The #MeToo movement has undoubtedly transformed the way we talk about sexual harassment and violence. The shift is apparent in popular culture and news media, but also in our everyday lives. The overwhelming strength of #MeToo, both on-line and off, continues to bring the extent and pervasiveness of sexual violence and the systems that enable, protect, and reinforce it to light.
To Tarana Burke, a Black civil rights activist and founder of the movement, #MeToo is about “empowermental empathy”. When she first starting using the term, it was to support “survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low-wealth communities, find pathways to healing.” For many, #MeToo is about solidarity and ensuring other survivors that they are not alone in their experiences. It’s about eliminating the stigma, holding perpetrators accountable, and reframing the conversation around sexual violence to create long term systemic change.
However, #MeToo was never about playing politics.
NOT AN ISSUE FOR YOUR PORTFOLIO
In July, an unsigned editorial published 18 years ago in the Creston Valley Advance resurfaced alleging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had “inappropriately “handled”” the unnamed author while she was on an assignment. In a later press release, a woman named Rose Knight unwillingly came forward as the unnamed author of the editorial. This was no victory, but instead a moment of deep disappointment.
Knight made it clear that she issued her statement “reluctantly, and in response to mounting media pressure”. Not surprisingly, there was a significant push from critics and opponents of Trudeau, many of whom have a pattern of limited belief and concern for survivors of sexual violence, as well as a spotty record of any prior advocacy for women’s rights. Rose Knight was eventually forced her to disclose her identity believing “it would not have remained private for much longer.”
For many critics and political opponents of the Prime Minister, the #MeToo movement was inconsequential and even unnecessary until it could be co-opted as a political weapon to advance their own partisan agendas. In her press release, Knight recounted that she sought out an apology which she received the next day and that she “did not want to pursue the incident at the time” and “will not be pursuing the incident further.” Despite this, Trudeau’s adversaries continued to force a victim narrative marked by infantilization and paternalistic goodwill onto Knight and push for an investigation into the alleged incident.
But how could an investigation have been carried out when Knight herself didn’t want one? It’s clear from her statement that she considers the matter to be done with and wants to be involved in no way with the debate. So, while critics attacked Trudeau for not investigating the alleged incident, there was no investigation to be carried out.
Under the guise of feminist activism, faux advocates for Rose Knight reduced her and her editorial to simply a means to an end. While I’m not writing to dissect the details of the incident from the incomplete information that’s been made available, they entitled themselves to manipulate Knight’s experience, inflating the severity of Trudeau’s actions to paint him as a sexual predator and disregard Knight’s own request for privacy just so they could more effectively condemn their political opponent.
WOMEN MUST HAVE THE RIGHT TO SELF DETERMINATION
The #MeToo movement is a positive force for progressive change but like others, it too requires a nuanced understanding. There needs to be space within it to recognize the humanity of everyone involved and the potential for individual development and growth. There also needs to be room for self-determination.
For many people, self-determination is the ability to make decisions according to one’s own free will and self-guidance without outside pressure or coercion. Women have the right to choose whether they want to disclose or not disclose an incident of sexual violence, harassment, or even discomfort. They have the right to choose when, with whom, and how they want to speak out. Women also have the right to choose what support and solidarity looks like for them.
If Rose Knight’s advocates were as concerned about consent and supporting her as they claimed to be, they would have reconsidered and respected her request to be left alone.
I am currently a first-year Master of Public Health student at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science. As a passionate feminist and advocate for women's rights, I hope to research and work within the interdisciplinary field of women's health. My personal experiences as a second-generation immigrant woman of colour as well as my volunteer and academic experiences have fostered an understanding of the importance of intersectional and inclusive feminist activism.