When We Criticize Survivors, We Ignore Those Who Didn’t Survive

In a piece for the New York Times, writer Daphne Perkins criticized the #MeToo moment’s takeover of the Golden Globes—and pushed back against conversations exposing sexual harassment. Unfortunately, she also forgot in her critiques of living survivors that their actions also speak for those who can’t.

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“I suspect, many of us, including many longstanding feminists, will be rolling our eyes, having had it with the reflexive and unnuanced sense of outrage that has accompanied this cause from its inception, turning a bona fide moment of moral accountability into a series of ad hoc and sometimes unproven accusations,” Perkins predicted of last week’s awards show. Her misgivings were ultimately revealed to be myths: In the end, celebrity efforts to center conversations about sexual harassment and workplace discrimination at the Golden Globes and in the time since have also centered activists, many of them women of color, who have done critical feminst organizing throughout their lives—women like Marai Larasi, who fights violence against women of color through her UK-based organization Imkaan; Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; and Monica Rameriz, co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, which fights for equality for women farmworkers.

When Perkins falsely positions feminism in direct opposition to the solidarity celebrities and feminist activists are attempting to build around these issues, she forgets that solidarity-building is feminism—and that celebrity women can offer unprecedented power and a massive platform to the work activists know all too well can often be overlooked.

But it isn’t just the celebrity feminism that bothers Perkins—it’s women’s stories, and the consequences men are (finally) beginning to face for their bad behavior. “Some women, including random people I talk to in supermarket lines,” she observed, “have gone so far as to call it an outright witch hunt.” Those grocery story conversations not only create contention and divisiveness within the global feminist movement, but also erase and minimize the real, lived trauma many women carry due to predators with power—and the risks women have taken to expose them. And as conversations around sexual exploitation and abuse reach a fever pitch, Perkins forgets the myriad women who never had the chance to fight back against their harassers, assaulters and rapists—or tried and paid with their lives.

In 2007, 25 percent of female homicide victims were killed by someone they knew. That same year, Black women homicide victims were twice as likely as their white counterparts to be killed by a spouse and four times more likely to be murdered by a dating partner. By centering her own concerns (about “what happened to flirting,” no less) in the midst of a collective, intersectional and historic push for an end to rape culture at work and everywhere else, Perkins demeans the work of women whose communities face the biggest losses in this fight.

 

The fact that white women in positions of social power are not only collaborating with Black women and other women of color, but are also connecting with women of color activists, shows a burgeoning sense of feminist solidarity and awareness across class markers that is imperative for this time. This conversation cannot wait, and this is certainly not the time to tear down anti-sexual harassment activists. We must keep moving forward—not pushing back. For women of color in particular, that is the only way to survive.

Jordannah Elizabeth is an author, lecturer, music critic and feminist writer. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Bitch Media, LA Weekly and Village Voice and is bi-coastal by nature. She is the author of Don’t Lose Track Vol 1: 40 Articles, Essays and Q&As.

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