A mom's #HimToo tweet ignites a viral meme, and her embarrassed son clarifies

Millennials are good at social media. If you're the parent of a millennial, you're good at embarrassing your kids on social media.

Pieter Hanson's mother showed her expertise this past weekend when, in a politically charged attempt to gush about her 32-year-old son, she wrote a tweet describing why he won't date.

It went viral, gathering hundreds of retweets, likes and replies, and inadvertently placed him at the center of an internet firestorm fueled by both a serious dialogue on sexual power and an endless series of hilarious responses.

'This is my son,' her tweet read, including a photo of him in his Navy uniform. 'He graduated #1 in Boot camp. He was awarded the U.S.O. award. He was #1 in A school. He is a gentleman who respects women. He won't go on solo dates due to the current climate of false sexual accusations by radical feminists with an axe to grind. I vote #HimToo.'

What is #HimToo, you might ask? It has become a way for people, often conservatives, to express their support for men who they believe have been falsely accused of sexual assault or harassment. (False reports of sexual assault are rare.)

Similar to the way that All Lives Matter became a conservative response to the Black Lives Matter movement, #HimToo developed as a backlash to the #MeToo movement in which women across politics, entertainment and business have come forward with their experiences of sexual misconduct and brought powerful men to account.

#HimToo was energized in particular by the controversy surrounding the successful confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite sexual assault allegations against him.

Hanson, a Navy veteran, had never heard of the hashtag before his phone started going off as he took a marketing exam at the University of Central Florida. He hurriedly completed the test and stepped outside.

'I was worried something serious was happening,' Hanson said. But it was just his friends sending him his mother's tweet, which she later deleted.

'They know me and they know that it is not a good representation of who I am,' he said. 'People started attacking me with pretty hateful messages. It was really hurtful to have people say those things about me.'

The tweet went viral nearly immediately, with people using the format of the tweet to make their own, often funnier, versions.

The responses came as many women online played the world's smallest violins — or other instruments — for men lamenting the dangers they face in everyday life.

Jon Hanson, 35, Pieter's older brother, said that when he saw the tweet from their mother, 'I don't know if I've ever laughed so hard in my life.' Jon spoke with their mother because his brother was too upset to do so. (Pieter still hadn't spoken to his mother as of Tuesday morning.)

'She doesn't really understand social media that much,' Jon Hanson said in an interview. 'I was concerned for her and wanted to inform her, but she really did not understand how big it got.'

He added, 'She said she wanted to protect her sons and would take the blame.'

Pieter Hanson created a Twitter account with the handle @Thatwasmymom to try to take 'a negative and turn it into a positive,' he said, writing that he did not approve of what #HimToo represents.

Unlike #MeToo, #HimToo has had many iterations.

In 2016, the hashtag became a way for people on the internet to show support for Hillary Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. People would tweet #ImWithHer to refer to Clinton, and add #HimToo to show their support for Kaine.

#HimToo also became a way for Trump supporters to suggest that President Barack Obama be 'locked up' along with Clinton. People would tweet #LockHerUp and add #HimToo.

Then came #MeToo, which was created years earlier by activist Tarana Burke and took off last October after Alyssa Milano tweeted a call to women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed to share their stories under the hashtag, and millions of them responded.

#HimToo became a way for male survivors of sexual assault to identify with the #MeToo movement. After Asia Argento, an actress who had become one of the leaders in the #MeToo movement, was accused of sexually assaulting a man, Burke pointed out that the #MeToo hashtag was not only for women, but also for men.

This year, the #HimToo hashtag changed once more. In February, after Politico published an article about President Donald Trump's response to allegations of domestic abuse against his former staff secretary, #HimToo became used as an expression of skepticism toward women who say they have been assaulted.

Over the last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh, who had been accused by Christine Blasey Ford and other women of sexual misconduct when they were in high school and college, breathed new life into #HimToo.

During the hearings, many people tweeted #HimToo to show their support for Kavanaugh and to reprimand women who they believed had made up accounts of sexual assault to destroy a man's career.

Now, with the response to Hanson's mother's tweet, #HimToo has taken another form: as a meme.

The brothers say they will eventually forgive her.

'I am upset with her, but I don't want to drag her through the mud at all,' Pieter Hanson said. 'She is getting enough backlash. I still love her, she is still my mother.'

And she meant well in at least one regard, he said: He is indeed single.

'I like people that are equally kind, positive and optimistic,' he said.

'If they have cats, that's cool, too,' Hanson said. 'I am not afraid to date.'

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