the subject of the hashtag rather than the object, thus making the statement that the movement is aiming to re-claim agency for those who have experienced discrimination or violence.

[13] For context: “Ozil, the son of Turkish immigrants, quit earlier this month after fierce criticism of his decision to pose for a picture with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In reaction, Ozil attacked the German soccer federation, its president, fans and the media, criticizing what he said was racism and double standards in the treatment of people with Turkish roots. ‘I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,’ he said” (Grieshaber).

[14] A more nuanced perspective is that #metwo was actually translated into German a few times, but the majority of tweets containing the hashtag #ichzwei express irony or cynicism, such as “Als weißer alter Mann darf ich nicht mitreden wenn es um Rassismus, Diskrimierung und Frauenfeindlichkeit geht. #metwo (was issn das für‘n bescheuerter Hashtag?) #ichZwei.” (As a white old man, I’m not allowed to have a say when it comes to racism, discrimination, and misogyny. #metwo (what kind of a stupid hashtag is that?) #ichZwei) (@aggroEnte)

[15] However, to be substantiated, this assumption requires examination through a quantitative data analysis of the use of the two hashtags, which does not yet exist.

[16] In fact, the very idea of what a cultural context is nowadays, is becoming more and more vague. Globalization has challenged the notion of what it means to have a national cultural context that is clearly distinct from others. Nowadays, a national cultural context is less rigid, fairly permeable, and prone to change. This permeability, however, is not distributed evenly, and depends on access to technology in ways that are bound to class and socio-economic status.

[17] In English, for example, the word “doctor” could refer to both a man and a woman. The German equivalent, “Arzt,” on the other hand, refers to a male doctor only. It is, however, used much more commonly than “Ärztin,” which would describe a female doctor, or versions of the two blended together, such as Arzt*in or Arzt_in.

[18] Even though Zeynep Tufekci’s book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest is a good place to start.

[19] The event that sparked public debates about a reform and that ultimately led to the renewed legislation occurred before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein became public: during the 2016 “Kölner Silvesternacht,” many women had been sexually harassed and/or assaulted by North-African immigrant men and the incident received nation-wide media attention. For a more detailed account of the incident see the Zeit Online article “Was geschah in Köln?” (Michel et al.).

[20] The article discussing the study says that gender did not influence the outcome of the study – men and women equally said that they saw improvements (or not) since MeToo.