In February, I saw a video on Twitter in which Rose McGowan, actress and accuser of Harvey Weinstein, has a shouting match with Andi Weir*, a trans woman and activist, at a promotional event for McGowan’s book Brave. Weir shouts from the audience, “Trans women are dying and you said that we, as trans women, are not like regular women. We get raped more often. We go through domestic violence more often.” As Weir is removed by security, she shouts, “white cis feminism.” McGowan responds, “Do not put your labels on me. I don’t come from your planet. Leave me alone. I do not subscribe to your rules.” McGowan later tells audience members, “Trans women are women and what I’ve been trying to say is that it’s the same,” McGowan said. “The stats are not that dissimilar. When you break it down, it is a much smaller population.”
Weir was referencing statements McGowan made on an episode of RuPaul’s podcast What’s the Tee. McGowan said, “They assume, because they felt like a woman on the inside, that’s not developing as a woman, that’s not growing as a woman, that’s not living in this world as a woman.”
In response to McGowan’s comments, writer Evan Urquhart asks in a Slate article, “What could better epitomize the abuse faced by women and girls than the molestation of more than 150 women in gymnastics by physician Larry Nassar? But young female gymnasts train so hard that their bodies often do not develop breasts or periods at the age-appropriate time—are their experiences thus not truly the experiences of women?”
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Despite the explosive pace at which sexual assault allegations have surfaced and in the press and the overnight trending of the #MeToo movement, neither phenomena are as recent as one might think. Allegations against Weinsten and actor Kevin Spacey date as far back as 1992 and 1981, respectively. These revelations are not symptomatic of a culture in moral decline, but rather, they expose a cult of powerful white men who have been assaulting women and suppressing their voices long before Hollywood existed.
To most women, the number of #MeToo stories come as no surprise. What did surprise me personally was discovering that the MeToo movement predates the Weinstein allegations by several years. Tarana Burke, a black social activist, coined the phrase on MySpace in 2006—the same year Twitter was started. Actress Alyssa Milano was initially given credit for starting the #MeToo movement when she prompted users to reply to her own tweet with the hashtag. Though Milano’s fame and social media platform helped the movement take off, it’s unclear whether or not she knew who coined the phrase before tweeting it (she did credit a friend with sending her a screenshot of the phrase). Meanwhile, Burke’s twelve years of work growing the MeToo movement, and the assault stories of women of color, haven’t been recognized on the same scale. When TIME named “The Silence Breakers” of the #MeToo movement as their Person of the Year, Tarana Burke was noticeably absent from the cover. Or perhaps, her absence wasn’t that noticeable after all. The names that have become synonymous with the #MeToo movement aren’t names like Tarana Burke, but Ashley Judd (who did grace the TIME cover, along with Taylor Swift), McGowan, and Milano. The names of rich white women in Hollywood. Then again, this lack of representation for women of color and queer women mirrors the diversity of Hollywood blockbuster casts and Grammy winners.
Swift’s presence on the cover was contentious as well—writer Molly Roberts asked, “Does Taylor Swift deserve her spot on the cover of Time?” in an article for The Washington Post. Swift’s connection to the #MeToo movement was her triumph in a lawsuit filed against her by the radio DJ who groped her. She counter-sued for a symbolic $1. Despite being named a “silence breaker,” Swift never publicly used #MeToo on social media.
This isn’t to say that Swift’s experience of assault doesn’t deserve attention, sympathy, and support—it does. Any woman who speaks out, celebrity or not, summons an incredible amount of courage and strength from within.
What Swift’s experience makes most pressingly clear to me is the amount of financial comfort one needs to actually say, “me, too.” Though Swift’s case made a powerful statement, few women have the luxury of time, energy, and money to sue an assaulter for a symbolic $1. Imagine a blue-collar worker finally finding the strength to accuse their boss of harassment—and being forced to find a new job as well. Human resources departments are not on the side of the victim; H.R.’s priority is the financial success of a company, not the emotional distress of a person.
And what of the marginalized women in low-paying jobs who cannot turn even to H.R.? What of undocumented immigrants with not only their jobs, but their homes at risk? What of the stigmatized women in the adult entertainment and escort industries? How many victims have no support system to fall back on? How many voices have fallen through the cracks?
In an article for Esquire, Rebecca Carroll, recounted experiences of dismissal and microaggressions during her time as the only black journalist at Charlie Rose. Of the current political climate, Carroll writes: “In this watershed moment of examination and reckoning as one powerful white man after another is disgraced following allegations of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault, we’re still not talking about the ramifications for black women—or the broader connection to structural racism in America.”
I know what it’s like to be the only woman in a room—to feel dismissed and spoken over. I do not know what it’s like to be the only woman of color in a room (as can so often happen in Hendrix classrooms) nor the only queer woman. To those experiences, I cannot say #MeToo. But I can listen. #MeToo is a movement about speaking up. It is also a movement about hearing others. Women of color and queer women should not have to shout to be heard. We should all be listening more closely.
(*Weir herself has been accused of sexual assault and predatory behavior towards minors in a Medium article.)
This article was originally published in the March 2018 print edition of The Profile.