Against “Me Too” & Towards Accountability
In the past two weeks, after years of paying off his victims and coercing them into silence, news of Sentient Shitstain Harvey Weinstein’s career of sexual harassment, assault, and general nastiness came fully to light. He was rightfully dropped from many of his seats of power, and a new hashtag campaign was started in order to illuminate the massive scope of sexualized harassment and violence against women. In the jazz world, Sasha Berliner’s open letter to Ethan Iverson (and the rest of Jazz Patriarchy) went viral, sparking necessary discussions of gender-based violence in the music industry. Many people, mostly those identifying under an umbrella of “women and femmes”, have posted “Me too” online in order to demonstrate solidarity with other survivors. Here are my thoughts.
The “me too” campaign, while well-intentioned, feels reckless and irresponsible in its implications and impact. Though its goal of intra-group solidarity is noble, in reality it asks people who have experienced sexual violence to out themselves (which so often leaves them open to more violence) & simultaneously places the onus on those who have experienced sexualized violence to somehow awaken and educate a vaguely-defined audience of perpetrators. The emotional labor this hashtag asks of those of marginalized genders, and those who have experienced sexual violence, (especially those multiply marginalized) is exhaustive. For other survivors* of violence reading the posts, it can make the intimate space of one’s own social media network feel invasive and re-traumatizing. It can do more harm than good.
But more than just the faults I find in the impact of this trend, I’m troubled by its logic. The hashtag suggests that rape culture is a system of individualism, one that targets only specific people (assumedly cis women). In reality, gender-based violence is part of a full matrix of oppression, one that tangles us all in its web by virtue of our birth into it.
So yes, “me too”, but are we wrong not to accompany that with “you as well”?None of us are immune to doing violence or having it done to us when violence and subjugation are the bedrocks of our country. Our experiences vary radically from person to person, but we are united in the normalization of deep harm. “Me too” doesn’t get at this core.
I’m also deeply concerned that folks reading these posts who haven’t been assaulted will think that by act of passive witnessing, they’ll have done enough. But they won’t have. We have to actively build the world we want to live in, every day. We have to tend to each other knowing the pain bred into us as children and the way that it festers in our day-to-day actions and relationships. In All About Love, bell hooks writes about the importance of truth-telling, of bringing our full selves to the table in order to know love. It’s relevant this week, and it’s relevant in our movements building communities of mutual honesty and growth:
“The wounded child inside many males is a boy who, when he first spoke his truths, was silenced by paternal sadism, by a patriarchal world that did not want him to claim his true feelings. The wounded child inside many females is a girl who was taught from early childhood that she must become something other than herself, deny her true feelings, in order to attract and please others. When men and women punish each other for truth telling, we reinforce the notion that lies are better. To be loving, we willingly hear the other’s truth, and most importantly, we affirm the value of truth telling. Lies may make people feel better, but they do not help them to know love.”
What I want to tell you is that you aren’t alone. But what I also want to say is that we, likely, knowingly or unknowingly, have harmed others. We lie to ourselves when we pretend that isn’t so, and we rob ourselves of our potential for real growth outside of violence.
Let us never hold only one truth at a time. If we want to be honest about the job ahead of us, we have to imagine ourselves wholly, and that means turning the gaze inward as much as outward. Part of the work has to be de-romanticizing our trauma, and that means shifting toward the messiness. That means giving ourselves room to reckon with it all.
Why don’t we talk about queer intimate partner violence? Why are we still phrasing discussions of sexualized violence as if only “women and femmes” have been violated? Why are we asking people to out themselves without accompanying these posts with info on community care/safe houses/DV resources? Why can’t we center the needs of those affected when violence happens, without assuming that they will always be in that same position?
For me, the visibility of #MeToo isn’t helping us towards accountability. And it’s definitely not justice.
I think I find my justice in introspection and care and transformation and growth over time.
I find my justice in checking in with myself and my loved ones when I can tell the coping mechanisms I’ve developed in response to violence are hurting those around me.
I find my justice in being vulnerable about my fears and my fuck-ups, even when it sucks to admit them.
I find my justice in apology, in graciousness, in careful and sustained dialogue.
I’m not writing this to shame anyone who found their power in typing or reading “me too”. If this hashtag helped you realize what happened to you wasn’t your fault, then I’m grateful for that.
But I’m still angry. Angry at this system that tricks us into thinking it’s our fault when we’re hurt & it’s our fault when don’t speak up about it & it’s never on us if/when we hurt someone else.
As I try to end this post, I’m a little lost. There are so many different threads to this web, and teasing out one is hard enough as it is. I find myself drawn to the stickers by my keyboard: on the left, one reads Courage, Not Courtesy. On the right, Hold Yourself Together. Maybe what I’m asking of us is a combination of the two: to hold each other together, to move courageously through these conversations, without courtesy for the powers who try to silence us, but with grace for ourselves and each other as we inevitably fuck up and learn from it.
Because we’re all here together, in the yuck of it. And this can’t be the end of the conversation.
Useful information about Transformative Justice and healing after violence: