by Ami Irmen
A year ago, I was sitting at my computer, much like I am now – hot cup of tea, sleeping cat, music playing in the background. Quite possibly the same exact record. Back then, I was writing up a review for Asking for It, as well as an interview with the author, Kate Harding. At UntitledTown that April, I also had the chance to meet Kate Harding and listen to her read from and discuss this very book.
The book, the interview, the reading–they were all incredibly motivating to me as a survivor of sexual assault. But even so, I remember quite vividly thinking–ok, but now what? How do we make people believe the victims of sexual assault? How do we change our culture of entitlement where people feel the right to the bodies of others? I, like many, were beat from the constant fight that didn’t seem to be moving at all. Victims were tasked with having to prove their assault–and those accused of the assault were touted as “good guys” whose bright futures were being jeopardized. The narrative was getting exhausting.
During my interview with Harding, I flat out asked her, “What words of encouragement do you have for people who are starting to feel that this is an insurmountable fight – who are tired of having to keep fighting just to be heard and believed?” Harding responded by saying that, “You are allowed to take breaks from the fight. Taking care of yourself and checking in with all the things that are still good about humanity is important for sustaining this work over time.”
She continued by saying that while progress has been slow, things really are getting better. “I work with young people every day who are so much savvier about these things than I was when I was their age in the nineties. They’re fired up and ready to carry on the fight, in directions people my age might not even have predicted.”
I’ll admit it – I was ready to take a break, as Harding recommended.
And then October 2017 happened.
First, there was #MeToo. Tarana Burke is credited with coining this phrase/movement in 2006 in an attempt to create a grassroots campaign for women of color who had experienced sexual abuse. Burke states that she came up with the idea after a thirteen-year-old girl confided in her that she had been sexually assaulted – and Burke struggled, trying coming up with something to say. Burke notes that she wished she had simply said, “Me, too.”
On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano took to twitter noting that if everyone who had been sexually assaulted put “Me, too” as a status, it would demonstrate just how pervasive sexual assault really is.
And then social media lit up. Within twenty-four hours, the phrase/hashtag was used over five million times between Facebook and Twitter. And in response, many others replied by acknowledging their own behavior and noting #HowIWillChange.
And folks like me were given back the energy we needed to keep on fighting. We were reminded that we were far from alone in this. And as people began to realize that the victims – survivors – of sexual assault were their friends and family, not just unknown names in the news, we began to see tangible proof of changed behavior. Give a movement a known face, and it becomes a lot more difficult to ignore.
I reached out to Harding recently and asked her what she thought about #MeToo. Harding stated that, “The #MeToo movement represents a sea change in how we talk about sexual harassment and violence as a society. Perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that it’s too strong to be dismissed – I keep waiting for the backlash to come and restore the status quo, but each time it seems like that might happen, #MeToo plows forward. Could taking women seriously be the new status quo? I almost don’t dare believe it, but #MeToo has given me more hope than literally anything else in my adult life.”
Thanks to the #MeToo movement, a spotlight was shone, quite brightly, on the movement of Yes Means Yes. As Harding noted in an article she wrote for NBC News, “We’re still working on getting people to understand that consent needs to be affirmative and ongoing. So many folks still seem to think that if neither person was screaming “No!” and trying to claw the other’s eyes out, it couldn’t have been rape” (NBC News). The Yes Means Yes movement is working to educate that partners need to continually seek affirmative consent during any sexual encounter, allowing for someone to withdraw consent at any time without retribution.
The second thing to happen in October of 2017 was actor Anthony Rapp coming forward about the assault he experienced when he was just fourteen years old. Action was swift, and the perpetrator of this assault was immediately let go from his current role. Though the love in my Broadway-Geek heart knows no bounds for Rapp, the originator of Mark Cohen in Rent, I will admit to my own fault that it angered me that it took a famous man coming forward to tell his story before someone took the words of a victim seriously. But I will be forever grateful to him for doing so.
Since then, the serial actions of several famous and powerful individuals have been brought to light, the victims of the abuse taken seriously. In response to this, yet another movement has arisen: Time’s Up. This movement, which began in January 2018, has already raised over $20 million and gathered more than two hundred volunteer lawyers. Their mission? “[A] unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere [- f]rom movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike” that “addresses the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential. [They] partner with leading advocates for equality and safety to improve laws, employment agreements, and corporate policies; help change the face of corporate boardrooms and the C-suite; and enable more women and men to access our legal system to hold wrongdoers accountable” (Time’s Up).
To say things have changed since a year ago when I was first writing up those Kate Harding blogs for UntitledTown 2017 is an understatement. The way we communicate has changed. The way that we educate has transformed. And the fight? It has been reinvigorated.
Kate Harding will appear at “Nasty Women, Reading and Editor Q&A” on Saturday, April 21 at 10am at the KI Center. Other events featuring topics of social change, equity, and sexual assault include “We Write To Resist: Writing about the Dawn of a New Political Movement” (Saturday, 12 pm, KI Center), and An Evening with Roxane Gay (7 pm Saturday, KI Center), where a VERY LIMITED Number of Roxane’s new edited collection, NOT THAT BAD, will be on sale.