Quarterly Essay #84
Jess Hill’s See What You Made Me Do is one of the best books I’ve ever read about domestic abuse. I was keen to see how she’d tackle #MeToo and have been impatiently waiting for my library’s copies to arrive so I could dive in.
This essay traces #MeToo from its origins (before it became a hashtag), with a particular focus on how it has played out across Australia’s cultural landscape since 2017. There are examples from the media, education, politics and the legal system, all of which I’d followed in real time but which felt more overwhelming when they were explored one after the other. I don’t know that Australia’s celebrated mateship has ever felt so toxic to me.
There have been battles undertaken in courts, the media and public opinion. We’ve learned just how brutal Australia’s defamation laws are. There are powerful people abusing their power and systems supporting them in their endeavours.
Don’t get me wrong; there have been positives, like #LetHerSpeak. Conversations have taken place that were once considered taboo and there are more people visibly working towards implementing changes to legislation, processes and policies. There are survivors turned advocates who are transforming the way we think about consent and grooming, and their voices have led to others finding their own. Good things are happening.
So, why do I still feel so angry having read this essay?
Maybe it’s about reporting a sexual assault to the police in 2017 and getting my hopes up about the positive impact #MeToo would have on the way my report was treated. Then being told that there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges and subsequently learning that the investigation consisted solely of the detective phoning my psychologist to ask if I had a mental illness that would cause me to fabricate the sexual assault.
Maybe it’s about something a detective said to me a few months ago when they were trying their darnedest to dissuade me from formally reporting a series of sexual assaults (different detective, different perpetrator). No one ever gets a good outcome, they told me. Even if there is a conviction, and that’s a big if, it’s never going to be enough and what you’d have to go through to get it wouldn’t be worth it.
They talked about the things I would have seen in media (like some of the cases I read about here) and noted that they are the minority, and that I shouldn’t align my expectations with those outcomes. Even when someone reports a rape the same day and there’s physical evidence and CCTV footage, it’s almost impossible to get a conviction.They said they were telling me all of this to help me.
This is the same man who helpfully told me that my having a mental illness would be used against me because it would speak to both my credibility and character. ‘You mean the PTSD I have as a result of the sexual assaults I’d be reporting?’ The very same. Huh.
As I read this essay I wondered if the detective was right, that there’s no point in reporting. But you know what? It’s attitudes like this that contribute to silence, the antithesis of #MeToo.
[And besides, this is the same police force whose representatives roll their eyes and pull faces at women who are reporting AVO breaches, who say that behaviour that clearly constitute breaches (written in black and white on the AVO) are in fact not breaches at all. Who write down what you say and then neglect to put it in their system so there’s no record you ever made a report. Who you have to insist write it down in the first place and give you an event number because, even though they think you’re overreacting, they don’t understand what this person’s capable of or how they may escalate.]
I’m mad because I read something like this essay and I get hopeful, but then think about all of the peoples’ experiences it doesn’t encapsulate because only some voices are heard. I want change for all of us, not just the lucky few who, let’s face it, probably shouldn’t be called lucky at all. Because they experienced what they did in the first place. Because even if they did get an outcome that looks like a win, it came at a great cost. Because being an advocate continues to cost.
In lesser hands, this essay could have been an absolute mess, but it’s not. At all. It is well written and clearly involved extensive research but, to be honest, I’d expect nothing less from Jess’ work.
It was a compulsive read. I gained even more respect and admiration for the survivors who tell their story publicly. The powers that be, political and otherwise, lost what little faith I still had in them, not that there was much to lose. I want everyone to read this essay and I want to read it again to pick up on anything I missed when I rushed through it the first time.
So, where do I currently stand on #MeToo? Despite my own experiences, I’m stubbornly hopeful. The systems still fail survivors but more and more of us are demanding change, and we’re done being silenced.
Content warnings include death by suicide (including the method used), domestic abuse, mental health and sexual assault.
Once Upon a Blurb
In 2021, Australia saw rage and revelation, as #MeToo powered an insurgency against sexism and sexual violence. From once isolated survivors to political staffers, women everywhere were refusing to keep men’s secrets.
In this electrifying essay, Jess Hill traces the conditions that gave birth to #MeToo and tells the stories of women who – often at great personal cost – found themselves at the centre of this movement. Hill exposes the networks of backlash against them – in government, media, schools, and in our national psyche. This is a powerful essay about shame, secrecy and, most of all, a revolutionary movement for accountability.