#MeToo: Gender violence does not exist without white supremacy

In case you missed it, women are flooding social media this week to share our stories of sexual assault and harassment, using the hashtag #MeToo to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”  Though this should be obvious, in this moment it bears repeating: gender-based violence does not exist without other systems of violence, especially those built to uphold white supremacy (such as racism, colonialism, zionism, militarism). 

People bare their scars public for a number of reasons: for the oft-fleeting high of naming violence, for example, after being denied power over our happiness and bodies; or in hopes that letting people, namely men, witness a mass display of our collective pain may lead them to reject the rape-enabling behaviors they (and we) practice and support. I must say that maybe because we’ve done this so many times before, or that my siblings are as likely to be raped in school as I was, or I’m decidedly un-optimistic about the current state of affairs, or because we’ve ogled at Black folks’ trauma in our feeds for years without action, I no longer believe this practice is effective – but I digress.

I started sharing (one of) my story/ies for another reason: to hold space for brown, Muslim, immigrant survivors in an often white women-led national conversation on sexual assault; and to push white women to listen to me in one of the few spaces they would—survivor spaces—and reckon with the fact that gender violence women, trans, and non-binary folks of color experience is caused by and compounded by systems and policies they and you support.

Surviving in numbers is a very real thing and that #MeToo has provided that for so many is incredible. But I am also uncomfortably aware of the fact survivors spaces, online and off, allow women with power (specifically white ones) to focus on the harm we’ve experienced without much accountability for the harm we cause.

That’s why I am especially grateful for the survivors pushing #MeToo to be about more than observing our pain—and to be about complicity and holding people, namely men, to a higher standard than liking our statuses. But just as we acknowledge that rape does not happen in a vacuum and that gender violence comes from our fathers, brothers, friends, and partners, we have also *got to admit* that this violence often specifically comes from people in institutions many amongst us otherwise support: men with badges, those in uniform, people who staff detention facilities across our arbitrary borders and outside of them (in Guantanamo, Iraq, Israel), men who learn harmful stereotypes about women of color from American culture and media, and most importantly, people of all genders who support them.

If we can accept this fact, we can finally implicate all of us in much broader, more entangled systems of violence—and grapple with much more comprehensive and desperately needed questions around accountability: including not only the questions we ask men like, When is the last time you made a woman feel uncomfortable? Do you touch women without asking? Do you expect praise for basic decency? Do you use your ‘feminism’ to seduce women and/or get them to trust you? When is the last time you challenged a friend spouting misogynistic crap? Do you get defensive when a woman calls you out? Do you think about more than your pleasure during sex?

But also asking ourselves, Are we made uncomfortable by loud or angry women/trans/GNC people of color? Do we understand why people don’t report to the police? Do we get why policing should not exist? Do women of color make as much money as white women do in your anti-violence org? Does your anti-violence panel/workshop/conference/survivor group mostly revolve around white women? Do you use your survivorhood to talk over women of color? Do you mispronounce our names and deny us other types of respect in public spaces? Do survivors with shitty politics lead anti-violence organizing in our community? Do you have people in uniform in your life? Will we organize against them and their institutions? What are we doing to stop incarceration? Occupation? War?

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Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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