We need to hear the marginalized voices of the MeToo movement

By Flora Vineberg February 14, 201814 February 2018

We need to hear the marginalized voices of the MeToo movement

 

As the fever pitch surrounding the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements heightens, we find ourselves in a “cultural audit,” examining each social and intimate interaction within which we find ourselves. With sexual assault and misconduct at the epicentre, debate swirls around the power of social movements and the ‘court of public opinion,’ the preservation of bodily autonomy, journalist integrity, the “grey area” of consent to sexual behaviour, the failure of our criminal justice system to appropriately adjudicate sexual assault cases, the clumsiness of dating, and women’s agency and empowerment.

There is reflection on the social mores we’ve come to permit, and the power structures sustaining them. This includes the silence and complicity of individuals who surround each perpetrator, turning away blindly or wilfully while acts of coercion, harassment, assault or misconduct occur. Articles posit questions around the exploitation – mainly by men – of their positions of power, authority or celebrity, used inappropriately, violently or clumsily to (possibly) further their own sexual desires.

Yet we know that sexual assault is about much more than physiological need or sexual desire; it is about power and dominance. You cannot talk about power, misogyny, and dominance in solely binary (male-female) terms. Largely missing from current discourse is a queer lens, intent on shifting the narrative away from such constructs and towards a queer-positive analysis of these movements and their subjects.

To construe sexual assault as a “gendered crime” is only part of the picture. Statistics show that Caucasian, heterosexual, cis-gendered men (whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth) predominantly occupy positions of power and authority, while women are most often the victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Deeper inquiry illuminates that in particular, women of colour or of lower socio-economic or immigrant status, queer men and *Trans-identified persons are quite often the victims of assaultive behaviour. In tandem, these are frequently the most marginalized, vulnerable members of society. Employing an intersectional analysis of sexual assault or misconduct allows us to better understand how prejudice, homophobia, poverty, race and class all contribute and lend depth to the current backlash against existing power structures.

Sexual assault and harassment are far more pervasive than the length of the celebrity shadow. We too rarely hear about those commonplace experiences of LGBT* individuals who, in addition to suffering from chronic poverty, homelessness, suicidal ideation and bullying, continue to face tremendous social stigma, harassment and sexual violence. Their cases go under-reported, yet their voices remain integral to an informed, diverse protestation against sexual assault and workplace harassment.

Conversations can be empowering. They educate people about their rights and legal options, and they compel social thinking and inspired advocacy. All are part of a broader “social reckoning” on the exploitation of power, intimacy, relationships, workplace dynamics, and vulnerability. The ongoing public discourse would benefit tremendously from an intersectional analysis of sexual assault and the role of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. We must engage the voices and experiences of queer and *Trans-folks, whose orientations, gender presentations or non-binary identities may be obscured by the current focus on male-female dynamics.

Flora Vineberg is a civil litigation lawyer at Jellinek Law and represents clients involved with civil sexual assault and institutional abuse claims. She is a member-at-large of the CBA’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community.

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