Activists at the 2018 #MeToo March on November 10, 2018, Hollywood, California. (Sarah Morris/Getty Images)
Last week, the woman sexually assaulted by former “Stanford swimmer” Brock Turner, whose 2016 victim impact statement shook the nation, revealed her identity and announced the imminent release of her memoir. Her name is Chanel Miller, and the timing of her book, aptly titled Know My Name, could not be better, coming in the middle of an intensifying backlash against the #MeToo movement.
Billy Bush is about to return to television as host of Extra, after being fired from NBC’s Today for giggling his way through a backstage recording of Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault. “I got taken out,” he just told Gayle King on CBS This Morning, “but I wasn't the target.”
Last month, Netflix premiered a special by self-identified “victim blamer” Dave Chapelle, in which he declared “I got a f-cking Me Too headache” and defended Louis C.K. He also attempted to draw a direct correlation between women speaking up and the attack on reproductive rights currently unfolding nationally. “What the f-ck is your agenda, ladies?” he asked. “Is sexism dead? No, in fact, the opposite happened.”
In July, The New Yorker ran a sympathetic profile of disgraced senator Al Franken, with Jane Mayer writing that Franken “told me that his therapist had likened his experience to ‘what happens when primates are shunned and humiliated by the rest of the other primates.’”
That same month, Uma Thurman’s revelations about shocking working conditions under director Quentin Tarantino were effectively wiped from the public consciousness with the release of his latest movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—a film currently rated 85-percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Inevitable for a story featuring a fictionalized Sharon Tate, the press tour for Tarantino's movie also put Roman Polanski back in the spotlight. Not for being a fugitive, or a statutory rapist; rather because Tarantino is a “fan of Roman Polanski’s work, but particularly Rosemary’s Baby.” Then, despite his 2018 expulsion from the Motion Picture Academy, Polanski then got himself a standing ovation and the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival for his latest film, J’Accuse.
To make matters worse, several research papers have emerged suggesting women will be punished for speaking up about sexual harassment and assault. In May, the Lean In Institute reported “60 percent of managers who are men are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together. That’s a 32 percent jump from a year ago.”
Then a Harvard Business Review story titled “The #MeToo Backlash,” described how both male and female professionals from “a wide range of industries” have changed their behavior towards women in the workplace in a negative way, post-#MeToo. The report primarily focused on the fact that 41 percent of men and 57 percent of women agreed that “men in general will be more reluctant to have one-on-one meetings with women.”
This recent cacophony of voices coalesce into one message: an attempt to bully women back into good old-fashioned silence. It’s a collective suggestion that #MeToo had its moment, but the movement’s gone too far now. It’s an indirect request for women to go back to their corners and leave all of these poor, frightened men alone.
Chanel Miller—known only as Emily Doe until now—had the distinction of being one of the first to speak out loudly enough to be heard internationally. Her case predated #MeToo, but her searing victim impact statement, first published by Buzzfeed, arguably provided the first spark for the incendiary movement that would explode a year later.
Because so much has happened between her case and now, it’s easy to forget that it was she alone who ultimately inspired the campaigns that successfully unseated Judge Aaron Persky (the man responsible for giving Turner a sentence that allowed him to get out of county jail after only three months), and got a bill signed into California law that imposes mandatory minimum sentences for sexual assault cases. It was the first case this century to so prominently highlight the issues of white male privilege and a legal system that is prone to disregarding the suffering of sexual assault survivors.
Miller reportedly began writing Know My Name in 2017, using the book to piece together exactly what had happened to her, and heal from it. According to the New York Times, the focus of Miller’s writing expanded “as conversations about sexual violence moved increasingly to the fore” of the national consciousness.
What has been obvious in the last few months is that a sizable swath of America has lost sight of the deeply personal, private and systemic nature of sexual assault and harassment that started #MeToo in the first place. Over time—and thanks to the sheer number of famous men brought down by the movement—the focus has shifted disproportionately to the most prominent celebrity cases.
Now that men like Bill Cosby, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein (whose trial starts this week) have contended with the legal consequences of their actions, there has been an increasing sense that the biggest monsters have been brought down and the hardest work has already been done. Miller’s return is well-timed to drag the spotlight off the most grotesque men brought down by #MeToo and back onto ordinary, everyday survivors. It gives the nation a much-needed reminder that this was never really only about bad behavior within celebrity circles.
What Miller’s book is also bound to do—and what Hulu’s excellent new Harvey Weinstein documentary, Untouchable, just did—is to explain once more that the lasting trauma sexual assault survivors endure goes on long after trials end, the media attention dissipates and the conversations move elsewhere. It will reemphasize the importance of pushing women’s voices to the forefront and the good things that happen when we make space for that. It will also be an essential reminder of the injustices that women have historically faced, and continue to face.
One of the things that has been consistently buried in the reports about the negative workplace consequences of #MeToo is the undoubtedly positive news that: “74 percent of women said they thought they would be more willing now to speak out against harassment, and 77 percent of men anticipated being more careful about potentially inappropriate behavior.” That is exactly the kind of progress that we must not lose sight of if #MeToo is to continue to thrive.
As Ashley Judd made plain at a #TimesUp event last year: “We use our voices, we weather retaliation—and we act up anyway.” Chanel Miller is a perfect example of how to do all of the above, and it is an honor to finally meet her.
‘Know My Name’ by Chanel Miller is out Sept. 24, 2019 from Viking. Details here.
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