Herizons Commentary

This is What a Revolution Looks Like  by Penni Mitchell
This is What a Revolution Looks Like

The honours continue to pour in for activists bringing about a sea change in the fight against sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual atrocities during war.

In January, the American women who blew the whistle on Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment in the entertainment industry were named Time magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year. Within a few months, the U.S. organization Time’s Up had raised more than $20 million in defense of sexual harassment suits.

They say that new epochs emerge with suddenness, and movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up are nothing if not sudden. #MeToo has caught on like wildfire in Europe, in parts of India, throughout Latin America and even in China, where government censorship led activists to cleverly translate the banned hashtag to “mi tu.”

No matter how you spell it, the power of these movements stems from the fact they are not, as many early naysayers sniped, driven by white Hollywood celebrities.

And it’s not just that Tarana Burke, who started the #MeToo hashtag in 2006, is a woman of colour. Make no

mistake—the Hollywood actors who started Time’s Up did use their privilege as a platform to speak out. However, their voices have emboldened women in other workplaces and, as a result, a hashtag is erupting into a revolution. It was a year ago that 300 women, including Meryl Streep, Janelle Monáe and others, published their “Dear Sister” letter in the New York Times.

The mini-manifesto not only acknowledged the signers’ privilege but noted “the heavy weight of [the] common experience” of harassment and assault that they shared with lower-waged female farm workers, and women working in the hotel and restaurant industries. The Time’s Up letter also called for “a significant increase of women in positions of leadership and power across industries” as well as “equal representation, benefits and pay for all women workers, not to mention greater representation of women of colour, immigrant women, disabled women, and lesbian, bisexual and transwomen.”

Amen to that.

Canada’s version of Times Up, #AfterMeToo, founded earlier this year by actors Mia Kirshner and Freya Ravensbergen and film producer Aisling Chin-Yee, has raised more than a million dollars that will be used to support both historic cases of harassment and assault, as well as to aid rape crisis centres. And the fund won’t be limited to survivors in the entertainment industry.

Money is just one way to gauge the movement’s influence. Another is the extent to which those whose experiences are compounded by racism and colonialism are heard. Here in Manitoba, decades-long reports of sexual assault experienced by Indigenous women in northern Manitoba communities at the hands of Manitoba Hydro workers made front page news for a week, something that points to a shift in how the media covers Indigenous stories.

This ground-shifting reminds me of feminist poet Muriel Rukeyser, who, in 1968 wrote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”

What, if not a paradigm shift, explains the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded in October to two people who are dedicated to ending the use of rape as a weapon of war? Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman born in Iraq, who was kidnapped by ISIS combatants and sold for sex after seeing most of her family killed before her eyes. After her escape, she made it her life’s work to speak out against Yazidi persecution and sexual slavery. Murad won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese surgeon who repairs urinary and reproductive-related damage done to Congolese women raped during the country’s civil war. Mukwege was praised by the Nobel committee for criticizing “the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women.”

Interestingly, the Swedish Nobel foundation—whose own literary jury was mired in accusations of sexual misconduct this year—has underscored the pervasiveness of sexual harassment while honouring those dedicated to ending the most brutal forms of sexual violence.

As the conversation continues, Herizons turns to women in the Canadian music business who are speaking out against harassment and demanding an equitable representation on industry boards. One of the most notable women taking on diversity and equality is Kinnie Starr, who just produced a documentary, Play Your Gender, that features female artists calling out harassment, unequal pay and the music industry’s general lack of diversity.

These public acts and recognitions signal that a paradigm shift has begun. Did I mention that Merriam Webster’s word of the year is feminism?