All That Glitters
It is hard to believe that the battle for the vindication and future safety of the Hollywood Silence Breakers has been raging for just shy of two and a half years. At the time of this writing Harvey Weinstein is facing a fraction of his accusers in court. Women have put forward powerful testimony while the world watches.
Yet it is fair to say that nothing has changed where it counts. Silence Breaker Sarah Ann Masse details the issue succinctly here.
At this time all the Silence Breakers who have been blacklisted are still unable to get any work. I personally know of several who have essentially had their lives reduced to shells. Why is it then that we have made no ground in bringing relief to these women who have lost so much?
To get the answers to that question we need to look at activism at the collective level. Starting a movement requires presenting a focal point for affected individuals to rally to.
This is achieved with the creation of a slogan. In WWII in Britain it was "keep calm and carry on" during the Blitz. Youth in Generation X chanted "no nukes" and "one two three four we don't want no nuclear war."
No movement can exist without its slogan. In October of 2017 a global movement was triggered under the slogan "me too". This event was triggered by Donald Barnat, the friend Alyssa Milano referred to when she tweeted out the post that was to trigger a conflagration.
It is clear to me that Donald Barnat is an activist with a great deal to offer. His reasoning is generally valid and his insight into matters well documented. Donald is also frustrated at the lack of progress in the movement.
Sexual abuse activism is a quagmire sown with mines and activists have to negotiate this reality generally blindfolded and often while being pelted from all sides. The first and one of the most valuable lessons for an activist is that nothing comes without a hook.
Donald Barnat had succeeded in launching a rocket when he formed the concept, chose a slogan and was amplified by the powerful and far reaching Alyssa Milano. It is fair to say Alyssa Milano could tweet nothing but an emoticon and get likes in the thousands.
On the face of it there was an appearance of success but unfortunately a hook that was to come with it was to make itself felt from the outset.
The hook was found in a quirk that comes with Hashtags. Noting that Alyssa did not in fact hashtag "Me too", it was not long before it became a hashtag that created a lightning rod for all media focus.
The problem is that hashtags are not used just used for the purpose of slogans. They are also used for the purposes of branding. The slogan that launched the Hollywood movement was in fact a brand already in use by an organisation run by activist Tarana Burke.
To make things worse Tarana Burke's "#MeToo" is devoted to serving the needs of disadvantaged women of color and overnight her brand was now being associated with a group perceived to be privileged and demonstrably white in its demographic.
Resentment was inevitable and indeed justified. The movement turned on itself as many tried to advance the hashtag as a slogan against the opposition of those who rightly saw it as a brand belonging to Tarana Burke and her movement.
I ran into a similar problem myself. In the early days of trying to support Asia Argento, I made a blog which functioned the way Cassandra Complex does now. The issue was is that I made Asia the focal point of the blog and it was not long before I was running into issues.
Normally an issue of branding would be sorted out quickly. The problem faced however was the second hook that has proven to be a total liability for all concerned. The wording of the slogan / brand in question. Me too.
First there was the invidious position that Tarana Burke found herself in. To simply demand that the Hollywood movement cease using her brand was not as easy as it sounds.
The wider issue was soon to become apparent. "Me too" was a symbol of unity. This happened to me too. We are one and we are many.
But me too comes with another context. Me too is what people of a certain mindset like to say when they perceive others getting something that they feel entitled to. Some people came to help, others to stand in unity and many came to make sure they got their slice of the perceived pie.
The women of Hollywood saw the issues and rebranded under the hashtag #SilenceBreakers but the #Metoo hashtag remained closely connected. This mostly corrected the issue from the Silence Breaker side of things but the hook still remains.
Campaigning under the #Metoo slogan will always bring the potential threat of conflicts of interest with the #MeToo brand that defines Tarana Burke's movement. It is for this reason I decline to campaign under the #Metoo hashtag.
A second reason that is more personal is the stance I took in solidarity with Asia Argento after she was scapegoated and unfairly labeled the cause of all the issues I have identified above.
The final issue is found in the tyranny of unity. Unification does not come without a high price. Front line activists often use military terminology for good reason. The rules of conflict are universal no matter the theatre of battle one is standing in.
Mobilising people on mass requires resources and a great deal of management. Morale must be kept high. Detractors and malcontents appear in numbers and the all inclusive process is a handy vehicle for sociopaths and predators to slip right on in.
Sadly those are not the worst we have to deal with. The "I know best" crowd are the biggest liability of all. These are the people whose idea of victory is the appeasement of their own personal feelings over and above the realities of the outcomes they often manipulate.
These people often gain positions of influence that well exceeds their abilities and they tend to focus their influence on sabotaging other activists efforts in pursuit of their own agendas.
It is my view that the issues described are too far reaching and too inherent to be managed effectively. Was the use of #MeToo an unnecessary mistake?
To this I say I don't think so. The question remains of just how many women in the industry would have stood up if they did not have the sense they were connecting with the wider survivor community. The answer is likely not many if any of them at all.
Yet it has been my view since August of 2018 that the Silence Breakers paid far too high a price and in many cases have been used and abused by the very people who claim to stand in solidarity with them. In fact I cannot recall a single demographic in the survivor politic that has faced such a torrent of abuse.
For all these reasons I personally do not support the #MeToo hashtag as it has been applied to the Silence Breakers. I only support it in the context of Tarana Burke's movement. I believe that only way to protect the Silence Breakers interests is to campaign solely under the #SilenceBreaker hashtag.
#Metoo has been subverted by media interests and is now the tag on the lips of everyone who opposes us. We plan for battle yet the moment that battle starts all those plans melt away and there is only action and reaction with the stronger side to win.
This is where we find ourselves now. I appreciate everyone's concerns. Donald Barant's frustrations are very valid as are the concerns of Tarana Burke. The marginalised women Tarna Burke represents have every right to feel resentful.
So do the women of the Silence Breakers, many of whom have been repeatedly retraumatized as they face a deluge of rape culture bullying and their stories on public display to be denigrated and abused.
What is responsible for all this? Who is to blame? Circumstances. It is that simple. A group of considerations came together and where we all are is the result.
The Silence Breakers suffer all the same issues experienced by all survivors but have specific ones of their own. It is true that the Breakers have a voice and one that many of us will never have. On the other hand who is prepared to face the terror and bullying that Asia Argento and Melissa Schuman have had to endure?
Who among us has sat there on international television laying bare the most painful and vulnerable experiences of our lives like Lysette Anthony? Who among us has faced the fear and humiliation endured by Sand Van Roy after her private information was thrown to the press who then went on to trample all over her truth?
I believe that the Silence Breakers need to purify their brand as much as possible. To be linked to other organisations and sub movements brings all the liabilities those agencies inherently carry in their own right.
The issue that I see right now in front of us is the reality that these women are suffering extreme deprivation and are teetering on the brink of losing who they are and everything they have worked for.
Unless we succeed in salvaging these women's lives then nothing else we do matters. Nothing will change for anyone if the outcome is a trail of broken birds left in the movements wake as it grinds on down the road to nowhere.