Leigh Gilmore (Ohio State University) will present a GSS Work-in-Progress talk titled "The Making of #MeToo, Collective Witness, and Survivor Testimony"
In October 2017, #MeToo became a charged site where multiple histories, including feminist histories, vied for narrative prominence. These histories include the racial politics of sexual violence in anti-rape campaigns, the hostility of workplaces to women, the influence of legal rhetoric on the “common sense” underlying cultural practices of judgment (e.g., he said/she said, fears of false accusation and threats to due process, and the conflation of disciplinary or workplace processes with criminal proceedings). Several feminist journalists and scholars focused on the role of women’s anger and the Women's March in propelling #MeToo, studies in law and policy addressed how the inadequacy of formal processes for reporting sexual violence compel survivors to seek out venues for informal reporting, and others pointed to ongoing survivor activism and advocacy, often led by Black feminists like Tarana Burke, for context. #MeToo also triggered resistance by self-described feminists about, among other things, the role of Title IX in campus disciplinary proceedings, and raised an outcry about inadequate due process: not for victims, but for those reported for sexual misconduct. In so doing, they, too, drew upon available narratives to predict the failure of #MeToo by calling it, variously, a witchhunt, mob vengeance, and a sex panic revival of a Mackinnon-Dworkinite rump party from the sex wars. Leigh Gilmore will argue against reading #MeToo as unprecedented and offer, instead, an alternative account of its conditions of emergence as a breakthrough in order to connect it to a legacy of Black feminist activism in the past and present.
Leigh Gilmore's interdisciplinary feminist research focuses on testimony, trauma, and cultural process of judgment in life writing, law, and variously constituted publics. Her recent books include Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives (Columbia 2017) and Witnessing Girlhood: Toward an Intersectional Tradition of Life Writing (co-authored with Elizabeth Marshall, Fordham 2019). Her research appears in scholarly journals, including SIGNS, Feminist Studies, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Biography, and Profession, and in numerous edited collections. She has been Professor of English at The Ohio State University, Dorothy Cruikshank Backstrand Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies at Scripps College, and has held visiting appointments at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, Northeastern University, Harvard Divinity School, Brown University, and Wellesley College. She is currently Visiting Professor of English at The Ohio State University and a Visiting Scholar of Gender Studies at the Pembroke Center at Brown University. Her public feminist scholarship appears in The Conversation, Public Books, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti and she is a frequent analyst of the #MeToo movement.
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