On the one-year anniversary of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s exhaustive report about Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual assault and harassment, Susan Collins delivered a lengthy speech where the Republican senator argued that even though she thinks #MeToo is important, she would vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because, as she later explained, she didn’t really believe Christine Blasey Ford.
Collins’s speech spoke volumes about the limits of #MeToo. Though she had absorbed the rhetoric of the movement, calling it “real” and “needed,” her words were empty and gestural, designed to make her sound empathetic while behaving the opposite. She chose to bypass the institutional critique—the very purpose of the movement—in favor of language that felt particularly meaningless in light of her vote. It was a depressing spectacle, emblematic of the deep political despair I’ve often felt since the 2016 election.
I’ve returned to paraphrasing an old quote by labor activist, Wobbly, and songwriter Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn; organize.” It’s beyond cliché, but it’s a succinct and clear beacon, especially as this despair threatens to engulf us. There’s time for mourning, just as there is a time for joy, relief, anger, sadness, and every other emotion we have felt (sometimes simultaneously) since #MeToo became a hashtag. The necessary coping mechanism for this jumble of feeling is the business of shoring up our strength.
This year has been one of triumphant gains and disheartening setbacks. Of survivors’ collective voices being raised—to later be told we were too loud, too hysterical, too “shrieking.” They had had enough of us, and so with Kavanaugh, it was time to bring back the idea of the “good man,” who should be excused and redeemed at all turns in order to reestablish the natural way of things: that white men are allowed to do whatever they want, and if accountability even glances their way, it’s a trap or conspiracy drummed up by the Left.
The increments of change this movement has made—a few guys got fired; more women are speaking publicly—have been too dangerous to the status quo, and so the status quo has decided it is time for us to shut up again. The year since #MeToo has also been a fascinatingly transparent measure of how little survivors’ voices are wanted, how desperately certain factions want to tamp them down as we gain even the slightest bit of ground. Women and queer people who have spent years struggling with whether to come forward about their experiences were now subject to handwringing about when their abusers could “come back.” Whether or not they deserved to was barely a conversation.
The work, though, is ours to take: not a burden but a necessity, and unencumbered by anyone who might call us hysterical or invent conspiracy theories about our motivations or describe us as an angry, self-victimizing, shrieking mob. We set the tone for this work, and the anti-#MeToo faction has it utterly wrong. We are not victims, we don’t see ourselves as such. Survivors call ourselves survivors because we refuse to be vilified for harm that was incurred upon us, that we never asked for. We are going to fight.
#MeToo was born in 2006 as the result of Tarana Burke’s strength in organizing—first surrounding the wrongfully incarcerated Central Park 5 when she was just a teenager, and now for Girls for Gender Equity, a nonprofit that centers the needs of girls of color through its work against gender and racial discrimination. If anything could be improved with the#MeToo movement (as opposed to Burke’s organization), it is centering women and girls of color, the community which Burke meant to focus on in the first place. And within #MeToo, we can do better: one of the biggest disappointments of the last year unrelated to predatory assholes is how women of color who came forward weren’t as closely listened to as the white women who did.
Burke told Jezebel’s Katie McDonough:
We know the reality, we know the statistics, we know the community, we know the landscape. It’s up to us to strategize about how we move forward despite the fact that the media is saying one thing. Because the media will come along, eventually, at some point. People who are thoughtful and who really committed to the fullness of the issue will pick it up and run and help us get traction.
Keeping Burke’s history and commitment to this movement at the forefront of our minds, this month, Jezebel reflects on the last year in the unprecedented, momentous, difficult, and rewarding #MeToo movement, which is only getting stronger as we head to the polls on November 4. (Make sure your registration is current here; deadlines in several states are today, October 9.)
In the 12 months since the wave broke, Jezebel has tried to cover every single one of these stories, a continuation of the work the site has done for the 11 years we’ve been in existence. We wrote about our years-long effort to expose the truth about Louis CK and ran a running list of the powerful people accused of predatory behavior post-Weinstein, which after several months we had to abandon because there were just too many, all at once. We wrote about the “Shitty Media Men” list, which included several of our former colleagues; we continued and concluded our ongoing coverage of the Cosby trial(s) from Morristown, Pennsylvania.
Thank you to all the people who’ve come forward in the past year. We see you and respect your bravery. This is just the beginning. We come baring our teeth.