Wednesday, a diverse panel of reflected on the Me Too movement one year after Christine Blasey Ford.
For further information and support on the subject matter discussed in this piece, please visit: Columbia Sexual Violence Response – https://health.columbia.edu/content/sexual-violence-response
On September 27th, 2018, just a year after a myriad of shocking allegations were published in The New York Times in regards to high-profile Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein, Christine Blasey Ford stood among the Senate Judiciary Committee and recounted her experience of sexual assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, who was at the time being considered for appointment to the Supreme Court. Her fearless testimony was heard across the world, and sparked a much larger debate around the level of accountability we place on people in positions of power, particularly political power.
Now, two years after Weinstein and just over a year after this groundbreaking testimony which undoubtedly changed the face of the #MeToo movement, the conversation has by no means ended. #MeToo: One Year After Christine Blasey Ford, a panel discussion organized by Women Creating Change (a subdivision of the Centre for Social Difference at Columbia University), centers around the release of the book Indelible in the Hippocampus, a collection of essays, poetry and non-fiction writing created in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Curated by short story writer Shelly Oria, the title of the anthology is a nod to Blasey Ford’s visceral retelling of her assault in her testimony: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and they’re having fun at my expense.”
The moderator of the panel, Davia Temin, has been involved in sexual violence activism since the 1970s. A Columbia graduate herself, she went on to become a counselor at the school for survivors of sexual violence. For Temin, the urgency of these kinds of discussions is clear; with more and more women rising to positions of power, voices that were once silent are now being amplified and advocated for. She notes that whilst much of the attention around the #MeToo discussion is centered around the high-profile celebrity accusations, it is not just beautiful celebrities that experience this kind of harassment; it is an epidemic that does not discriminate.
Oria used her time to highlight the exclusionary nature of the movement, and how, even though #MeToo has gained significant traction in the past two years, women “have been writing about this shit forever.” Though the media’s exposure of these stories has done great things for the movement, Oria notes that those gaining attention for their stories are “beautiful, white, straight celebrities”, which is not, in fact, an accurate representation of those who experience sexual violence. After all, as Oria recognizes, the #MeToo hashtag was conceived by a black woman, Tamara Burke. Oria also chose to emphasize the importance of her anthology containing a number of different mediums, both fiction and non-fiction. She noted the inherent power of addressing trauma through poetry and story-telling, a concept that Elissa Schappell later touched on.
Elissa Schappell began writing stories about her experiences because of the anger she felt towards the injustices in the world, emphasizing the power the fictive world can have in situations like these. She found herself writing for Indelible in the Hippocampus after watching Blasey Ford’s testimony herself. As a firm believer that trigger warnings were unnecessary, she was initially unfazed; however, as the testimony went on she found herself becoming more and more affected by Blasey Ford’s words, realizing that she too could relate to the violence that was being discussed. She set out to use her writing as a way to unite people who have faced similar experiences, literature women could truly see themselves in.
A particularly interesting feature of the panel was the presence of Olatunde Johnson, who is a professor at Columbia Law School with an incredibly prolific legal background, and therefore offered a new perspective. Though she is not a contributor to the book, her voice was vital in the understanding of what sexual violence looks like on the legal landscape. Her discussion was geared towards how we must attempt to reform the legal system in order to protect those who are most at risk, those who may not have advocates. Johnson, when pressed by Temin about her view on unions as a way to protect workers at risk of sexual assault, highlighted that the corruption within unions prevents accountability for sexual harassment in the workplace.
Without a doubt, the most powerful voice among the panel was that of Gabrielle Bellot, who, as a black transgender woman, offered a refreshing perspective to the conversation which has at this point centered largely around cisgender white women. Bellot used the story of Virginia Rappe, a young woman who died in 1921 at a party held by the infamous Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle to illustrate her understanding of exclusion. Rappe entered a hotel room with Arbuckle, who locked the door behind him (as Bellot says, much like Weinstein), and allegedly began to sexually assault her, her death the result of a ruptured bladder caused by immense pressure on her body. Arbuckle was ultimately found not guilty for Rappe’s death, due largely to the information that came out about Rappe having had an abortion and venereal diseases that could have led to her untimely death. Bellot relates this anecdote to a larger question: who can take part in this movement? Who is, as she says, “the wrong kind of woman”? When Bellot began her journey writing for this anthology, she detailed a great turmoil she experienced, feeling as if there was not a place for people like her in this movement; her nerves around writing came not from revealing any kind of scandal, but from feeling like she did not belong. She is not critical of the movement itself but wants to emphasize that the movement needs to be inclusionary of all identities in order to achieve its goal.
The conversation ended with the topic of forgiveness. Can we allow those who have committed crimes of such a heinous nature to reintegrate into society? The answer is unclear. As one member of the audience posited, our focus should be on ensuring these kinds of acts are treated with the utmost seriousness, and the consequences are severe, both in the legal and social sphere. Overall, there was certainly a sentiment that rang true throughout those who spoke, panelists and audience members alike; without repentance, there can be no forgiveness.
Panel via bwog staff