#Me Too, Sis
In this post, I explain how the attempted white-washing and decontextualizing of the #MeToo catchphrase threatened to leave many rape survivors vulnerable and left out of the conversation.
The #MeToo campaign was the brainchild of Black woman activist, Taraka Burke, in 2007. The campaign has recently regained momentum on social media.
In describing the #MeToo campaign, Burke articulates for Ebony magazine:
“It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.” (Source: https://goo.gl/2466ho).
The activist wanted to give voice and a face to rape survivors and their silenced experiences with violence.
Voyeurism and Rape
An often overlooked aspect of rape culture is voyeurism. Even though feelings of internalized shame is a major reason why many girls and women remain silent about being raped, the voyeuristic aspect of rape culture also plays a major role in why many women rape survivors do not readily come forward. Voyeurism is a HUGE aspect of rape culture. Voyeurism plays out in different ways in American rape culture.
Some perpetrators celebrate their conquests in multiple ways that are actually rewarded. Sometimes these celebrations are overt, whereas, other times they are more subtle. For example, rapists at times brag to male friends, fellow athletes and fraternity brothers. Rapists have even been known to video-record assaults for their own pleasure or others (Allegedly R. Kelly. Blink, blink)!
And, many girls and women survivors report being victims of voyeurism and stalked by their rapists before or after a rape.
Objects of The Gaze
Voyeurism in rape culture is witnessed in mainstream literature, art, movies and television shows, music, and print media like magazine ads.
Sexual aggression is common in pornography, for instance. Pornography is a multibillion dollar a year industry (source: https://goo.gl/3kGPym); and child pornography continues to be a major problem for law enforcement.
The verdict is still out on the role of pornography in rape culture, but plainly spoken, people "get off" on watching people being sexually dominated and objectified.
Pornography aside, Americans’ obsession with Reality TV (including my own—no judgment) may be further evidence of many individuals' enjoyment in watching someone else’s pain and pleasure in life. Thus, it is understandable when survivors of rape are hesitant to disclose their #MeToo “status” on social media. They do not want to feel re-victimized by the “Gaze”.
For Black women, rape coupled with being on display has historical context. Black women's public displays of suffering was instigated by White men for the pleasure of his audience and the demonstration of his personal power, during enslavement and the colonial period. Many are educated on the story of the African Khoikhoi woman Sara Baartman. She was sexually and physically abused by her European captors. Not only was she sexually violated, but she was also paraded around like a circus animal at the pleasure of her captors and their awed audiences.
Sara Baartman's silence screamed #MeToo!
Even though the declaration #MeToo serves to reclaim power, the voyeuristic aspect of rape culture makes the public act present as a double edge sword for victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Not coming forward is not simply about fear of the ramifications of exposing the perpetrator, but not coming forward is also a protective factor to prevent survivors from what feels like giving Americans exactly what they want:
Pleasure from experiencing someone’s else’s story of pain and abuse.
Ironically, as I look at all the women in social media who are coming forward, and many, if not most, are already public personalities, people of influence, or women with social capital. In many ways they have mastered public perception, or don’t give a rat's ass about public perception. And, some are even at a point in their careers where they might capitalize from sharing their story publicly.
I believe Burke in her Ebony interview was acknowledging this privilege in her call for a movement for radical healing.
"A Movement for Radical Healing" ~T. Burke
The next PUBLIC phase of the #MeToo campaign must be to question, challenge, and correct America’s fascination and obsession with witnessing the suffering of girls and women. We especially must protect poor young women and girls of color. We must question our culture’s love affair with being witnesses to and passive onlookers of sexual violence, and question how the nation has become so desensitized toward sexual violence. Desensitization births passivity and inaction.
Once more, we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a voyeuristic society. Therefore, that little bit of privacy is all that we have left to reclaim our power. To heed sister Taraka Burke's original call for a movement for radical healing, collectively us rape survivors and other women's rights advocates must ponder the questions:
(1) How do we give a face and voice to the realities of rape while pushing back against voyeurism in rape culture?
(2) How do we declare #MeToo without further normalizing rape and potentially violating survivors?
(3) How do we give voice to women’s experiences with rape without further marginalizing other girls and women who choose not (or currently are not in a position) to reveal their story publicly?
Please share your responses in the comments' section below or on Twitter @DrVenusEvansWinters.
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a. Dr. V)
"Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach."
I write this letter to you as a daughter, sister, mother, and friend whom has been wounded in the past by personal acquaintances, strangers, and enemies alike. Reading about the horrific death and possibly alleged* assault of Kenneka Jenkins was like handing my psyche over to a public firing squad.
Sister, over the next few days or weeks people are going to blame another young sister for Kenneka's death and alleged assault; others will attempt to blame her Black mother for not supervising her whereabouts; and people will blame Kenneka herself for being at a hotel and being overly trusting of her friends.
People will even blame the police and media for not covering the story and seeking out answers. In turn, the media will turn the lens back on Kenneka herself, her mother, friends, or Black people in general. Inevitably, somehow Black women will become simultaneously the overlooked victims and targets of this tragedy.
Compassion and empathy will be lost to blame. Sister, how do we begin to move the conversation from self-blame to healing?
For me, I was overwhelmed by the nonchalant attitude of possible witnesses of violence* occurring in various renditions of circulating videos, but I was more disheartened by the amount of young women who openly admitted that they needed to stop watching or could not watch any longer the videos and tweets titled, #KennekaJenkins, because it brought back too many memories of their own rape or experience with physical violence and betrayal.
Last night, I went to sleep feeling emotionally exhausted and saddened. I even had a nightmare that involved guns and the threat of rape. The hypothesis of Kenneka's final moments before her death coupled with the realization that dozens of Black women were admitting online in social media that they were once violated and survivors of rape caused me to be emotionally depleted.
Women spoke of the words and images describing the brutal assault as a trigger.
These public disclosures made me wonder:
1)Exactly how many young Black women are survivors of rape and never report the rape?
2) How many young Black women are required to cope in silence with their memories of a rape and/or assault with no one to talk to?
3) How many Black girls and women have to live out over and over again their assault via music, television, or social media?
4) Worse yet, how many mothers are burdened with the helpless feeling that no matter how much she loves her daughter, tries to protect her daughter, and teaches her daughter to stand up and fight for herself that she still will not be able to protect her daughter from being physically harmed, maimed, or death?
At some point, we even have to consider the pain of the so-called friend depicted* in the video. How much pain must a young woman must have experienced in her lifetime that she could sit back, record, and numb herself to another nearby sister in pain or in harm's way? It is easy to point fingers and to place blame, but I also wonder how have we failed this young sister.
Sister, we will do more to heal you and to protect your future daughters from rape, sexual assault, and other forms of physical abuse.
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a. DrV)
Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Why We Must Focus on Black Girls: http://www.theroot.com/sexual-assault-awareness-month-why-we-must-focus-on-bl-1794400667
Women of Color and Sexual Assault: https://endsexualviolencect.org/resources/get-the-facts/women-of-color-and-sexual-assault/
*Indicates language change related to updates of the Kenneka Jenkins case: http://trib.in/2xo4DMz
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a Dr. V)
Activist Scholar. Cultural Worker. Healer. Mother.