Monday, December 24, 2018
December 24, 2018: The Year in Review: #MeToo
[2018 feels like it’s been about ten years in one, but it’s almost done, so this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of the biggest stories from the year that was. I’d love to hear your year in review thoughts as well!]
On two historical applications of the contemporary activist movement.
As illustrated by nearly all of its most prominent cases to date, the #MeToo movement has focused at least as much on the past as on the present. That is, while of course disgraced offenders like Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, and many others remain very much with us in the present (often in evolving and particularly complicated ways), their cases have tended to address actions and assaults from the past, sometimes indeed the quite distant past. I’m not suggesting in any way that their timing makes the allegations any less serious or significant—even if there are at times legal statutes of limitations on pursuing these accusations through the justice system, the social and cultural conversations and responses need to occur in any case—but rather noting that as much as this movement feels specifically illustrative of our own moment, it has at least as much to tell us about historical periods and contexts.
If we take that lesson to heart, we can also extend #MeToo to help us think about other historical periods and figures as well. I wrote about one such historical application in my second piece for my Saturday Evening Post Considering History column (itself one of my favorite things about my own 2018), on the #MeToo movement that helped launch the Montgomery bus boycott and the Civil Rights Movement. (For more, see this We’re History column and this great book by historian Danielle McGuire.) This is a bit of a tricky comparison, as the current #MeToo movement has been frequently and to my mind rightly accused of minimizing the experiences and voices of women of color. But one clear way to challenge those narratives would be to note a historical example like this one, when women of color led their own #MeToo movement to counter histories of sexual assault and violence, histories in which both race and gender intersected. Perhaps that example can help us think further about the intersections (as well as the differences) between race and gender (among other identity categories) in our own moment’s unfolding #MeToo histories.
As I wrote about in this Fall preview post, there’s another thread of #MeToo accusations, the kind directed at figures like Junot Díaz and (especially) Sherman Alexie. As far as I know, Alexie isn’t accused of sexual assault or even harassment exactly, so much as having used his clout to keep Native American women writers from advancing in their own careers (or to make them dependent on him for any such advancement). That might seem far less significant than assault allegations, and of course any and all such situations should be seen as part of a spectrum, rather than necessarily parallel to one another. But if we examine the historical cases of women who were never able to advance or succeed in their chosen careers due to sexism and oppression—women like the groundbreaking architect Sophia Hayden, for example—we can begin to understand both what such treatment meant to these women and the broader societal loss effected by their absence. One more way to think about the historical legacies and lessons of the 2018 #MeToo movement.
Next reflection tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? 2018 reflections you’d share?