Me Too and the Feminist Movement
*Originally posted 1/5/18
What incredible times we women suddenly find ourselves in.
With the accusations against Weinstein (and so very many others) piling up we find women's experiences and stories dominating the news.
The news has been everywhere and I have certainly devoured it, as we all have. It's been so satisfying to watch Harvey's downfall, to see him become a pariah and to learn that his wife's settlement will be an enormous one according to current reports. Yet all this news of these powerful men who have finally begun to pay for what they've done to the women who cross their paths is also extremely triggering for so many women. Watching the list of women Harvey and others have harassed and assaulted has reminded us of our own experiences, and that hasn't been fun at al
What came to mind for me were the early years of my university life, when I studied all that was Theatre. I took on every role I could, no matter how much work was required and said yes to everything. What a revelation it was to have found my people, to feel so alive and passionate about every inch of the subject matter we were working on. I was finally a part of a system which made sense to me. I began to be recognised by our campus theatre manager (a man in his late 50s) as a student he could send out to people he knew in the industry (and he knew so very many people in the industry) for paid work. I began to spend weekends lugging speakers around and climbing scaffolding to rig lighting and going for coffee. I was so grateful to this man who spent time teaching me the technical aspects of theatre (I can manage a very tidy splice if you need reel-to-reel sound editing) after hours and shared so many of his contacts with me. At the same time my gut always told me to be careful of this man, there was something too friendly about him. He somehow felt like a Dad character who simultaneously made me nervous.
Interestingly I was about to write that he hadn't assaulted me and I was lucky. But that's not exactly right. Even now, twenty years later, I question my own judgement. To be critical of someone who had provided so many opportunities for me still feels like a betrayal. I was also a young woman who had learned to laugh at difficult men, to tolerate a certain amount of unwanted attention in the hope that this would be enough for them. Our theatre program ran a pantomime every year and it ran for weeks so that all the schools nearby could come get their fill of Mother Goose or some such goodness. Panto was an awesome project to be a part of, onstage or off, and we became such a tight team. The technical team would spend many many hours in the dark tech booth running the show.
When the Metoo campaign emerged I began to remember the many times I've experienced harassment. On my first job at a bakery my boss asked me to clean the back room and tidy his desk, knowing I would find his collection of pornography there. His hand would drag itself along my back as I served the customers. I was fourteen.
And this theatre manager whom we all admired and respected, who taught us so much? He would quietly come into the tech-booth and watch us as we ran the show. He would wander over to me and give me a shoulder massage. He did this every single show, and we often did two shows in a day. In the dark, this creepy man would touch me knowing that I could say nothing. I sat there listening for sound cues through my headphones, unable to speak out or react. To allow myself to be distracted by this could lead me to make a mistake and let down the team. This man would touch me often, I now remember being alone in the sound booth with him, learning to edit, wanting his approval and receiving it with an arm around my shoulder or waist, and a quick squeeze. How many of us did he touch this way? He was the manager of the theatre for many years, my own high school drama teacher also learned from him at university though I doubt he was on the receiving end of any unwanted affection.
Once I moved on to directing I was no longer to be found in dark corners working alone and he lost interest in me almost entirely. Such a relief but I never discussed it with my peers. I just got on with things, even though a piece of me was certainly damaged by the experience.
I remember the time I worked as a sound technician (OMG paid work!) for a small theatre show with a director and cast of only men. I ended up running all the technical aspects of this little job and I loved it. The show was so popular that it was remounted the following year and they asked me to return, and to run the equivalent show alongside it which contained only women. These men who were at least ten years older than me spent the closing night "party" (to which I was the only woman invited) plying me with alcohol and coming onto me. It honestly felt like a competition to see who would get to first base with me. And I needed this first paid work and reference so badly.
Oh, there is also that time I went to a hairdresser friend's to have my hair bleached and woke up in the morning in bed with him and had no idea how I got there. I remember him bringing me a coke while we tested a small batch of my hair...
The cat calls on the street, the groping in nightclubs, being cornered at work by customers. To be a woman is to be on high alert. Always. In a way it amazes me that I ended up married to a man, though he is pretty special, as my experience of them was so tainted.
I am yet to meet a woman who has never experienced sexual harassment in one form or another and I know way too many women who have been assaulted. We all know who we are, just as many of Harvey's victims have no doubt shared their stories of pain and quietly consoled one other for some time already.
Women have chosen to share under the banner of the Metoo hashtag and we have rallied around them. A few good men have also spoken out and that is great, we need those voices.
And yet the inevitable "notallmen" comments sprang up.
Women everywhere have taken on the additional emotional labour of correcting this commentary, reminding men that if the majority of women have experienced sexual assault then an enormous number of men have been perpetrators and that even those who haven't most definitely know a couple who have. It's exhausting to have to educate those in power in this situation, yet we persist, despite the emotional toil of reliving our experiences in the process. We spend countless hours online and in person, vacillating between patience and anger, speaking out and remaining silent. Choosing to be Nasty. Choosing to take action. Choosing not to when our hearts can no longer stand it.
We've witnessed women being celebrated at the Golden Globes who, in turn, have celebrated activist women by taking them as their plus ones. This very outspoken group of female actors have taken hold of the Metoo movement and helped bring it a step further with the Timesup campaign. All great work, filled with positive energy and inspiring for many women out here. I think this is an exciting time to be a woman. To me it feels like there is potential for real change. So much important conversation is occurring and whilst it's easy to feel like the democratic world is crashing down around us, I think there is also a wonderful groundswell pushing back against misogyny in very useful and specific ways. Women are once again (and Finally!) allying as Feminists and redefining what that means post-Harvey, post-Louis, post-Cosby, post-Spacey. We are redrafting our definitions of race, gender, and equality. Intersectionality is a term we white women are slowly becoming familiar with.
noun: intersectionality; plural noun: intersectionalities
the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
This definition is from Dr. Google and if you are feeling a little behind on the subject then you can just Google away and catch up. It's ok, we'll wait for you. It'll be worth it.
I have been pondering more and more of late what my Feminism means. I have been a Feminist since early high school when my incredible Media Studies teacher taught me about it. This woman, with her unshaved armpits and adorably feminine attire which never seemed at odds to me, was the first woman I knew who showed me how to question the media which surrounded me. We studied Meryl Streep films, literature and documentaries made my women and had some really heated discussions in that class. She was the first woman I had met who used the Ms. title and she brooked absolutely no nonsense from anyone. Experiencing this teacher's mentorship as a teenager was one of the only things which saved me from the deeply upsetting time I was having at school. I craved her words and her approval and am so thankful for both.
For me Feminism means equality. Plain and simple. It is most certainly not about hating men or seeking revenge or taking over the world. (Though it has to be said that my earliest Utopian notions of Feminism included a Grade 7 assignment about my ideal future which was completely man free.)
Feminism means raising a young woman who can recognise bullshit and danger, can understand the complexities of the reactions to both that women rely on whilst working towards greater strength in the face of them. Activism is a part of our daily conversation, a thread in our story together and I'm very proud of that.
The MeToo movement is a very important one. The tides seem to actually be turning as women in other industries than Hollywood speak out. We are encouraging one another to stand up, and spreading the word that we believe each other and this is essential. Women are supporting women.
Society has told us that women delight in hating on each other, on cutting each other down and we have allowed it to become truth. We have grown up accustomed to gossip and "bitching" and unhealthy competition. If, like me, you were unlucky enough to attend an all girls' school you will have experienced this at it's most intense and at an age when it can do so much damage.
As girls we were never given an alternate narrative. Women on our screens and in our books were behaving badly toward one another and so we emulated them.
How refreshing it is to feel like we are uniting at last, albeit over the common tragedy of our lives. This is an opportunity to leave judgement behind and move forward together.
Yet it is also an opportunity for feminists to be more inclusive. To care about all victims of sexual assault. The young men and boys who understand how we feel because they too have experienced it. The news regarding Kevin Spacey is devastating to us fans yet it highlights the need to make room for everyone to be able to share their stories be they straight, gay or anywhere in between.
Perhaps most important are the women of color. The minority within our own group who are rarely seen or heard from. The women who spoke out about Bill Cosby paved the way for the victims of Weinstein. They were persecuted and laughed at and are still fighting the good fight in the background.
Let's remember that MeToo was actually created by a black woman.
This black woman.
Her name is Tarana Burke and I encourage you to read more about her. You can start here.
Tarana was at the Golden Globes with Michelle Williams who has since had a decent victory against misogyny in Hollywood.
Alyssa Milano should have credited Tarana from the get-go. White women need to do better.
I am determined to hear more intersectional voices in 2018, starting with writers of other colour and culture to my own. My starting point is with Roxane Gay because she is so very fucking amazing. She reads me her books in her beautiful deep voice whilst I embroider, or clean or walk the dog. I'm finding that she is pretty amazing company. She makes me feel real and seen and I am reminded of how very much we have in common. If only I'd known to explore this stuff sooner, I have so much catching up to do.