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  • eli

watching #metoo from the fringes


Hiya, it’s Eli! Today I want to talk about something I’ve been meaning to write about for some time: the #MeToo movement.


For those who don’t know it, the #MeToo movement was founded by feminist activist Tarana Burke as a platform for sexual harassment or assault victims to speak up about their experiences. The hashtag became really popular after revelations that famous movie producer Harvey Weinstein had been repeatedly assaulting the actresses appearing in his movies. Since Weinstein was a supporter and friend of the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and was very well known in liberal circles, #MeToo shook the American liberal world from its foundations. and was a huge step in the recognition of the necessity of feminist perspectives.


Debates about gender inequality spread from Hollywood to all over the world (or so the American press says – I haven’t done the research myself). In Italy, the Weinstein scandal made headlines too. However, the movement did not become mainstream here, and Italian actress Asia Argento was billed as hypocrite for turning her back on Weinstein, who was once a friend. The foreign press rightly criticized Italian mass media for being conservative when it came to difficult questions about sexuality, as well as of justifying rape.


The reason why I didn’t write about #MeToo sooner even though it will be probably remembered as a very important moment in feminist history is that I find it very complicated. For me, it has been very refreshing to see debates about gender equality and consent becoming mainstream. It has also made me realize how privileged have I been to never be a victim, and how deeply was I influenced from the environment I was brought up in.


I am very lucky to be white/middle class, but part of my privilege is also related to the fact that my upbringing was conservative when it comes to gender equality. In other words, I have absorbed the mainstream, conservative narratives about gender and I have never questioned them for most of my life.


When I was younger, I associated the quest for beauty with shallowness and thought that not caring about my physical aspect would have somehow 'protected' me from being a "dumb girl" – one that might have been victim of harassment. This was in some way my interpretation of female empowerment: one should not fall prey to the commercialization of women's life and only look at self-improvement through, for example, study. I did not realize that I was actually embodying the regressive thought that women are either mothers or sluts. Even back then, it's not like discrimination and abuse was not happening: I've seen teachers wooing 16 year-old classmates in high school and friends worried that their ex boyfriends might post their nudes online after breaking up. It was just never happening to me, and part of me blamed those girls for acting 'slutty'.


Now, more than six years have passed since I graduated from high school. A lot about me has changed and I've started to pay more attention to my physical appearance. Sometimes I have been subject of undesired attention, and I can now understand many of the gender discriminations my classmates faced when we were younger. What’s more, I can now understand how my rather conservative upbringing has shaped my conceptions of gender, many of which I have come to outright reject.


Re-examining my childhood with a critical attitude has been a painful experience. Still I am thankful that the discussion is happening, because it has made me think about issues that up until now I had the privilege to ignore. I like to think that being mindful of other women’s experience is the first step towards a more equal society.


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