Grand Rapids, #UsToo
Since #MeToo hashtag was started in lieu of the many women in Hollywood coming forward and exposing Harvey Weinstein as a power-abusing sexual predator, online communities has been littered with conversations around sexual assault and harassment, abuse and the supremacist structures of our cultural institutions and societies at large that allow it all to flourish and go unchallenged.
The discussions have dove deeply into how common these narratives are and the fact that rapists and abusers, though not exclusively but primarily men, are yet supported and created by them and patriarchy at large, take advantage of and get away with it, while the rest of us become indoctrinated to stand, watch and justify it all, or have little power to challenge it on our own.
There has also been really illuminating criticisms and concerns about the #MeToo movement, the ensuing conversations and criticisms of hashtag social justice movements in general. I have read many great things on the topic ranging from reminding people that the term being used to discuss harassment and assault was actually started by a Black woman, about shifting the focus away from victim/survivors and onto perpetrators, abusers and bystanders and patriarchy as perpetuated and upheld by all men, the oversimplifying binary of abuser/abused, the triggering aspects of what is essentially victims/survivors having to put their vulnerabilities and traumas on display to give more light and urgency on an issue that shouldn’t even be one, should already be address and shouldn’t require trauma porn to be taken care of, using more gender inclusive language to discuss patriarchy, gender violence, abuse and sexual harassment, intersectionality, white feminism, consent and abuse culture at large, etc.
I don’t want to get too far into discussing it all (though I encourage folks to do some digging and reading!). What I will say about it, however, pertains to this piece: I think one of the most unsettling things about #MeToo, aside from the sheer number of people who could say it, is how late in the scheme of addressing these social issues the hashtag is. It is grassroots, the voice of victim/survivors themselves deciding for themselves how to come forward with their narrative, and for that I have love for its stories and I honor and respect those who have come out to tell their story. But we all deserve better than that.
Ultimately, having to come out and say #MeToo on social media is too late. Us reacting (or not) to the waves of people saying #MeToo or speaking out about their abusers is too late. Survivors/Victims having to demand those around us step up to the patriarchy they see or perpetuate and start looking into themselves is too late. Waiting until there are hundreds of thousands of survivors and victims, or years of abuse and sexism to do anything of this shit is too late. Police, prisons, judges, juries, all stacked against survivors/victims, especially those at multiple intersections of marginalization (sex workers, trans people of color especially trans women of color, Black women, undocumented folks, etc), is too fucking late.
And having to expose rapist and abusers in public manners through hashtags or even Medium articles is far from ideal, imperfect, triggering, messy, dangerous. A last resort I try to avoid as much possible but isn’t an option to avoid for many, but also often isn’t an option to use for many either, their only option being silence. Too late, and those around them don’t even realize it.
And yet here I am, again. And in these past two months alone, I have posted many accounts of sexual harassment I experience when outside of my home onto my personal Instagram and Facebook accounts, have come forward about my experiences with the Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival (and was subsequently had my first piece removed by Medium for doing so), have re-shared the story I wrote about Marcel “Fable” Price as, since publishing it, he has been named Poet Laureate and been all over the media, and have started with my friend Siang’ani advocating for a local victim/survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault and carceral feminism, Desirae Glatfelter.
But I want better than that, know we deserve better than this. Better than a messy week of a hashtag that has been difficult and triggering, than having to record men harassing me and me fighting them off and hoping they don’t threaten me like that one time. Better than constant call-outs and exposures that rely on the person doing the exposing, victims and survivors, putting themselves at risk and forcing them to relive trauma, being disbelieved, being criticized and stigmatized. Better than our quiet, private networks of what men, person or circle of people to stay away from. Better than staying silent, staying home. Better than hearing about a survivor’s continued victimization after she has been incarcerated.
And for us to have better, we have to have a hard look at ourselves, Grand Rapids. Because #UsToo. We also have a huge problem with supremacy and hierarchies that allow all types of sexual violence and abuse happen on every level. We’re number #2 for human trafficking and one of the worst cities in the nation for African Americans for a reason. Betsy DeVos, the woman who rescinded Title IX guidance with regards to handling of sexual assaults on college campuses, is from here. Us too, because thousands of people from Grand Rapids have spent the past week saying #MeToo.
What we don’t do in this city in response to the exposing of abuse, assault, rape, violence and injustice shows me that, at the end of the day, our care about social justice is a show, largely self-aggrandizing and performative, symptomatic of the patriarchal, colonial Dutch CRC roots of the city. We want to look good, not actually get into the messiness of creating healthier, happier communities free from abuse and assault. The moment it is time to create this reality, to learn about and create transformative accountability processes (and enforce them!), to challenge people with position in our communities who have been exposed as abusers, to speak truth to abuse of power, to maintain a strong front and support survivors and victims of rape and sexual assault/harassment, abuse and domestic violence, to create healthier communities where we can openly discuss and handle these things among ourselves, most who talk the talk are nowhere to be found.
This whole community still supports and fawns over Marcel Price, and so many other abusive men and people in the arts community at large. I still have friends who will attend and support the Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival. And I am lucky. Victims and survivors of rape and violence go through worse hell on a daily basis being reminded that this city isn’t built to protect, support and uplift them, are victimized and violated by institutions that then invest in the idyllic, gentrifying image of a great, progressive, cultured city to come and visit and support and move to!
I want to live in a city that actually gives a shit about rape culture, sexual harassment and assault and domestic violence before the hashtags start, about educating ourselves on these subjects and being versed in these conversations preemptively. I want to live in a city whose various arts, food, justice, professional and social communities doesn’t gift and protect abusers. I want to create alternatives outside of systems specifically calibrated to give us violent, unjust outcomes. I want safer spaces and victims/survivors to be the heart of this learning, of these processes. Because #MeToo and #UsToo, I believe that we, too, have to look at ourselves and our current attitudes and systems, institutionally, inter-personally, within ourselves, and challenge the patriarchy, rape culture and abuse before it gets to the point that we’re at as a culture right now.