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Women’s movement, sexual violence, discrimination, violation, freedom…these are just a few of the buzzwords doing the rounds in Australia and globally, more so in recent times. And another one to throw into the mix is #MeToo, sometimes called “the hashtag heard round the world.”
Back in 2017, CHL’s Dr Shameem Black and Rosanne Kennedy at the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics in CASS looked at the global explosion of publicity generated through the much publicised #MeToo. They knew they wanted gender studies to engage with the complex currents that were coming to the fore.
Of echoes and silences…
Shameem and Rosanne were supported by an APIP grant on “Cultures of Sexual Assault,” which allowed them to hold an interdisciplinary, international symposium in 2018 to explore the nuances surrounding the possibilities and limitations of projects like #MeToo in different cultural contexts. Through this CASS-CAP symposium, they brought on board another colleague, Hannah McCann, formerly an ANU PhD and now a lecturer and DECRA fellow at the University of Melbourne. The three edited a special section called Echoes and Silences: #MeToo’s Reverberations for Australian Feminist Studies, which was published in 2020 but is perhaps even more relevant to revisit in the current context. The articles examine questions of sexual violation in Australian, Indian, North American, and Antarctic contexts.
The articles in the collection suggest that while the approaches and tactics of #MeToo can be very powerful, we also need to look well beyond their most visible methods—individual narratives on social media, and subjects (often people of relatively high status)—to understand how sexual violation has been deeply implicated in diverse cultural institutions. The selection spans a wide range of relevant themes, all disturbing reminders of the ugly realities we continue to face in the realm of gender discrimination and atrocities.
There’s an article that examines sexual violation in the context of Australian settler colonialism, looking at violations of Indigenous women in police custody to explore how the law has been implicated in the very violations it’s now called upon to prosecute. Another piece delves into Australian campus activism on sexual assault, which has a long history before #MeToo, to examine some of the ways that campus activists are looking to transfigure norms of university culture.
Then there’s a third feature that explores how the very heart of university research methods can be based in systematic violations, taking the example of polar science, where women working in remote stations in Antarctica have experienced high rates of harassment and violation—and can’t get away from the perpetrators. Polar science is now starting to recognise sexual violation in the field as “research misconduct,” not simply a private affair.
And finally, Shameem’s article explores the contradictions within the worlds of yoga in India and North America. Sometimes, as her research illustrates, even discourses that attempt to combat sexual violation can actually end up bolstering the patriarchal hierarchies that make sexual violation more likely in the first place. So challenging sexual violation requires moving away from a neoliberal over-emphasis on individuals, towards a frame that promotes critical reflection on broader structures of power. Shameem also recently delivered a talk on sexual violation and yoga for SOAS, in conversation with a scholar who works on spiritual abuse.
#YouToo: let’ talk about it
And so, as we continue to question and challenge the fundamental issues surrounding gender and equality, we invite one and all to comment and share any stories or perspectives on such themes. We want to hear from #YouToo—let’s keep the discussion and the movement alive.