Before #MeToo: The Untold Story of Black Women & the History of Sexual Harassment Law
Monday March 26, 7:00 PM
Los Angeles

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Long have Black women been the victims of sexual harassment.  And long have Black women assumed leadership roles in challenging sexual harassment.  Mechelle Vinson was the plaintiff in the the landmark 1986 sexual harassment lawsuit, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, which saw a unanimous Supreme Court rule that sexual harassment violates the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII; Anita Hill’s 1993 testimony regarding then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas thrust sexual harassment into the limelight; #MeToo is the 2006 brainchild of civil rights activist Tarana Burke.  Evidently, Black women have played starring roles in responding to sexual harassment.  But Black women’s experiences of sexual harassment are regularly relegated to the sidelines, delegitimized, decentered, and dismissed.  For example, in the height of Weinstein-gate last year, Weinstein only expressly challenged one set of sexual harassment allegations, those brought by actress Lupita Nyong’o.  Notably, at the time Nygong’o penned her New York times Op-Ed describing her experiences with Weinstein, she was the sole black female voice in a 40-strong chorus of accusers.

As Weinstein’s predatory practices made headlines, they also catapulted sexual harassment into household name fame.  Two movements quickly followed: #MeToo and #TimesUp.  Both galvanized public support against workplace maltreatment of women, and dominated airtime in so doing.  And yet #MeToo and #TimesUp challenge a slender segment of the larger landscape of harassment women experience.  Moreover, they lift primary experiences of gendered harassment, as distinct from uplifting a more fulsome picture of gendered harm and the manner in which this harm bleeds out, creating other classes of victims.

This panel explores the panoramic picture of female harassment.  It opens in discussing the lead role of Black women in sexual harassment charges, and the costs of intersectional failures, for example, at Clarence Hill’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.  It then pulls the camera back from the experiences that #TimesUp and #MeToo have so successfully centered on and raised, and explores the richer tapestry of present-day gendered violence, and its victims.