The Politics of #Metoo?
Happy New Year!
I wanted to start this year off by revisiting an old post that I wrote from my previous blog, MiracleWorker. This year, in the progression of this blog from interviews, poems and OP-EDs, I do want to explore gender-based violence (GBV) from an academic standpoint--since I am studying the issue within academia through my PhD.
I titled this piece back in 2018, ' "Unattractive Women" Do Not Belong as the Face of #Metoo.?' Is this piece still relevant?
Why did it take so much time for the media to acknowledge that it was Burke and not white actress Alyssa Milano, as the founder of the movement? It wasn’t just because Burke is black. I daresay it is because popular opinion has denounced Burke to be unattractive.
Unattractive women do not belong as the face of #metoo.
I implore you to join me in challenging this assumption. In the past year, the #metoo movement has opened many doors when it comes to conversations concerning violence against women (VAW). And yet, within this spectrum, we must ask which women
have been privileged to benefit from these “safer” conversations. I, as a middle-class, Christian, African-Canadian graduate student who does not look “African” but has been largely mistaken as a Caribbean with some European features (code word for “more attractive”), has been privileged to write and publish a poetry book concerning my experiences with sexual violence for survivors titled, A Cloud of Witnesses:
Poems for Survivors, to be released on Amazon (February 2019). I have also been privileged to be featured in a documentary on Carleton University’s journalism news site, “The 25th Hour” in relation to my survival story of child molestation and sexual assault.
While I am grateful for every opportunity afforded me, I can’t help but wonder if someone who perhaps had darker skin than my own, with more African features, who came from a lower class, and wasn’t as “physically attractive” would have been given the access to share their story. It is chilling when you come to the realization that you are the token. In an interview with the New York Times, African American actress Gabrielle Union has been quoted to say, “I think the floodgates have opened for white women. I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now” (diversityinc.com). If history were to speak in this moment, then perhaps Maria W. Stewart would join this conversation and affirm Union’s despair by arguing,
“Like King Solomon, who put neither nail nor hammer to the temple, yet received the praise; so also have the white Americans gained themselves a name…while in reality we have been their principle foundation and support. We have pursued the shadow, they have obtained the
substance; we have performed the labor, they have received the profits; we have planted the vines, they have eaten the fruits of them” (Collins 1).
To break it down, Tarana Burke laboured for years to establish a movement to give a voice to
disenfranchised young black female survivors of sexual violence with a reassuring and affirming community in #metoo that went relatively unnoticed by popular media. Yet the moment that Milano tweeted a plea for survivors of sexual violence to use the hashtag, ignorant of its prior use, Milano was credited with the birth of the #metoo movement. If history were to speak, Fannie Barrier Williams would implore that, “The colored girl…is not known and hence not believed in; she belongs to a race that is best designated by the term ‘problem,’ and she lives beneath the shadow of that problem which envelops and obscures her” (Collins 3). If we were to compare this quote with the controversy concerning who has the right to be placed as the founder of the #metoo movement by popular opinion, does it not ring true? The #metoo movement’s founding, or acknowledgment thereof, can be likened to “the survival of the most attractive.” Beware all those who fit outside of European notions of beauty!
Patricia Hill-Collins argues that, “maintaining the invisibility of Black women and our ideas not only in the United States, but in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and other places where Black women now live, has been critical in maintaining social inequalities” (3). We see this invisibility in representation which determines whose voices matter, and whose voices do not matter. As twisted as it sounds, when it comes to women’s issues, attractiveness does matter if men are to engage in any interest at all.
Most news stations are run by men.
Most journalistic endeavors are funded by men.
We do not have the time to delve into the statistics behind male power, patriarchy and the like as we hear the same arguments circulating like an old record player. However, if male journalists were to engage with subjects that threaten the continuity of hegemonic masculinity (dominant understandings of what it means to be male in Western society), it
helps if the women they are interviewing, or defending are “pleasing to the eye.” Superficial yes, but they would uphold that “unattractive women do not belong as the face of #metoo.”
Don’t believe me?
Search up any Youtube interview with Tarana Burke on the subject of #metoo and just read the comments. Count how many racist, sexist and rude comments center around her physical appearance and the fact that “she is too ugly to be sexually assaulted.” By simply typing in Burke's name in the Youtube search bar, "Tarana Burke nose" and "Tarana Burke ugly" pop up as suggestions. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wh-kSAP_zv0 ("#Metoo movement founder is ugly").
Where does this leave us?
What is the relationship between Elizabeth Peprah, Tarana Burke and Alyssa Milano?
2 out of 3 of us have our stories of sexual violence believed within the age of #metoo.
2 out of 3 of us have found an outlet to voice our stories of pain and healing concerning sexual violence and lived experiences.
2 out of 3 of us have the ability to achieve all of these things because we are considered “attractive.”
If this is the qualification to be a vocal and "believable" #metoo , then in the words of Angela Davis, “Something is clearly wrong” (38).
Davis, Angela. The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues. San Francisco; City
Estrada, Sheryl. “TIME Magazine Excluding Tarana Burke from #MeToo Cover Speaks
Volumes.” Diversity Inc, December 2017,https://www.diversityinc.com/news/time-magazine-excluding-tarana-burke-metoo-cover-speaks-volumes
Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of
Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 1990.