The Need for Intersectionality in the #MeToo Movement
By Eunice Park
Despite the #MeToo movement’s undeniable success in exposing a wide range of sexual predators and launching a nationwide sexual assault conversation, the range of faces we see and voices we hear representing the movement is very limited. Although Tarana Burke, an African American woman, founded the movement, #MeToo has fallen prey to being co-opted as a convenient social justice hashtag by white, upper class women who spotlight stories of Hollywood actresses while ignoring experiences of people who are most likely to be victims of gender violence, who are minorities, queer, and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged. The #MeToo movement’s purpose should not be to maximize the number of high powered businessmen society can shame but should be to rather radically restructure the heavy imbalance of power that gave these businessmen the ability to abuse their power in the first place. Doing so requires us to examine privilege in the #MeToo movement, which allows certain stories to be uplifted and other experiences to be ignored.
In fact, the #MeToo movement presents a troubling situation where despite the common hashtag meant to connect all victims of sexual violence in solidarity, this focus on highlighting victimhood and shaming perpetrators stops short of dismantling the system that allows such crimes to happen, and only further consolidates the division of power. Within the #MeToo survivor community, the voices and needs of people who are minorities, queer, and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged are repeatedly shut down through the lenses of white America - of white newscasters, white celebrities, and white culture - which capitalizes off white tears and destroys survivor narratives of marginalized people with doubt and vengeance. There is an inextricable power relationship that ties white society with these stories, whether it be through white media hypersexualizing women of color or overwhelmingly white college administration boards setting inadequate policies for responding to sexual assault cases that make the legal process of reporting a rape especially daunting for financially disadvantaged people who do not have access to private legal services. #MeToo is not limited to a conversation based on reproductive organs and gender violence, but rather, is as relevant to broader conversations about race, privilege, socioeconomic status, and more - that supports the power structures that are perpetrating their oppression. No matter how uncomfortable this is, #MeToo needs to engage in these conversations, led by those who are most likely to face suppression. By uplifting stories of people who are minorities, queer, and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged, #MeToo can lead an intersectional movement to restructure the power imbalance.
However, it is necessary to recognize that the #MeToo movement cannot neatly be split into the priorities of white, privileged women and marginalized people. In fact, neatly defining the #MeToo movement into easily discernible, marketable sections is dangerous, as it ignores the vast gray area that separatist labels do not protect, whether it be legal protections for sex workers who have been sexually assaulted or murky experiences like the Aziz Ansari story, in which Ansari, a Hollywood actor, was accused of ignoring a woman’s uncomfortable body language during a sexual encounter. In order for the movement to be truly revolutionary, the #MeToo movement, which is multidimensional, must embrace the multicolored diversity of experiences of its people. In order for the movement to be truly revolutionary, the #MeToo movement must listen and be flexible in responding to unique concerns of marginalized voices.
My hope for #MeToo is that people will shift away from viewing the movement’s success in terms of the number of people the movement exposes, but rather value its success in the diversity of people it uplifts. If we begin to shift away from the mindset of #MeToo being a transactional movement, we can begin to expose more powerful narratives and spotlight more diverse people to be the leaders of the movement. Once we stop seeing #MeToo as a political transaction of power, flexibility is created to engage in deeper discussions about broader issues of privilege to tackle other intersectional social justice issues.
The future is intersectional, and I hope to see the #MeToo movement leading the way.