Revisiting the #MeToo Movement: A Reading List

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In her TED Talk “Me Too is a movement, not a moment” at TED Women 2018, Tarana Burke paces across the stage, saying, “I’ve read article after article bemoaning wealthy white men who have landed softly with their golden parachutes following the disclosure of their terrible behavior. And we’re asked to consider their futures. But what of survivors?”

Burke’s TED Talk, which took place in late November 2018, came just after the one-year mark of the #MeToo hashtag going viral, giving Burke — and others — a chance to reflect on the history of the movement, and whether or not it’s headed in a direction that supports Burke’s original intent.

“This movement is constantly being called a watershed moment, or even a reckoning, but I wake up some days feeling like all evidence points to the contrary,” Burke says. She pauses, shaking her head. “We have moved so far away from the origins of this movement that started a decade ago, or even the intentions of the hashtag that started just a year ago, that sometimes, the Me Too movement that I hear some people talk about is unrecognizable to me.”

Roxane Gay, in a piece for Refinery 29 at the one-year mark of the #MeToo hashtag, expresses how the movement has diverged from the heart of Burke’s work, asking, “What will change for women? What, especially, will change for the most vulnerable women among us — the undocumented, women of color, working class women, single mothers? What will change for women who cannot afford to come forward when they are harassed or assaulted? As I consider this past year, what strikes me is how #MeToo has mostly benefited culturally prominent, mostly white women.”

Burke’s movement, which originally began in 2006, was originally intended, as Abby Ohlheiser reports in The Chicago Tribune, “to help women and girls — particularly women and girls of color — who had also survived sexual violence.” Beyond the one-year mark of the hashtag going viral and the decade of work Burke has done to support survivors of sexual assault, there exists a history of black women activists fighting against sexual violence. As Danielle McGuire writes in her essay “Recy Taylor, Oprah Winfrey, and the long history of black women saying #MeToo” for The Washington Post, “stories of subversion date from the 1830s, when Harriet Jacobs, an enslaved woman in North Carolina, lived in a crawl space for years to escape her owner’s sexual abuse.”

And Burke, in her TED Talk, emphasizes the true purpose of the #MeToo movement, which is “a movement about the far-reaching power of empathy. And so it’s about the millions and millions of people who, one year ago, raised their hands to say, ‘Me Too,’ and their hands are still raised while the media that they consume erases them and politicians who they elected to represent them pivot away from solutions.”

This erasure from media is noted by Salamishah Tillet and Scheherazade Tillet, in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, “After the ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Documentary, #MeToo Has Finally Returned to Black Girls.” Tillet and Tillet note, “even today, as #MeToo continues to dominate headlines, black girls have been invisible in the movement.” While the release of Surviving R. Kelly has pivoted attention toward black women, Tillet and Tillet write, “our optimism is tempered by history, which shows that social justice movements rarely center, for any meaningful period, on black girls, or anyone who has survived sexual violence. That’s because black girls experience racial, gender and economic oppressions at the same time, a phenomenon the law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw calls intersectionality. As a result, their voices and experiences do not neatly fit into a single-issue narrative of gender or race.”

The collection of essays below seeks to heed Burke’s call for inclusivity and her vision of #MeToo as “a movement about the one-in-four girls and the one-in-six boys who are sexually assaulted every year and carry those wounds into adulthood. It’s about the 84 percent of trans women who will be sexually assaulted this year. And the indigenous women, who are three-and-a-half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other group. Or people with disabilities, who are seven times more likely to be sexually abused. It’s about the 60 percent of black girls like me who will be experiencing sexual violence before they turn 18. And the thousands and thousands of low-wage workers who are being sexually harassed right now on jobs that they can’t afford to quit.”

1. The Sexual Assault Epidemic That No One Is Talking About (Aviva Stahl, July, 25, 2018, The Village Voice)

Iffat and Mariam (second name changed for anonymity) are two New York City residents who have experienced Islamaphobia firsthand; both women have been assaulted while using public transportation. In this piece, Aviva Stahl reports that more than “one in four” “Muslim Arab hijab-wearing women…had been intentionally pushed or shoved on a subway platform.”

The #MeToo movement has brought new attention to street harassment of women, but Ahmad says she doesn’t think it’s done enough to address the experiences of Muslim women. “I don’t think they’re doing anything” to address gendered Islamophobia, she says. “As a survivor of that specific kind of [Islamophobic] violence, I don’t see myself in that movement. It doesn’t seem connected to the realities of Muslim women.”

2. Hotels See Panic Buttons as a #MeToo Solution for Workers. Guest Bans? Not So Fast. (Julia Jacobs, November 11, 2018, The New York Times)

After Ms. Melara, a housekeeper in Southern California, was accosted by a guest who exposed himself to her, she locked herself in a nearby room to escape, but wasn’t given assistance until nearly twenty minutes later. Her story is not an anomaly; many workers in the hotel industry are sexually assaulted and harassed by guests. Julia Jacobs reports on panic buttons, a solution proposed by the hotel industry to protect workers.

3. We Need to Include Black Women’s Experience in the Movement Against Campus Sexual Assault (Candace King, June 15, 2018, The Nation)

Only a few weeks after Venkayla Haynes received a rape whistle at her Spelman college freshman orientation, she was raped by a football player. Though Haynes reported the rape to a Dean at Spelman at the time, her situation was complicated by “institutional realities. Both Haynes and her assailant are black.”

Haynes believes the way college administrators responded to her assault reflects longstanding tendencies in the black community to shield black men from interactions with authorities.

“We always come to these situations where we can’t come forward because we want to protect black men or protect our black brothers because they’re already fighting against a system that further criminalizes them,” Haynes said.

4. #NotInvisible: Why are Native American women vanishing? (Sharon Cohen, September 6, 2018, The Associated Press)

 

Ashley HeavyRunner Loring has been missing since June 2017, and her family has embarked on around 40 searches in attempts to locate her. Ashley is one of many missing or murdered Native American women and girls, as Sharan Cohen reports in this piece, though the precise number is difficult to establish because “some cases go unreported, others aren’t documented thoroughly and there isn’t a specific government database tracking these cases.”

On some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average and more than half of Alaska Native and Native women have experienced sexual violence at some point, according to the U.S. Justice Department. A 2016 study found more than 80 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetimes.

5. In The #MeToo Conversation, Transgender People Face a Barrier to Belief (KC Clements, April 18, 2018, them.)

Much of the narrative about #MeToo has revolved around sexual assault between cisgender heterosexual people, and too many still believe that it is only experienced by conventionally attractive cisgender women, or that is only perpetrated by “bad” cisgender men.

I’ve wondered where exactly I fit into this dialogue, because I’m a nonbinary person who was assigned female at birth, and, well, #MeToo.

KC Clements recalls their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault, presents testimonies from other trans people, and urges inclusivity, emphasizing the need for more resources, support, and materials for trans survivors of assault and harassment.

Related Read: Trans Women and Femmes Are Shouting #MeToo – But Are You Listening? (Meredith Talusan, March 2, 2018, them.)

6. When will MeToo become WeToo? Some say voices of black women, working class left out (Charisse Jones, October 5, 2018, USA Today)

After being sexually harassed by coworkers at McDonald’s, her place of employment, Kim Lawson, along with nine other employees, filed a harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

An analysis by the law center of complaints filed from 2012 to 2016 with the EEOC found that black women working in the private sector lodged sexual harassment charges at nearly three times the rate of white women.

While the media has focused extensively on the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, Lawson, as well as other activists, emphasize that the #MeToo movement needs to include women of color, particularly those working lower-wage jobs.

7. The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About (Joseph Shapiro, January 8, 2018, NPR)

In February 2016, Pauline, a 46-year old woman who lived with a longtime caretaker, was raped by two boys who were part of the family. In this piece, the product of a yearlong investigation by NPR, Joseph Shapiro details the staggering statistics related to sexual assault for people with intellectual disabilities, including the fact that women and men with intellectual disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted than people without disabilities.

The federal numbers, and the results of our own database, show that people with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable everywhere, including in places where they should feel safest: where they live, work, go to school; on van rides to medical appointments and in public places.

Related read: The #MeToo Movement Hasn’t Been Inclusive of the Disability Community (Emily Flores, April 24, 2018, Teen Vogue)

8. R. Kelly and the Complexities of Race in the #MeToo Era (Jelani Cobb, January 11, 2019, The New Yorker)

 

Jelani Cobb opens this piece with a memory from childhood of a woman with a black eye who visits his mother. Cobb’s mother later tells him that the woman had been abused by her husband, and Cobb recalls the moment being a “lesson in the consequences of male brutality. It was an implicit instruction in how I was not to behave as a man.” By putting his personal experience in conversation with the recent public response to Surviving R. Kelly, Cobb delves into complexities of race and reporting violence, and what it means to bear witness to brutality in the era of #MeToo.

There’s a gulf between the accusations directed at Harvey WeinsteinMatt Lauer, and Les Moonves—wealthy white men whose alleged excesses were understood as a perquisite of their status—and those directed at Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, black men for whom success represented some broader communal hope that long odds in life could be surmounted. Cosby and Kelly know this, which is part of the reason that they were so effective at manipulating public sentiment around their various accusations.

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Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and neurological illness.