#NotAllWomen: Intersectionality and the #MeToo movement
The #MeToo movement has been monumental in bringing to light widespread and institutionalised sexual abuse that women face worldwide. While the rate and extent of change will be analysed – and debated – for years to come, this period of time will undeniably be looked back upon as a historic moment for women.
The extent to which it has benefitted all women, however, is a contentious point. To truly understand the impact of the #MeToo movement, we must look at how it has impacted women from all walks of life, from all around the world, not just one part of it. It looks very historic when we remain restricted to the perspective of white Western women. When we expand our vision beyond that sphere, the impact seems less significant.
Why that is the case, and the social forces behind the difference, can be explored through the concept of intersectionality.
Intersectionality as a term was first coined by scholar and civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Crenshaw articulated how different facets of identity (race, gender, religion, etc.) should not be looked at in isolation, as the intersecting of these traits determined how an individual was viewed by society, and in turn, how they themselves perceived their identity.
An sums it up thus: “If I’m a black woman, I have some disadvantages because I’m a woman and some disadvantages because I’m black. But I also have some disadvantages because I’m a black woman, which neither black men nor white women have to deal with. That’s intersectionality; race, gender and every other way to be disadvantaged interacting with each other.”
Applying the concept of intersectionality in relation to #MeToo isn’t new, but it has taken a back seat to more prominent voices and has not received the same public attention.
You may have heard that ‘Me Too’ was first used over a decade ago by African American activist Tarana Burke, as a way of highlighting the prominence of sexual assault in all racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
In 2007, Burke created Just Be Inc., a not for profit organisation that helps victims of sexual assault and harassment, committing herself to be there for those who have been victims of abuse. She decided to give her movement a name: Me Too.
If you haven’t heard of Tarana Burke and her work, then you almost definitely would know the more recent development, that actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the hashtag to her followers in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. That was when people took notice and the movement took off.
While Milano credited Burke with starting the movement in the days following her tweets, that fact didn’t make the headlines. The movement as it has played out since that moment has put white women front and centre. Women of colour, women with disability and trans women have not been allowed to play a central part of the narrative, despite the fact that belonging to each and any of these groups may, to varying degrees, of being subjected to sexual harassment or gendered violence.
According to a 2014-15 survey by the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) women reported experiencing physical or threatened violence in the previous 12 months at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. ATSI women were also 32 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence.
Historically, women of colour have faced high degrees of prejudice in Western society. Their voices and the issues they face are not taken as seriously as those of white women, and they do not benefit from cultural and societal changes in the same way.
A good example of this would be the different ways women of colour experience opportunities for career development and progression in the workplace.
According to a report released by the (DCA) in 2017, culturally diverse women experienced a ‘double jeopardy’ when accessing leadership roles due to their gender and cultural background. Of the 366 females surveyed, 88% of culturally diverse female talent planned to advance to a very senior role and 91% said that working in a job that offered mobility to leadership was important. Despite this drive and ambition, only 10% of culturally diverse women strongly agreed that their leadership traits were recognised or opinions valued in the workplace. One in four also agreed that cultural barriers in the workplace had caused them to scale back at work.
According to another report released by DCA in 2015, if , 64 would be Anglo-Celtic men, 28 would be culturally diverse men, six would be Anglo-Celtic women and only two would be culturally diverse women.
The modern #MeToo movement was effectively, if unintentionally, monopolised by white women. Those who became the face of the movement i.e. Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan, were wealthy, white Hollywood actresses.
While their actions were pivotal in ensuring this conversation remained in the spotlight, they only represented one specific group of women. This has proven to be problematic for a numbers of reasons.
Firstly, women of colour, women with disability and trans women may have found it hard to relate to these women as they don’t necessarily look or have the same lived experience as they do. Without role models to look up to, these women may not have felt that their own experiences were being addressed or accounted for.
Secondly, protection of their socio-economic status and wealth allowed them to speak out in ways that other women can’t. They received support not only from their immediate personal networks, but also, for the most part, from their Hollywood counterparts and the mainstream media. This expectation to “call out your oppressor” is not possible as an action of resistance for many – even most – women.
Many women live in circumstances in which they must endure sexual harassment and assault in order to simply survive. Speaking up or calling out their harassers could cost them their jobs, or in some more extreme circumstances, their safety or lives.
The Dalit women in India live this experience on a daily basis. They are considered to be of the lowest status in the caste system and are seen traditionally as
A large majority of these women are impoverished, and lack access to basic resources. They face violence such as rape and sexual assault on a daily basis, perpetuated not only by upper caste men, but Dalit men as well.
, the legal and judicial systems in India do very little to protect these women, leaving them open and vulnerable to human rights abuses.
While the Dalit women have fought for their rights throughout history, they have been unable to put an end to the structural discrimination and exclusion they face, as the constant threat and act of violence serves as a
As : Racism, money, colonialism, bigotry, history and resentment all influence the way in which women engage with not only this movement, but the world at large.
The individualistic nature of the movement has also proven problematic. The notion of one woman calling out their alleged oppressor, while important, won’t lead to the systemic and cultural change that is needed to benefit all women, as can be seen with the experiences of the Dalit women in India. One woman – or even a thousand women – in the Western world sending out a tweet will do little to breakdown the systemic discrimination they face.
While the #MeToo movement has been instrumental in driving the conversation around sexual assault and harassment and giving many women the opportunity to tell their stories, not all women have benefitted in the same way. All women are different, and a one size fits all approach will not work if we want to achieve true equality for women of all identities.
As : “Sexual violence knows no race, class or gender, but the response to it does.”