(Content Warning: rape, sexual assault)
*Author’s note: this is the companion piece to “Sexual Assault in the Industry: Intersectional Factors” written by Kholood Abuhadid. If you haven’t done so already, please make sure to read the previous post as well.
The plethora of sexual assault allegations made by over 40 Hollywood actresses against Harvey Weinstein has not only caused a ripple effect within Hollywood, but it’s permeated outside of the film industry as well.
Ten years ago, the “Me Too” movement was originally created by activist Tarana Burke, as a way to support women of color who are survivors of sexual violence. It only became a hashtag movement on Twitter when actress Alyssa Milano invited women who’ve experienced sexual violence or harassment to share their stories to amplify the magnitude of rape culture in our society. A multitude of survivors took this opportunity to reveal harrowing personal stories.
Through this conversational piece between Pliab Vang and Kholood Abuhadid, we aim to talk about the prevailing issue of rape and sexual assault in our society, the ways in which rape culture is upheld, and to address the good and the bad of the #MeToo campaign.
KA: Hello, Pliab. Thank you for joining me to discuss the recent events that have just occurred. I guess I’m going to be blunt and just state it. We have a hell ton of sexual predators in this freaking world and Pliab, we need to talk about it!
PV: I’ve been looking forward to having this conversation with you, Kholood, there’s a lot we need to unpack. The issue surrounding rape and sexual assault is prevalent in our society. None of this is new, but with the buzz surrounding the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the mass trending of #MeToo on Twitter last weekend. It’s evident we’ve still got a problem we’re not addressing.
KA: I’m glad you brought #MeToo up! I’ve seen that hashtag all over my Facebook and at first, I didn’t really understand what was going on. All I saw was #MeToo as a stand alone hashtag without much context but it wasn’t until the first facebook post I saw on my feed mentioning sexual assault that it finally clicked together.
I think it’s actually pretty amazing and absolutely heartbreaking to see the mass amount of survivors coming together and not allowing for this problem to be silence any longer.
PV: The show of solidarity between survivors and those who are not survivors alike, has been empowering to witness. Though like you said, it is heartbreaking that societal issues like these repeatedly require a mass airing of trauma in order for everyone stop and listen.
Apparently statistics of rape and sexual assault aren’t enough for everyone to realize we’ve got a problem that needs fixing.
KA: Totally, but unfortunately some people won’t understand how big of a problem rape is until a hashtag like #MeToo and many others trend on social media and reaches national news. It’s showing that these are valid issues women still continue to face.
PV: True true, and by issues we’re talking not only the act of assault and harassment itself but how we as a society respond to allegations, how we treat those who’ve been victimized, and how we fail to punish and hold predators accountable.
We don’t need someone like Mayim Bialik writing an op-ed that openly shames and blames victims, claiming that “dressing modestly” and being “unattractive” or “unconventionally feminine” is enough to protect you from sexual assault.
KA: I think her argument is not based on logic. Muslim women most definitely are not free of sexual assault or harassment just because they dress modestly.
PV: Exactly, and where does it leave transgender or nonbinary survivors? Men? Or anyone who doesn’t fall into the conventional standards of “femininity”? Rape and sexual assault happens regardless of someone’s attractiveness or femininity.
KA: Instead of blaming how a woman chooses to dress or how feminine and attractive a person is, let’s start talking about how this society allows for this to happen. It’s people like Woody Allen or Quentin Tarantino, both really prominent men in the same industry that Weinstein flourished in, who stay silent which allows for this societal “hush hush”. Have you seen the Tarantino interview?
PV: I saw a Tweet about Tarantino on Twitter but didn’t get the chance to look into it yet, what did he say?
KA: Apparently, now he’s expressing regret about working with Weinstein but he admits that he know there were assaults occurring, including his own girlfriend, and he didn’t say anything.
During his interview, he states that “we allowed it to exist because that’s the way it is.” I just don’t understand how he knew that Weinstein was committing these atrocious assaults and he just didn’t stand up? Is it more to defend his own career while disregarding the sexual assault on women in the industry.
PV: I am in no way defending these men, but I’m guessing the reason why it’s difficult for men with power (in the industry) to speak out is because they’re afraid their social capital will decrease. I’m gonna say this, it’s about power and everything else that comes with it: money, fame, success.
KA: Isn’t that sick, though? The fact that Tarantino worked decades with this guy and now expresses regret and shame doesn’t really paint him in a credible light. I think the reason why I say this is to the fact that him being complicit wasn’t because he didn’t ‘want’ to get involved or ‘acknowledge’ that this was a theme and not an isolated incident. It was him saving his own career.
PV: Tarantino needed a powerful man like Weinstein to exist, so he could move upward in his career. I have to side-eye his decision to speak out now because for years he profited off Weinstein’s abuse and remained silent. Instead of waiting ten years to break the silence, we need men to be proactive and speak up the minute they know something is wrong. More than needing women to speak out we also need men to step up and hold themselves accountable.
KA: Agreed! Actually, I want to talk more about the #MeToo campaign. Do you think that’s it’s doing it’s job of bringing light to rape culture? Or do you think it’s leaving out certain individuals?
PV: Sure, I think #MeToo has challenged us to talk about sexual assault and rape culture. When hashtags like this one go viral, the attention that it receives makes it a lot more difficult to ignore the problem.
I don’t think the movement is at all perfect. While it’s given certain survivors a platform to share their stories and to use their voice, it has also erased many others too. An overwhelming amount of woc/poc and LGBTQ+ survivors are left out of this conversation, rape and sexual assault isn’t just exclusive to cis-het white women.
KA: Totally agree! I think this leads into another critique of the #MeToo movement. Does it shame those who are sexual assault survivors for not using #MeToo?
PV: I support anyone who has come out and shared their story, but the movement also pushes those who don’t want to participate into a corner and forces them to talk about their sexual assault trauma.
I also want to say that I do support the individuals who choose not to disclose their history. They still matter and their experiences are just as valid.
Now, do you think that the success of the #MeToo trend was because it was kicked off by a white woman, despite it being originally created by a black woman for other women of color?
KA: That’s an interesting point. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if it was women of color who came forth with the assaults and the accusations. Would it be such a large movement? Or is it because the women who started coming forth were wealthy and white, that it blew up so largely?
PV: I doubt anyone would back up women of color as much as they’d back up a white woman. Tarana Burke created the movement and has been working hard to fight against sexual violence for years, but where was the solidarity for Burke and these women of color? Why aren’t the movements created by women of color for women of color trending as well?
KA: You make a valid point, and I understand that you are in no way, shape or form, disregarding the personal experiences of a white women because each story brings value. But I think I understand what you’re trying to get at because I will fully acknowledge that the sexual assault of women of color is disregarded so heavily in this culture that power thrives in. It’s become so easy to look the other way from a women of color’s assault because she doesn’t have the societal support that a white women would in society.
PV: Yeah, a lot of what we’ve been discussing here in regards to #MeToo highlights how important it is for our feminism and activism to be intersectional. We need to allow for there to be space for women of color and LGBTQ+ survivors, we need to show up for everyone just as we’d want them to show up for us.
KA: You couldn’t have said better, Pliab. I hope this discussion opens for more opinions.
To our readers, what are your thoughts on hashtag activism? With regards to movements like #MeToo and #YesAllWomen, should it be the duty of survivors to come forth with their trauma in order to prove an already obvious point? When do we stop asking survivors to speak up and instead ask for predators and abusers be held accountable? We’d love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to share in the comments.
Kholood Abuhadid is a fourth year Biomedical and Medical Lab Science student with minors in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies. She is Palestinian-American and is passionate about Palestinian rights as well as encompassing feminist intersectional ideology. Kholood is an avid reader and loves to dabble in creative writing. She hopes one day to establish herself in the world of medical research as well as have an active voice in the Public Health world. She also thinks she’s good at knitting but in reality is actually quite horrible! Managing editor.
Pliab (Plee-ah) Vang is Hmong American. A feminist. An undergraduate senior at St. Cloud State University, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies. She enjoys talking race, gender, class, social issues and pop-culture and is passionate about Asian American and Pacific Islander issues. Pliab is a Master of Procrastination. She spends an unhealthy amount of her time binging (but never actually finishing) TV shows, scrolling through Twitter, and hanging out with friends. Social media consultant.