The #MeToo movement claims to represent interests of all women, insisting that they all should receive the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rape, assault and other sexual offenses. But the latest iteration of #MeToo, unleashed against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, instead suggests that its absolute belief in the accuser does not apply to all women. #MeToo becomes #NotYou when it comes to low-income and minority victims of abuse.
The Washington Post on Sept. 23 filled its pages with commentaries on the issue of sexual assault and its effects on victims and their ability to recall details, all intended to set the narrative that women are to be believed regardless of evidence when they make such claims. And yet we saw the opening of the divide between #MeToo and another set of women with the implication that Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, had an especially strong claim to be believed. After all, she has master’s degrees in clinical psychology and epidemiology, a Ph.D. in educational psychology, and is a widely published college professor — how can we doubt her with those credentials?
Professional status and class standing somehow translate into a stronger moral claim.
In today’s outrage culture, this bias is common. The degree of outrage depends not on the nature of a violation but on the identity of the victim. On the rare occasions when police shoot civilians, there is outrage only when the victim is black, armed or unarmed. When a sex crime is involved, the #MeToo movement mainly ignites when the victim is white, a celebrity, or a well-educated, credentialed professional.
But what about the women who don’t have these upper-class credentials? Who are they, and what do we know of their circumstances?
In 1989, Democratic Congressman Gus Savage of Illinois, on an official visit to Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), was accused of trying to sexually assault a 21-year-old, black female Peace Corps worker assigned to brief Mr. Savage on the group’s activities there. When she lodged an official complaint with her superiors, the congressman denied her claim. He subsequently was censured by the Congress, but was re-elected to his seat with the help of Reps. Bill Gray (D-Pa.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). The name of the young woman was not made public, but her attorney relayed to me that she feared retaliation from Savage’s supporters and, as a result, was prevented from visiting her parents who lived in Savage’s district.
There was no public outcry from the women’s movement for this injustice.
In 1993, Savage was defeated in the primary by Mel Reynolds, a lawyer, Princeton graduate, Rhodes scholar and married father of two. Reynolds was found guilty in 1995 of having sex with a 16-year-old, also African-American, and sentenced to prison. Within a few years, President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPerdue proposes election police force in Georgia To boost economy and midterm outlook, Democrats must pass clean energy bill Could the coming 'red wave' election become a 'red tsunami'? MORE commuted Reynolds’s sentence and, once released, he went to work for the Rev. Jesse Jackson. In 2012, Reynolds ran in the Democratic primary for his old seat. There was no protest of his candidacy by the “outraged women’s movement” or interviews with his young victim to ascertain the impact on her life. Nor was there concern expressed about Reynolds’s ex-wife, who was forced into poverty and compelled to live in a public housing project in Boston. Again, the women’s movement was silent.
In 1998, NBC aired a prime time special, “Women in Prison: Nowhere to Hide,” hosted by Geraldo Rivera on the sexual assault of women in the Michigan prison system. The detailed testimony about daily rapes of black women by male guards and their supervisors was heart-wrenching, at times beyond description in its brutality. I just knew that the next morning there would be follow-up stories, a call for hearings and investigation, and demand for justice for these hapless victims. To my shock, there was not one story written.
The fact that the roughly 212,000 women in our nation’s prisons are forced to relinquish sovereignty over their bodies does not generate the level of moral outrage that the #MeToo movement has directed against Judge Kavanagh is baffling.
Tarana Burke, a black female activist from Harlem, originated the #MeToo movement. It began in 2006, 10 years ago after Burke bonded with a young girl at a youth camp. The girl revealed she had been sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend, and Burke took steps to help the community take action to protect such children since there were no rape crisis centers nor any aid for sexual assault victims in the community. Burke was clear about the goal and purpose of the #MeToo movement: “To aid underprivileged women of color affected by sexual abuse.”
Her movement has been hijacked in a cruel bait-and-switch game, popularized in October 2017 after the assault accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo movement is advertised as representing the interests of all women, but when the benefits arrive, it is the elite who are highlighted. Just take a snapshot of the racial and class profiles of women who have come to the fore of #MeToo and you see those who occupy the upper echelons of business, the media and higher education.
The needs of those women living in trailer parks, trapped in crime-ridden and drug-infested urban neighborhoods, or languishing in our foster care or prison systems will continue to be ignored by #MeToo. These women reside in the #NotYou isolated areas of this country ... out of sight and out of mind.
For those of you reading this who do not feel included in the #MeToo movement, or know of an incident overlooked by the movement, I would love to hear your story, either by email or social media.