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  • #MeToo
  • Jennifer L. Airey

With the advent of the #MeToo movement, I have been reflecting on my good fortune to have encountered only some of the good men who populate our profession. I have had male mentors my entire career, wonderful men who have supported me academically and professionally and who I do not believe would ever sexualize, demean, or harass their students. This is less a function of my people skills or my professionalism than of sheer luck. Too many of us live with the deeply ingrained sexist belief that if we present ourselves a certain way, speak a certain way, behave a certain way, we will insulate ourselves from sexual advances in the workplace. Too many of us, even those of us who fight victim-blaming attitudes and rape culture in our scholarship and our classrooms, are apt to default to self-blame when we find ourselves in uncomfortable or demeaning situations: if only I had not said—worn—laughed at—been alone with—etc. But, of course, none of us is ever truly safe, not in our private lives, where the majority of assaults are committed by people we know and trust, and not in the academy, where we believe that a general awareness of and interest in gender theory should make people more informed, more understanding, more "woke," as my students would say.

When the Harvey Weinstein story first broke in the media, it felt, at least to me, like an inevitability, a confirmation of something I had already known. I am an academic living in Tulsa, Oklahoma; I have no contacts in Hollywood beyond one semester in 1999 when a college friend interned with a production company and sometimes brought back juicy tidbits of celebrity gossip. But even I had heard stories about Weinstein, stories that I, a feminist academic who literally wrote a book about rape, mentally dismissed as the casting couch, the price of doing business in Hollywood. I shake my head in retrospect; how could I have ever thought that sexual harassment was a normal part of the quest for fame? The greatest success of the #MeToo movement has been, in my opinion, the defamiliarization of such stories, the act of forcing us to confront and name as Not Okay experiences that we previously shrugged off as an inevitable part of being a woman. I am fortunate never to have encountered a Harvey Weinstein of my own, but I have been subject to lesser violations (here I was about to write that I have never been "seriously" assaulted, but what a problematic thing to say, how indicative of our cultural sickness that it is a relief to have been violated only a little bit): by the DMV employee who administered my driving test with his hand on my thigh when I was sixteen, the man who slapped my backside on the streets of Paris when I was seventeen, [End Page 7] the man who grabbed my crotch in a club when I was twenty-two, the man who gripped my arm in an elevator, laughed, and called me a bitch when I was a thirty-five-year-old tenured academic. I used to shrug off such experiences—"well, it could have been worse" or "at least it will make a good story later" or "I should have known better than to get on the elevator with him"—this from a woman who routinely teaches women's and gender studies and knows more than most about cultural conceptions of rape. But #MeToo has burned away those dismissals, leaving behind, for me as for so many of us, a deep anger at the culture in which we live.

More recently, the #MeToo movement has hit home, transcending Hollywood and forcing us to look to our own academic backyard. In November 2017, Seo-Young Chu, now an Associate Professor at Queens College, CUNY, published a powerful, brave essay, "A Refuge for Jae-In Doe: Fugues in the Key of English Major," in which she detailed coercion, harassment, and rape at the hands of her advisor, the late Jay Fliegelman:

The story begins with my suicide attempt at age 21 and ends with Stanford's own...


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