Two weeks from tomorrow, Harvey Weinstein will not care much for the calendar at all. It was October 5 last year that allegations of his several abuses were published. Since then, dozens more women have alleged that they were injured, abased or threatened by this alleged man. And since then, hundreds more alleged perpetrators have been named by legacy media. We cannot count all those personal stories of trauma written on the socials. We can say that many of these were shared by ordinary people. We can say that to all of these, the words “Me Too” were joined.
Me Too was soon called a movement. Me Too was called a global movement in a journal of foreign affairs. This was a global movement with the power to move cinema, masculinity, and work. It would move the course of history. Per the account of Gwyneth Paltrow, it had already moved Gwyneth Paltrow. It had moved Gwyneth Paltrow, and perhaps those other women whose stories of abuse were featured in quality press.
Journalists were moved by these stories. They said that Me Too was moving toward something, but they failed to specify what. Some suggested everything as the Me Too endpoint, and others said it would land on something “pivotal”, a point then narrowed to “society”.
Sure, confusion is common at the birth of any movement. But, this is not confusion. It’s reluctance disguised as awe. This is not confusion, but a place to park your questions. Better to say that it’s too powerful to predict than suggest it’s too fundamentally powerless to move.
It isn’t moving. It hasn’t moved for a year. We find it as it was last October: feminism with its political guts ripped out then stuffed with the personal story.
We now have Me Too institutions. They claim their work is political. Their work is to be as apolitical as possible.
US organisation Time’s Up says it seeks to combat abuse and harassment at work. It was founded by Hollywood celebrities and its mission is now led by a team of high-end lawyers. Which would be OK if all these people did not agree that to “change the face of corporate boardrooms” was an ambition worth having, or writing down. Which might be OK if their “political” solution to the problem of abuse at work was not left entirely to lawyers. A nation of abused workers can hope to win this pro bono lottery before testing their trauma at trial. A single worker cannot hope to join the “movement” built for her by bosses.
As for Tracey Spicer’s NOW Australia. It reads like a budget Aussie copy to me. Lawyers, possibly therapists. Correspondence urging billionaires to respect the workers they exploit. Now, you can call me comrade nanna, but I do believe the truest power the worker has is found within her mass. Call me Mrs Lenin, but I like my strike action. I believe that this can correct our conditions where polite open letters may not.
But, back to those stories, whose production remains the core work of Me Too. Is movement produced by our stories? Yes. But not that political sort.
Say we collect all our stories. We bind them in a book. We do not rest until every survivor survives inside those pages. Not until our abusers know of the trauma that they wrote. Not until you know that our stories are true. That they’ve always been true. That this is our pain and it happened.
Say that they believe us. What do we do next? What we usually do when we all acknowledge a horror. Nothing.
Me Too is an anthology of abuse. And even if we see it as it is — true, eternal sorrow — can we still claim it for our good?
I am mindful of the many whose achievement was disclosure. I understand that the story of personal trauma holds the power to heal its author. But, the traumatised author has the power to harm herself. Believe me. Here goes.
I was once a radio announcer, or “DJ” if preferred. I had death threats, I had rape threats. But I did adjust, as people do — or could, at least, before digital space and time (when the hate can be tossed in the bin or will never hit you faster than the transfer rate of fax, you can forget it). Or, you can tell yourself that this threat was sent by the nation’s worst performing thug.
In time, there was an over-achiever. He was ill. It was not his fault that he stalked me for six months. He lived with the nightmare of delusion and truly believed he and I were married — I never asked for details, but he did write that the place we had been wed was not this one, but a planet with a “ritual” way to return. Creepy, I told my boss. He wrote to me for months. I told my boss. He called me for months. I told my boss. He started showing up at the pub where I drank my lunch, so I told the boss. He sent me a jar of urine. Told boss. He walked into the office. Boss, told. This happened a lot. He would tell the folks at the ABC front desk that he was my husband, and he walked right in.
He walked into the studio as I was broadcasting. I told my boss, the human resources department, and the union. The union told the boss to get me security. I also told the boss. I went to see a shrink. I went to see another. I had panic attacks, which produced a physical conviction that my eyes would pop out of my head. I started to take antidepressants. I told my boss. My boss said that maybe I should fuck the guy because, ha, that would scare him off.
There’s a bit more to a story that I once told all the time. Just insert more coppers, more slut-shaming and one heroic escape. I lost the job, stayed in bed for a year as I kept telling the story to myself, to newspapers and medical personnel in different styles.
Ten years later, and I’ve stopped retelling the story, even to myself. I’ve crept back into the ABC, and if I think about this employer as the same employer that sent me running with restraining order and profound faith that I would soon be found dead with my eyes right out of their sockets, I wouldn’t be able to say, “This is Your ABC” and mean it.
Long trauma short, he came back. But, this time, without the imaginary wedding band. Although he had expressed his intention in writing to kill me, the boss didn’t call for security. I asked the boss to make an insurance claim for the shrink I thought I needed. The boss looked into it, told me that I didn’t have an actual job, and therefore no insurance. Which proved especially annoying, as I then lost the job I’d done for three years without knowing I never had it.
There are so many ways I have told this story. The facts don’t change — they are written in ink and live in a box I chose at Target for their storage. But I emphasise one thing, forget another or I change around the villain. It was me, for a minute. For a much longer time, it was the boss. Patriarchy played the scoundrel at some point in my 30s, and I was convinced that none of this would have happened without sexism.
I did not read widely in my ’30s — forgive me, but I was not in good health. I was in such poor health, for a time I blamed the stalker. Of course, I blamed The Media. And then I grew older, sightly better, and certainly less compelled to Tell My Story. I heard other stories. These were far more regular than the one I used to tell about Tragic Glamour DJ and her fight to the death with Misogyny. Bad backs. Broken spirits. One electrocution. Ordinary people with those ordinary struggles that had never been polished to my melodramatic standard.
Now, there’s this ordinary trick I try to teach myself, with backup from the shrink. I tell myself the truth. I tell myself the ordinary truth: I got hurt at work.
Clearly, I’ve made an elaborate exception. This is for two reasons, the first of which is petty. I am crapped off with a journalist who left me a message this week. They wanted me to Tell My Story so they could tell one for a woman who may well not want it told. I would rather tell my own stupid story again than let a stranger at it. I would talk at length to this lady of our apparently similar hurt. But, never to an audience. And only if she asked.
The second reason is just a little better. Your story has very limited power beyond you. It can sure cut you deep if you tell it poorly. It may help you heal, but this was never true for me. It may touch others lightly, or it might move a pesky memory.
It will not move the world. Your story is not a political movement. It doesn’t even qualify as a self-help movement. You know that pain of yours? It needs a lot more care than a story can provide.
The pain is the problem. The story is not its solution. This was my moving Me Too story. I told it. Nothing moved.