The last few weeks the public has been inundated with shocking revelations of predatory behavior in Hollywood. So much so, I needed time to process before writing about it. Some folks have been skeptical of the allegations, as many of the women have waited 5-10 years (if not more) to share their stories. While I’m sure most folks figured there were shenanigans going on in Hollywood, I think it’s been hard for people to grasp that it’s on such a wide scale. Especially, with celebrities they admired. I think it speaks to the fact, that this country has not really addressed the pervasiveness of sexual violence against women.
Recently, I came across a post that pointed out that we need to make a distinction between sexual assault, sexual harassment, and just asshole behavior. I thought this was important, and probably what’s contributing to most of us feeling overwhelmed. The mixing of incidents, is creating confusion. Ellen Page shared that Brett Ratner “outted” her on set. While offensive, and the way he did it was vulgar, it’s not rape. Lupita Nyong’o wrote an article about her interactions with Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein lured Lupita into several uncomfortable situations, one that resulted in her having to give him a massage, for her own safety. She experienced harassment, but it wasn’t rape. Other women (and men) talked about incidents they’ve endured, while disturbing, many were asshole antics…but it wasn’t rape.
This is not about oppression olympics, all of these scenarios feed into the larger issue of rape culture. However, it’s making me a little anxious folks are lumping a outting story (as Kevin Spacey also tried to do), or someone giving a perverted sneer, with rape.
It’s also problematic that Tarana Burke is not being centered in this dialogue. Burke started the #metoo campaign over ten years ago. She did it to create space for Black girls/women who often deal with sexual violence at very young ages, and frequently.
Black girls/women should always be at the forefront of conversations regarding rape. This country was built off the sexual exploitation of Black women’s bodies (slavery). This country for 200+ years was able to abuse Black girls/women’s bodies with no recourse. The foundation of rape culture, is the legally sanctioned violence of Black women. While some folks may not think it’s necessary to include Burke’s name when sharing #metoo…it undermines Black women’s activism, as well as Black women survivors. When discussing #metoo, white feminists especially, need to make sure to credit Burke.
When the news first broke about Weinstein, actress Mayim Bialik wrote a piece stating a woman’s attractiveness is what makes her most susceptible to sexual harassment. I found it amusing several white feminists acquaintances, agreed with her. I had to chime in, was this a white feminist thing? As Black women, particularly dark-skinned, heavier set, with prominent features are deemed less desirable in this country, yet have high rates of sexual assault. The white feminists were applying white standards of beauty to all women.
Burke, herself, does not fit their standard. I have read some horrible things regarding her looks. People mocking why would someone want to assault her. But Burke, and most Black women don’t align with white girl looks. This actually makes us more vulnerable to violence. The intersections of racism, sexism, and colorism affect Black women in a way they do not affect white women. We don’t get white girl privilege, even if the white girl isn’t “conventionally attractive”.
Isn’t that the story of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye?” The degradation of Pecola because of her dark skin, African features, and “coarse” hair makes her a target for abuse/rape. No one cares, because her gender/looks aren’t valued in this anti-Black woman country (misogynoir).
It’s been interesting to watch the support for the white women actresses/other white women who have poured out their hearts. I wonder if the same concern would be given if Black women flooded the news with tales of sexual abuse. Racism prevents white people from empathizing with Black people (which is why we had to start a Black Lives Matter Movement). There’s a reason why out of all the women who accused him of harassment, Weinstein only denied the claims of the Black woman (Lupita).
Much respect to Burke, and all Black girls/women resisting sexual violence in their communities.