Professor Provides Local and Global Context to #MeToo


“#MeToo, The Global Accents of Sexual Assault” attracted a large crowd this past Thursday afternoon in the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs. Students of all years and many different disciplines gathered to hear professor of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies Professor Sujata Moorti explore the nuances of the #MeToo movement within a global context.

By classifying the #MeToo movement as part of a universal phenomenon, pointing to increasing activism in various countries around the world, Professor Moorti sought to link the global and the local understandings of the movement. Moorti presented a map which highlighted the locations with the highest concentration of social media activity with the #MeToo and similar tags. While the United States had a notably high concentration, many other countries, particularly in Western Europe but also notably in Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, also had large presences on the map.

Although the title of this talk suggested a focus on activism beyond the U.S., much of the presentation proceeded thereafter with an analysis of the #MeToo campaign against Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment largely as it has played out in the United States. But recognizing the global accents of the phenomenon, Moorti argued, enhances our understanding of the local.

What followed was a thoughtful analysis of the #MeToo movement which both commended its intention and successes, as well as called for a significant shift in focus. Moorti raised several important points about the nature of the moment which set the stage for these conclusions, beginning with the crucial role of social media. The digital era has changed the platform for activism, she explained.

“Participatory interactive features of digital media is the current form of activism” Moorti said.

Origin stories, she argued, serve as an equally important tool in defining a movement. Moorti pointed to activism from the 60s and 70s in the United States for instance, as an overlooked and very relevant chapter of the campaign against sexual assault and sexual harassment. Consciousness raising groups and the notorious coining of the phrase “the personal is political” might be considered the analog version of our current digital activism.

But here lies the need for a significant shift. The visibility that comes with this sort of activism, though very speedy, doesn’t meet the mark. Analyzing fundamental issues at hand ultimately ought to trump the politics of visibility according to Profeesor Moorti. What is lost when we prioritize exposing truths over combatting the powers that produce them in the first place?

“We can come up with a different movement if we turn away from the Weinstein moment and go back further” she said.

Turning to when Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court Nominee, of sexual assault, for instance, expands the narrative significantly, Moorti explained, presenting a photo from the infamous trial.

“This moment allows us to tell a different story about racialized sexism,” she said.

Moorti juxtaposed this imagery with Time’s Women of the Year cover to reinforce her point that redefining the origin story of #MeToo beyond the Weinstein moment allows us to refocus for the better.

“Classifying the Time women of the year as silence breakers erases decades of activism” she said.

Now is the time to be thinking about groundbreaking moments that preceded all the tweets and digital activism. The Anita Hill case and cases like when Dominick Strauss Khan, the former president of the IMF was ousted on a public platform should be included in our timelines, so that their fight may be continued and not forgotten . Khan’s case “presents an allegory for western hubris” and gets us back to thinking about hotel workers and other “women on the frontlines of sexual harassment and sexual assault” Professor Moorti explained.

The presentation’s conclusion challenged students to consider the complexities of the women’s movement in America. It reorganized to some degree what ought to be prioritized, with fundamental issues, deeper understanding of historical and global contexts, consideration of the intersections of race and class at the top of the list. Visibility politics, celebrity feminism should occupy a smaller space going forward.

What does the future look like, then? Professor Moorti concluded the presentation with a quote from Saludi Faludi’s Backlash which articulates the challenge at hand.

“An accurate charting of American women’s progress through history might look more like a corkscrew tilted slightly to one side, its loops inching closer to freedom with the passage of time—but like a mathematical curve approaching infinity, never touching its goal.”

Despite this tone, students were eager to continue the conversation. For instance, Sabina Latifovic ’18, challenged people to consider the accessibility of the legal system.

“Who has access to the legal system? Who has access to lawyers? Why do we view the legal system as legitimate and not hundreds of thousands of women speaking about their experiences legitimate?”

The talk concluded as many conversations about this topic easily do, with more questions than answers. However, if students would like to have more talks of this nature, they should email [email protected]