This morning, Time Magazine named 'The Silence Breakers' as 2017's 'Person of the Year' for sparking 'the social movement to highlight sexual harassment and assault’.
Preparing to write this today, I looked back at what I’d written in previous years, and was struck by the similarities between this year and 2014. In 2014, I wrote:
“If there were every any doubt that violence against women continues to be an issue, this year has been pretty damn determined to knock that illusion out of us.”
On the one hand, I guess it’s nice that I didn’t have to type that again…on the other, how depressing that it’s just as applicable today. Violence against women continues to be embedded into multiple aspects of our society and, above all, into women’s experiences.
In 2014 and in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, I also wrote about women’s responses.
Did those voices change things? Where was their Person of the Year award? Their recognition?
This year, we added #MeToo to that list.
I remain heartened by the voices and by their reception. At the same time, I’m saddened by the implicit requirement that women re-live their traumas. That they broadcast them for public consumption. That this consumption is often more akin to voyeurism than it is to politicization.
In the wake of the Weinstein revelation, I heard friends speak of how great it was that the women he had victimized were coming forward and were being heard. And it was great. Is great. Only….this was known. This wasn’t silent. This wasn’t the first time someone(s) had spoken out. It was, instead, the first time that he wasn’t insulated against those voices. Protected from them.
I want to believe that when women speak out, they will be heard and believed. That there will be uptake and investigation. But when I look around, it’s hard not to notice the prevalence of attack, silencing, and undercutting as responses to speaking out.
I want to believe that when ALL women speak out, they will be heard and believed. But it’s an iceberg, and so much of it is still beneath the surface.
Are all voices being heard? Jane Fonda suggested that the Weinstein story got so much traction “because so many of the women that were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white.” Of course, we heard about her saying because Jane Fonda is….famous and white =)
Ijeoma Oluo wrote about her own experiences as a woman of colour with harassment and discrimination as well as its impacts on those who are subjected to such behaviour. Terry Crews was one of the first to speak out in the wake of Weinstein, making it clear that it wasn’t just Weinstein, wasn’t just happening to women, and explicitly naming the power imbalance in the situation. Corey Feldman has named names of those who abused him and other young actors. Trace Lysette exposed Jeffrey Tambor’s harassment of her.
Yet the conversations I hear focus on (implicitly) white women. And still in 2017 too many conversations are still focussed on “why did she go to the hotel room?” and “why didn’t she speak out sooner?” (without considering that hey, maybe there might be a link between the willingness to blame s/he who speaks out and a lack of willingness to do so).
What about women who aren’t famous? Persons who aren’t famous? Who aren’t in Hollywood?
What about those working retail and service industry jobs? If women with power and influence had these assaults inflicted upon them, what do we imagine happens daily to those without that power and influence? When we pay service industry folks less than a minimum wage, expecting the rest to be made up by tips, are we creating or exacerbating these kinds of situations?
What about Indigenous women?
What about women living with disability?
What about women living in poverty?
Time wrote that “[t]he people who have broken their silence on sexual assault and harassment span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe. Their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results.”
It’s an iceberg. And the tip of has been made visible this year, as it was in 2014. As it was in 1989, in the wake of Ecole Polytechnique.
“The social movement to highlight sexual harassment and assault”
How does this still need to be highlighted?
How are we still being asked to bare our experiences to demonstrate that these things happen?
It’s [T]ime for the mainstream to do more than sit back and consume our experiences. Time to do more than applaud us for highlighting what’s going on.