Content Warning: discussion of rape.
The #MeToo hashtag has risen in popularity of late, with countless women sharing their personal experiences of sexual violence. Where Freedom Starts: Sex Power Violence #MeToo is an exploration of this movement. While some of the pieces in the collection were written as a direct response to the #MeToo movement, others were published years ago.
Frustration is the overarching sentiment of the book, looking at how sexual violence is swept under the rug, treated as a series of unrelated issues rather than as the reality – of systematic oppression which silences the voices of women, particularly those who are trans, queer, and non-white – that it is.
The collection opens with an interview with Tarana Burke, who began the ‘Me Too’ campaign over a decade ago in a bid to empower survivors of sexual violence in minority communities. The prioritisation of Burke’s voice in the collection is essential, demonstrating the intersection of race with sexual violence which was central to her initial campaign, but which has subsequently been largely erased in the Hollywood #MeToo movement. The collection attempts to redress the erasure of marginalised groups in this discourse, exploring the rights of incarcerated women, and the experiences of women of colour in both abuse and the reporting of it.
The chapter that hits hardest is Larissa Pham’s ‘Notes on a Rape Story’, a recently annotated version of an essay written in 2015 about the author’s own rape. It is a brutally honest and exposing piece, reflecting the difficulty Pham faced while coming to terms with her assault. Pham’s struggle for articulation is further demonstrated through the annotations that accompany the piece, which create additional confusion. She acknowledges that she may never have words which allow her to express the complexities of what was done to her.
This essay epitomises the powerful but troubling force of #MeToo. As the revelations trickled out over the weeks, women everywhere were forced to relive the most traumatic moments of their lives in a bittersweet realisation that their experience was a shared one. Did the solidarity outweigh the trauma? Seeing Pham return to her words years later and realise her questions remain unanswered is heart-breaking.
Pulling together diverse voices and capturing the immediate global response to the #MeToo campaign, this collection is urgent and important. It summarises the moment which shone a light on the issue of sexual violence, and is hopeful for a future in which meaningful change can be achieved.
Where Freedom Starts: Sex Power Violence #Me Too, edited by Verso Books, is available for free download here.
(Published by Verso).
Image: GGAADD via Flickr.