Why should we be asked to announce ourselves as having been violated when YOU ALREADY KNOW and you’ve already minimized the incident, shifted blame and isolated us with the trauma and burden of dealing with it.
How about some mens announce how they’ve perpetuated, and/or enabled interpersonal/rape violence against someone and then we might be able to have a conversation that isn’t based on measuring the validity of someone’s suffering.
So was my response to the “me too” social media campaign trending after the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine reported on the multiple sexual harassment, assault and rape accusations put against a successful Hollywood film producer. Social media users with personal experiences of sexual violence were invited to step forward and share their survivor status by simply posting “me too” on their profile pages. As stated in a root tweet by a Hollywood actress credited with popularizing “me too,” the goal was to demonstrate the magnitude of sexual violence to people (men) who would then be compelled to take a stand against misogyny and rape culture once they understood how many women they personally know have been victimized in this way.
Experience has taught me not to trust this logic. Experience has taught me that as alienating and burdensome it is to live with secrets of degradation and violation, it all seems to pale the first time you reach out to a trusted someone and, in all your vulnerability, have them dismiss or discredit you. Experience has taught me even sympathetic ears will neglect to support or protect you as not to disturb this oppressive order of things. Experience has taught me that there are a million ways to silence a survivor’s story.
What we are seeing develop with the “me too” campaign was started years ago by Tarana Burke, an activist and program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity. In an interview with Democracy Now, Burke is quoted saying, “as a survivor of sexual violence myself, as a person who was struggling trying to figure out what healing looked like for me, I also saw young people, and particularly young women of color, in the community I worked with, struggling with the same issues and trying to find a succinct way to show empathy.”
Saying “me too” is about survivors being in conversation with other survivors; recognizing the darkest and loneliest places that these experiences put us in, the triggers they embed into our skin and the mistrust they breed in our relationships. Saying “me too” refuses silence, resists shame and defies isolation. Saying “me too” is no small feat. There is a culture of silence when it comes to sexual violence and rape culture. Saying “me too” takes a shot at that silence and offers survivors a means to empower themselves. Saying “me too” invites survivors to find some peace about their experience in being able to identify the violence they have endured, and know they are not alone.
image via ManRepeller
I am in awe of the resilience and bravery of survivors. I am moved by work of Tarana Burke and so many others, who stay committed to building tools for us to empower ourselves, and each other.I want everyone not yet able to say “me too” to know that they are still included in this movement. Sometimes healing means letting yourself rest and other times healing means fighting back. You are the only one who knows what you need and where you’re at in the process. Moments like these should only let you know that there is work being done and that support is ready for you when you are ready for it.
Understanding the kind of backlash that can come for survivors who resist silencing, makes me worry for everyone sharing “me too.” Understanding just how weighty a declaration like “me too” can be makes me question who’s asking. This is a conversation meant to be between survivors, and not a poll meant to demonstrate that we should care about sexual violence and rape culture because it effects people we know. These are things we already know. In order to effect any lasting change, these are things we need to accept. When a survivor trusts someone enough to share their vulnerability with them, it is not up for questioning. When a conversation about sexual/interpersonal violence opens, people should not derail from the point by centering their shock or ignorance. Stop wasting our time. Of course, people need to be educated about these issues, but that is not the survivors’ responsibility. Survivors understanding about these issues can help lay the path for how to support and empower the vulnerable, but this is something that should not be demanded of them. We shouldn’t be pressuring survivors to lead the fight against sexual/interpersonal violence, but trying to better understand how we can be more supportive. We need to be listening to, protecting and empowering survivors- on their terms and with their consent. We need to respect that these experiences are disempowering and disconcerting to say the least.
Not everyone is ready to say “me too.” There are moments when I can finally see and feel the progress of my own healing, but I am too fully aware of how swiftly that progress seems to unravel. I knew I wasn’t ready to say “me too.” I didn’t. As much as I want to recognize and celebrate what “me too” is doing, I couldn’t help but come to arms as I saw people publicly exposing their wounds- some fresh, some rotting, some heavily scarred. I wanted to push away from once again having the burden of proof fall on survivors and invite people to consider accounting for how they have perpetuated and enabled sexual/interpersonal violence. I want people to account fo how they have victimized and silenced the vulnerable. There is healing in accepting that you have survived great violence. There is healing in knowing you are not alone and there is a chance you might be able to recover pieces of what has been taken from you. On the other hand, there is also healing in accepting that you have perpetuated and/or enabled great violence.
The truth is that we have all inherited a world built around rape culture, racism, classism, ableism and cisheteropatriarchy. The ways that we are protected or vulnerable to violence and oppression is different for everyone. It’s important to recognize that Hollywood actresses aren’t the only ones having their physical, sexual, emotional and professional autonomy violated and terrorized by people in power. It is important to recognize that cisgender women are not the only people who are sexually harassed, or assaulted. It is important to recognize that people of different races, classes and abilities have wildly different experiences of violence and oppression. It is important to recognize that we shouldn’t be weighing or qualifying the merit of these experiences, but trusting that any form of degradation or violation is a dehumanizing act of violence that we should be working to abolish within ourselves and in the world that we are able to impact.
In my post I referred to men needing to step up and account for their actions because men have, and continue to hold, power when it comes to sexual and gendered violence, but after being given the opportunity to expand my thoughts, I think it is important to say that this is a shift needed across the board.We need to humble ourselves, and listen when people share with us about the violence they have survived and undoubtedly continue to face. We need to humble ourselves, and account for the ways that we have, and undoubtedly continue to perpetuate violence or silencing. We need to humble ourselves in order to learn anew and move forward.
As many of us can say “me too” there is an equivalent many of us who should be able to recognize and say, “it was me.” The real progress happens when we accept that we are capable of both and from there we open a new conversation. We have feigned ignorance for too long. We have shifted blame and centered our own discomfort. We have silenced and betrayed the vulnerable. We will never be able to find justice if we are unwilling to account for the harm we have caused. Each person deserves to have their voice respected and their suffering recognized. As I try to imagine something of a less broken world, I hope that we can learn to unbind ourselves from the oppressive histories that we have inherited and been indoctrinated into. I am indebted to the survivors who heard me when no one else wanted to. I am indebted to the trans, queer, black, indigenous and people of color who have humbled me and had patience for me. We all have so much to unlearn and we can’t ask people to do that work for us. We owe it to ourselves to take responsibility for how we use our power. If not, we rob ourselves of that healing and are doomed to repeat a history we deserve to outgrow.