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Some of my thoughts on #MeToo

Since late 2017, both women and men in the entertainment industry have revealed their experiences of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape by powerful men in Hollywood, starting with the revelations that producer Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax Films, had for decades harassed and/or assaulted many actresses. This started a tidal wave of women in many industries, including business, restaurant, and government, telling their stories of harassment, abuse and assault at the hands of men with power. These women have linked with the MeToo movement, which was started by Tarana Burke over ten years ago to raise awareness of the sexual violence experienced by girls and women of color.  Women in hollywood are vowing to contribute toward systemic changes in their profession, while also recognizing that low-income women are at even greater risk of sexual violence; raising millions of dollars for Time’s Up Now, a legal defense fund that will assist low-income women with fighting sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.

Women feeling empowered to share their experiences of violence, with the hope of the perpetrators being held accountable, is quite powerful in a way. I hope long-term, systemic change happens in every industry that prevents violence from occurring, holds perpetrators of violence accountable, and facilitates healing for survivors. This current moment that we are in has also helped re-ignite important conversations about sexual harassment in the workplace, the pervasiveness of harassment and violence in our culture, and its impact on women. Unfortunately, many of these conversations have not been inclusive of the most marginalized survivors, including sex workers, the incarcerated, and poor women of color. As journalist Melissa Gira Grant has pointed out on Twitter, there is a contradiction between women in hollywood exposing the systemic injustices and violence in their industry, and calling for change, but when it comes to the adult film industry and other forms of the sex trade, many of these actresses advocate for the wholesale shutting down of these industries, despite sex worker rights activists saying how this will harm them. The mainstream iteration of the #MeToo Movement also ignores the state as perpetrator of sexual violence, including jails, prisons, immigrant and youth detention centers, as well as police officers and public housing employees.

There has also been the inevitable backlash against MeToo, which has culminated in many responses to a recent essay on the website babe.net. A woman going by the name of Grace shared a sexual experience she had with actor and comedian Aziz Ansari, that left her feeling violated and coerced into doing things she did not want to do. The many troubling responses to her experience has highlighted how we don’t know how to have conversations about sexual violence that does not fit in the categories of rape or assault. There have been the usual victim-blaming responses of why didn’t she just leave, and other people simply don’t see a problem with Aziz Ansari’s behavior as described in the essay, or they just reduce it to bad sex that Grace should just get over. Going along with a sexual act because you are afraid of the other person’s reaction to you saying no, or you hope that it ends quickly are indicative of a deeply entrenched culture of violence, and the harmful ways that men and women are socialized. The fact that so many people’s chief concern is the impact of Grace’s essay on Aziz’s career and life, shows that those with power will always be protected in our society, while those of us with the least power will continue to be harmed and disbelieved.

 

In the midst of all the bad hot takes on Grace’s essay, there is a bright light in consenting to normal, an essay by Hyejin Shim, a Bay Area based organizer and activist. Hyejin asks us to question the many binaries that we reify in our discussions about sexual violence: good victim/bad victim, “real” sexual violence as legal crime/not real violence because it’s not a crime. We are also challenged to think critically about our focus on consent, and whether that is an expansive enough idea in which to think about sexual violence. We don’t only consent to acts we want to do, we regularly consent to doing things we don’t want to do for safety and survival reasons, which I tried to get at earlier in this essay. Below is a powerful quote from consenting to normal:

“What if instead, the conversations started with our humanity as women, queers, and people, first, and what we thought it meant to honor that? Not all sex will ever be guaranteed to be good, fulfilling or fun, but it shouldn’t have to feel like we are being pressured, or like it is exhausting, humiliating, traumatic, or scary because we aren’t being respected or truly seen.”

Please read the whole essay; it’s a necessary intervention into what has been an often troubling and narrow conversation about sexual violence. Let’s continue having hard, challenging, scary, and necessary conversations that are rooted in how we can transform society from a culture of violence to one based on human rights.