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Bringing together our #MeToo stories
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I'm reading
Bringing together our #MeToo stories
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Bringing together our #MeToo stories
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
10 June 2019

Bringing together our #MeToo stories

18 months on, four Australian writers contemplate the Me Too movement and who it might include

Miriam Sved, Christie Nieman, Maggie Scott and Natalie Kon-yu

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

When the #MeToo hashtag went viral, the four of us started having the conversation.

By then we’d been meeting for many years as a writers group, a feminist editorial collective and, first and foremost, a group of friends, so we knew most of what there was to know about each other. But we didn’t know each other’s experiences of sexual harassment, assault and coercion. We’d never spoken about these things, because – like so many women around the world – we had all internalised ideas about what was normal: just part of growing up, of relationships and workplaces, of moving through the world as women.1

The conversation we started to have, that so many other women also started to have, is partly about stocktaking. Removing each experience from its dusty shelf, considering it afresh: what we labelled it at the time, what it meant, how we might start to think of it now.

The conversation is about lines. Hannah Gadsby talks about the line between the Good Men and the Bad Men: about how men have taken it upon themselves to draw and defend the placement of that line, and how women have to be able to claim this defining role. And now, finally, it seems that lines around sexual assault and abuse are being reassessed through the prism of women’s experiences. The line between ‘a bit of fun’ and harassment. Between banter and lechery; assumed consent and abuse of power. Sometimes between an awkward encounter and an ongoing trauma.

One of the many issues presented by the #MeToo hashtag is that it is asked to represent both the contested space around the lines and, once all lines have been crossed, the scarred landscape of clear-cut sexual abuse, assault and exploitation.

We encountered many challenges in pulling together our book, #MeToo: Stories from the Australian movement. There were challenges of representation, in a movement started by a woman of colour to empower women in under-privileged communities and brought to notoriety by rich white celebrities. And there were the challenges presented by those lines, which beg questions about where the movement begins and ends, who it is for and where it might go. Is it for victims of domestic violence, and violence that is gendered but not clearly sexual? Is it for those who have been catcalled as well as those who have been raped? Is it for Aboriginal women who, in a culture of ongoing racial persecution, might feel the need to defend their men before their gender? Is it for children?

The stories that came in presented a range of nuanced responses to these questions. And they came in fast; so many stories. They came from industries as diverse as nursing and acting; from encounters in pubs and parties and the halls of parliament and, in overwhelming numbers, from women abused in their own homes (definitively answering the question of whether we should include domestic violence within the scope of the project). They came from women of different backgrounds, ethnicities, abilities and sexualities. They came in personal essays, fiction and sometimes poetry, and we decided that if we were committed to listening to women’s stories we should listen to them in whatever form they took.

What all the different stories shared was a sense of revelatory negotiation with the self and the world. An ongoing demarcation; women drawing their own lines. We found that even women who have experienced the worst traumas of violent sexual assault have needed to defend their line, to proclaim to a hostile world and sometimes even to themselves: this happened; this was not my fault. And this was not right.

This, we have come to see, is the challenge and also the strength of the movement. Whether we are talking about catcalling or rape, the internalisation of ideas about what is normal, what is unavoidable, is the same. We have been moving the lines for so long, according to what the world has conditioned us to accept. We have adjusted our expectations.

As the backlash begins in earnest from men who’ve been ‘MeTooed’ – men like Louis CK, who might accept a slap on the wrist with some semblance of humility but have no intention of relinquishing any of the gendered power that allowed them to abuse women with impunity for so long – it becomes clear that we can’t rely on men to change the world. But we’re optimistic: because women, increasingly, are on the inside – rebuilding the power structures, helping each other up; telling their stories.

What we need – what the many brave pieces in our book offer – is a new map of the world with the grid laid down carefully, thoughtfully, by women.

1  We mean to include trans and non-binary folk here. We realise that cis men can also be victims of sexual assault, violence and toxic masculinity, but the kind of threat that women, girls, trans and non-binary folk face is pervasive and facilitated by a misogynistic and transphobic culture.

This is an edited extract from #MeToo: Stories from the Australian Movement, published by Picador, available now.
https://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781760785000/

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