The Work of MeToo May Never Be Done

FKA Twigs at the Grammy Awards, January 26, 2020.
Photo: VALERIE MACON / AFP (Getty Images)

Since December, FKA Twigs has been talking openly about her alleged abuse at the hands of ex-boyfriend Shia LaBeouf, after filing suit against him for sexual battery, physical assault, and emotional distress. The suit was a last resort, Twigs has said, after pleading privately with him to seek help. But since the news broke, she has spoken with some frequency and has become a de facto leader for a kind of revivified MeToo; as an artist whose musical and visual output often relies on innovative displays of her physical and emotional strength, Twigs has been another example of how intimate partner violence and emotional abuse can affect anyone, no matter how outwardly powerful or put together they may seem.

The legal terms for abuse, “sexual battery, physical assault, and emotional distress” tend to obscure its brutality, and as Twigs has spoken more about her relationship with LaBeouf, the details are increasingly sanguine and horrific. In an interview with Gayle King that CBS This Morning aired Thursday, she recounted a moment in which LaBeouf sped recklessly on the highway, threatening to kill them both if she was thinking about leaving him. When they pulled into a gas station and she attempted to retrieve her belongings from the car, she said, he threw her up against the car and strangled her; three men who were present did nothing to intervene. “They just watched us,” she told King, “and I felt so alone. That’s why I wanted to come forward, because victims and survivors shouldn’t have to feel alone.” Later in the interview, recounting the moment she recognized her body was covered in bruises, Twigs broke down into tears. “I’m a dancer, and I really love my body and I take such good care of it. And I was looking at my body and I thought, Where did it all go wrong?”

King handled the interview unevenly, encouraging Twigs when she attempted to apologize for crying, but then contradicting herself by asking Twigs why she didn’t leave—a terrible question that puts the onus on the victim rather than the abuser. Twigs caught that, though, and flipped it on King. “We just have to stop asking that question. I know you’re asking it out of love, but I’m just going to make a stance and say that I’m not going to answer that question anymore because the question should really be to the abuser: Why are you holding someone hostage with abuse? And people say, it can’t have been that bad or she would have left. No, it was because it was that bad, I couldn’t leave.”

Through Twigs’s profoundly resolute and clear-eyed telling, particularly for a person who is clearly struggling while reliving the trauma she endured, these interviews have laid plain the familiar facets of intimate partner violence. They have also signaled the limitations of MeToo—and illustrated its next phase.

The rise of MeToo in 2017 tended to focus on the workplace and professional infractions; not enough attention was paid to the way abusers manifest at home. MeToo took off as a social movement in part because of its focus on the workplace, giving women a locus of control whereby they could make tangible demands. In the workplace, there are clear systemic changes to push for and tactics like unionization that can theoretically create a more equitable and safe working environment. Yet there are vast limitations to how much work culture can even be changed, and equity in the workplace has proven difficult to achieve, underscoring that it was never going to be the only facet to women’s liberation. As intimate partner violence has risen precipitously during the pandemic and survivors have less opportunity to seek out help, these stories illuminate some of the darkest and most dangerous spaces for the abused. The home is still seen as a site for individuals to cope with themselves, with spoken and unspoken boundaries about where and when institutional intervention is appropriate—and which institutions have the authority to intervene. Survivors don’t need cops, they need resources to leave—including income, which is an especially pressing issue in the pandemic, as women fall out of the workforce en masse. These devastating job losses have amounted to 5 million in 2020, with women accounting for 100 percent of job losses in December alone, prompting Vice President Kamala Harris to declare a “national emergency.” But workplace standards, such as the inability to take time off or guaranteed continued employment if they do, often prevent women from being able to leave a violent situation. The work sphere is intimately tethered to the home, even if we rhetorically insist they are separate.

Twigs’s candidness signifies a next chapter in the understanding of MeToo, one that explicitly lays out the way physical, emotional, and sexual violence are usually intimately tied together in an abuser’s tactics. Her testimony, as well as recent accusations about Marilyn Manson (first by Evan Rachel Wood) and Armie Hammer (by Paige Lorenze and others), illustrate the ways MeToo hasn’t yet gone far enough. While these women are telling their individual stories about intimate partner violence, as celebrities their platforms to do so are crucial, demonstrating the next wave of MeToo: a movement that also seeks justice in the home and other domestic spaces, one that doesn’t stop at liberation in the office.


When the MeToo movement went global in 2017, after New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published an investigative piece on now-convicted felon Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long pattern of sexual abuse and harassment, it felt like a long-deserved chance for both a reckoning and, perhaps, some relief. Powerful men were being publicly accused of abuse and misconduct towards women in what felt like a tidal wave, and some of them even faced consequences—firings and suspensions from television and film projects, resignations from top editorships, explosive and subtle returns to private life. The message was simply that abusive behavior and sexual misconduct cannot be tolerated. It was symbolized in the mainstream by a litany of stars wearing Time’s Up pins, black dresses, and white roses in solidarity on the Golden Globes red carpet—visibility and acknowledgment though not action in and of itself.

But most of all that initial wave of MeToo provided a brief chance for survivors to exhale—it gave them the knowledge that, if even for a moment, we were not alone. It reverberated across many industries from Hollywood to McDonald’s, and it felt like, for the first time, women who had been finally talking and organizing around this issue for years were, for perhaps the first time, being taken seriously.

But it wasn’t enough. More importantly, will it ever be? The last month of accusations against powerful men—Hammer, Manson, LaBeouf—has felt like an ouroboros, the feeling of dread that intimately accompanied the initial relief during the waves of MeToo in 2017. Even with some recourse and what now feels like relatively marginal consequences, there is neither impetus nor precaution to actually circumvent and interrupt these cycles of abuse. There are flashes of hope at an institutional level—in January, Rep. Cori Bush spoke to the New York Times about efforts to make coercive behavior, a key component of abuse, illegal; and Biden’s newly assembled Gender Policy Council is well-positioned to take steps towards prioritizing the combatting of gender-based violence, though, with a host of broad issues affecting women during the pandemic, they have their work cut out for them.

But as Twigs’s interview with King illustrated, the culture is just barely catching up with the appropriate way to speak to a survivor of intimate partner violence, much less equipped to educate men and boys to simply not be abusers. To help people in these situations, we need a movement that is more inclusive of survivors and treats intimate partner violence for what it is: a public health issue. These interviews are a natural outgrowth of MeToo’s cultural shift, but they also illustrate its limitations, laying bare just how far we still have to go.

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DISCUSSION

malloryknoxxx
MalloryKnoxxx

I know why the question “Why didn’t you leave?” is very problematic but I also kind of appreciate hearing it posed to women as intelligent and articulate as FKA Twigs. It’s so validating to me to hear these women I perceive as so much stronger than myself explain exactly what kept them in place.  It helps me realize that it wasn’t weakness keeping me where I was for so long and that, yes, it was as bad as it felt at the time.