Courageous Voices

13 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings-web

By Kris Dreessen | Cover courtesy of Penguin Random House

#MeToo Highlights the importance of speaking out, even when it is difficult.

In 2017, actress Alyssa Milano published a simple Tweet on social media: “Me Too.” She suggested every woman who has been a victim of sexual harassment and abuse do the same. 

Users shared or reacted to the post 24 million times in 24 hours, according to the Associated Press.

“Me too” has since become a movement of speaking up about the problem so powerful that Time hailed a prominent group of female activists, including Milano, the “silence breakers” and named them as the magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017. Those women included Tarana Burke, who was the first to use the phrase “Me Too” in 2006 to give rise to an awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society.

“For Tarana, it was a way to give a voice to women victims who don’t often have one — those who are poor and of color,” said Melanie Blood, professor of English and music, and coordinator of women’s and gender studies at Geneseo. “The greatest strength of the ‘Me Too’ movement is that it allows for people who had felt, ‘I’m the only one, I must have done something wrong,’ to come forward and speak their stories and feel there’s community support.”

Celebrities who shared their stories under the #MeToo hashtag have also inspired everyday people to have the courage to do the same, said Blood.

“Me Too” has expanded to be inclusive of men, and more recently, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Social media gives everyone access to listen and share, said Blood.

“It has brought a national understanding to the prevalence of the problem, from being cat-called to workplace disempowerment to coercion and abuse,” said Blood. Shared personal accounts show the ramifications of speaking up and the fear of retaliation and stigma for doing so.

“That understanding (of why it is difficult to speak up) is needed to address why it is so prevalent, and start a shift,” said Blood, as other times in history when people’s courage to speak out spread awareness or ultimately brought change for civil and equal rights and other issues.

“Though released more than 40 years ago, the late Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is still an important memoir, of a person who speaks their truth despite potential risk. It is a testament to what victims endure, and how they overcome,” emphasized Blood.

“The most immediate result of Maya’s trauma as a child is that she didn’t speak for years after she was victimized by a relative,” said Blood. “Yet she became such an eloquent spokeswoman as an adult. Throughout her career as an author, singer and poet, her work and her person are one of the many ways that we’ve been able to understand the kinds of marginalization that she experienced through that, and growing up in a poor community, as a female and person of color.”

That book, once banned in many schools, is now a staple in high school and college courses.

Film For Thought

These films, recommended by Professor Melanie Blood, offer insight into the complex themes sparked by “Me Too,” including how abuse affects victims, the culture that enables widespread abuse, and how victims have risen above their circumstances.

“Precious” (2009)

Based on the book “Push,” by Sapphire, the film tells the story of a young girl, Precious, and examines the effects of abuse on her, and how she manages to cope and survive.

“Frida” (2002)

This Oscar-nominated film about respected Mexican artist Frida Kahlo features actor Salma Hayek Pinault, who recently published an opinion piece in The New York Times about coercion and threats made against her the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein. “When you watch ‘Frida,’ and read her article side by side, it gives you a very different reading of the film,” said Blood.

“Anita: Speaking Truth to Power” (2014) 

A documentary about law professor Anita Hill’s journey and transformation from private citizen to internationally respected gender equality activist following her testimony at the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991, in which she accused him of sexual harassment. 

Author: geneseoscene

Share This Post On
%d bloggers like this: