How Nonfiction Books Reflect the Rise of #MeToo
Despite ongoing confusion and many common misconceptions regarding the word feminism, 2017 was undeniably an important year for women – and everyone else, really – all over the world. It was bookended by the Women’s March held in Washington on January 21st and TIME magazine’s announcement of their Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers of #MeToo.
The #MeToo movement was originally a grassroots campaign started in 2006 by social activist Tarana Burke. Its primary aim was to provide a forum for women of color who had survived sexual violence.
On October 5th, 2017, the hashtag was catapulted into the mainstream after dozens of sexual assault allegations were leveled against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and many other male figureheads across entertainment, news, politics, and tech.
“Your feminist premise should be: I matter.”
— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele
Many people are now asking: why did it take so long for people to talk about the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault against women? Nonfiction can provide us with at least a few insights into this very complex topic.
In her book Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit explains how women are routinely demonized by society for speaking out. They are frequently dismissed as hysterical when they speak up about sexism or abuse, and accused of making false accusations – an attempt by their abusers to reframe themselves as the “true” victims.
A 2013 study by the UK Crown Prosecution Service supports this: of the 5,651 rape accusations they investigated, only 35 were false. That is less than 1 percent. By casting doubt on women’s credibility, sexual violence is perpetuated and victims of sexual assault are silenced, and thus controlled.
That rape culture permeates the media and entertainment industries was made clear by the #MeToo movement, a fact underscored in Kate Harding’s Asking for It. It makes the point that mainstream media and the porn industry normalize sexual violence to such an extent that it diminishes the horrendous experiences of actual victims.
“‘I’m not saying it’s her fault, but [reason why it’s her fault]’ is a bog-standard response to stories about sexual violence.”
— Kate Harding, Asking for It
According to the World Health Organization, about 35 percent of women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. That is, one in three women. And that number increases by 83.1 percent when we only include women of color, according to both Roxane Gay in her book Bad Feminist, and Laura Bates in Everyday Sexism.
The latter, very much like Burke and the #MeToo movement, used the Internet to cast light on omnipresent sexist behavior that remains largely unreported. Bates created a website for people of any gender to anonymously share their experiences of sexual aggression.
“Rape is not a sexual act; it is not the result of a sudden, uncontrollable attraction to a woman in a skimpy dress. It is an act of power and violence.”
— Laura Bates, Everyday Sexism
Online tools like the aforementioned website or hashtags draw attention to victims’ suffering and make their voices heard rather than letting them sink into oblivion — instead of shaming them, we should try to understand victims and their pain. Abuse and harassment often have visible outcomes, as Roxane Gay shares in her memoir Hunger.
She fell into a cycle of abusive relationships and weight gain, after having been raped as a young teenager. In her open-hearted reflections, she bewails society’s disregard for bodies that went through traumatic experiences. If more people tried to give credence to victims’ stories without prejudice, and to fathom the causes that shape their traumatized bodies and souls, we might get a better understanding of why diets and therapies have limited impact.
“People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not.”
— Roxane Gay, Hunger
Another suggestion comes from We Should All Be Feminists author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She advocates overcoming misconceptions about feminism and recognizing that we have to take far more action to unlearn these subconscious and deeply ingrained gender biases. This requires having open, meaningful and nuanced discussions about gender inequality and female agency – something that e.g. #MeToo’s companion movement Time’s Up is trying to do now.
Inspiration for change can be found in activism, as well as in many wonderful nonfiction books that show that sexism is harmful not only for women but for society as a whole. It is more important than ever that we invite everyone on the gender spectrum to join the conversation to combat harassment and discrimination.
Even children should be sensitized to call out and fight abusive and sexist behavior, as proposed in Ngozi Adichie’s newest work Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. She gives instructions for raising a feminist child and highlights that we need to give both boys and girls more choices about who they want to become. We have to raise our children to be kind, to take care of themselves and others, and to speak up in the face of intolerance.
2017 was a powerful year for the #MeToo movement. Let’s hope that 2018 will prove even more powerful and change-inducing.