Collective Voices Online: Discursive Activism in #MeToo

Collective Voices Online: Discursive Activism in #MeToo

Vittoria Bernardini (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4829-5.ch003
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Abstract

The chapter investigates how women use the practice of speaking out in their activism to bring issues that are significant to them from the private sphere into the public sphere. Specifically, it focuses on analyzing how this was achieved in the case of the #MeToo movement, taken as the most prominent example of activism against sexual harassment in recent years. Using the conceptual tool of counter public sphere developed by Nancy Fraser, the chapter examines two relevant events from #MeToo: the sexual misconduct allegations against actor Aziz Ansari and the circulation of the so-called “Shitty Media Men” list.
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Feminist Counter Public Spheres

In liberal democracies, the division between private and public sphere has historically coincided with unequal relations between women and men. For women, being kept out of the decision-making sphere of political discussion meant continued subordination, since they were hindered in their capacity to bring their own needs and interests forward in order to initiate social change. The different characterization of female and male subjectivity in classical Western political thought has meant that women and men were ascribed to different social spheres, resulting in different roles in history and in the political arena (Pateman, 1988; Landes, 1998). Whilst men have been the protagonists of the process of civilization, able to transcend nature through the construction of culture and society, women have been relegated to the a-historical realm of domesticity. As Seyla Benhabib (1986) observes,

It is the very constitution of a sphere of discourse which bands the female from history to the realm of nature, from the light of the public to the interior of the household, from the civilizing effect of culture to the repetitious burden of nurture and reproduction. The public sphere, the sphere of justice, moves in historicity, whereas the private sphere, the sphere of care and intimacy, is unchanging and timeless (p. 410).

Challenging this division between private and public sphere has been one of the key objectives of feminist movements since the late 1960s in advanced industrial societies, as feminists contended that the subordination of women was deeply intertwined with their relegation to domestic life (Landes, 1998). This view was famously condensed in the slogan “the personal is political”, which served to highlight how women's domestic role was politically and socially constructed to perpetuate their subordination in society. Consequently, the slogan has since been used by feminists to emphasize that “private” matters should be brought into the public sphere and become “political” rather than “personal”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

#MeToo: A movement and media moment against sexual harassment and sexual violence that began in response to the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017.

Discursive Activism: Activism that aims to produce social change by changing language, media representations, social discourse and so on.

Public Sphere: An arena in society, separated from the state, where individuals can discuss issues of public interest.

Feminism: A social and political movement that aims to end sexism and gender inequalities.

Hashtag Feminism: Feminism activism that takes places on social media platform using the hashtag feature to collect and aggregate related content.

Sexual Violence: A general term that includes all physical or psychological acts that target a person in their sexuality without their consent. It includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.

Subaltern Counterpublics: Discursive arenas composed of members of marginalized social groups, which exist in parallel and in opposition to the dominant public sphere.

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