The Center for Biographical Research is pleased to announce the latest special issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, available on Project Muse!
Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly
volume 45, number 4
“After(Life) Narratives of #MeToo”
Rebecca Wanzo and Carol A. Stabile, guest editors
Table of Contents
“#MeToo: A Biography”
Rebecca Wanzo and Carol A. Stabile
This introduction looks at the difference between Tarana Burke’s “me too” and #MeToo. The chronologically distinct origin stories for the forms of activism #MeToo has generated illustrate a distinction between Burke’s “me too,” grounded in her work with Black girls and created to raise awareness of the collective plight of survivors of sexual violence, and “#MeToo,” an example of hashtag feminism that has come to be associated with identifying individual bad actors. We look at various manifestations of #MeToo as well as feminist debates in telling the story about #MeToo’s successes and failures.
“Micro-disclosures for Macro-erasures: #MeToo in the Academy”
This essay explores how we might account for the influence of #MeToo in the academy and the extent to which we can understand the power of these utterances as a form of narrative agency expressed through digital life writing. Drawing on a blend of quantitative and qualitative analysis of #MeToo-related tweets about academia, the essay first examines how narrative agency over sexual harassment and violence in higher education is expressed through #MeToo. It further explores how the threat of retaliation and the troubling operationalization of Title IX by universities as an anti-survivor discourse produces macro-erasures of narrative agency. Finally, the essay proposes that #MeToo tweets about higher education are best understood as “micro-disclosures,” a distinct form of life writing that facilitates the narrative agency denied by institutional systems and processes.
“#MeToo Storytelling: Confession, Testimony, and Life Writing”
This article argues that two discourses—confession and testimony—influence the stories survivors tell about sexual violence, the stories others tell about them, and the contexts in which #MeToo storytelling is heard. It identifies how confession and testimony crop up in several #MeToo forms within and beyond the courts, including abuser apologies, letters of support, victim impact statements, memoirs, and lawsuits. It demonstrates that #MeToo is altering the form of testimony itself as its commitment to truth-telling enacts justice-seeking in an extrajudicial form.
“Reproducing and Resisting Sexual Violence: Narrative, Genre, and Power Structure in Fang Siqi’s First Love Paradise”
Rong Huang and Xiaotian Jin
In her semi-autobiographical novel Fang Siqi’s First Love Paradise, Lin Yihan weaves her own traumatic experience of being sexually abused into a powerful narrative that sheds light on the pervasive acquiescence to violence against women in patriarchal cultures. Focusing on the sociocultural factors behind sexual violence, this article examines certain forms of narrative and literary genre, as revealed in the novel, that can be manipulated by male perpetrators and thus play a complicit role in reproducing crimes. But by blurring the divide between fiction and nonfiction, the reception and massive readership of the novel attest to a sort of narrative solidarity against sexual violence, making it an iconic text of the contemporary feminist movement in East Asia.
“Sex, Violence, and Memoir: David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives”
Greta LaFleur and Dana Seitler
This article engages David Wojnarowicz’s “memoir of disintegration” Close to the Knives (1991), a text that contains numerous and variegated representations of sexual encounters before and during the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in the United States. Wojnarowicz’s memoir provides this article with its critical focus because it points us to one iteration of the narratological before-life of the #MeToo movement. In this article, we explore how, in the text, the violence that infuses sex, as well as the sexual intensity that drives violence, is presented as a social and structural problem rather than as an individualized desire, aberration, or impulse. Sexual harm, rather, is primarily a structural reality that in turn informs the way that both sex and violence are practiced—by Wojnarowicz himself, by his lovers and friends, and even by his family. Close to the Knives thus presents the reader with a tension between, on the one hand, Wojnarowicz’s playful curiosity surrounding the relationship between sex, violence, and harm, and on the other, formal questions about memoir. In this article, we ask: how can we develop an ethics around sexual violence—without reifying either sex or acts of self-narration?
“‘If it didn’t hurt so bad, I’d kill myself, but I’ll let Ed Buck do it for now’: #JusticeforGemmel and Black Queer Narratives in the Age and Afterlife of #MeToo”
Gemmel Moore, a gay Black man, was found dead in the West Hollywood home of Edward Buck, a gay white LGBT rights activist. Gemmel’s death was originally classified as an accident until his family published his journal, which was used to ignite both a criminal investigation and a set of Twitter campaigns, #Justice4Gemmel and #StopEdBuck, that have intersected with the #MeToo movement. In this essay, I analyze how Black queer men narrate their experiences of sexual trauma in relation to Black women, and subsequently how Black women have carved space for Black queer survivors by providing a new language for conceptualizing the racialized gendering of sexual violence. In doing so, I examine how Black queer men’s autobiographical narratives function not only as evidence of their sexual injury but also as modes of networked connectivity that position Black queer subjects as integral to anti-sexual violence work and #MeToo activism.
“Disability and Sexual Assault in Public(s): Performance/Nebula”
This montage essay investigates elliptical fractured storytelling modes around disabled embodiment, a court case of sexual assault, and the social media aftermath. It tracks how knowledge of perceived sexual vulnerability folds into one’s bodymindspirit, and how pain runs through and shifts in these multiple foldings. The essay’s earthy, plate-moving tectonics build an autoethnographic star-reaching galaxy that incorporates various modes of storytelling, including social media, poetry, movement, and court discourse. This storytelling montage is hesitant, and creates temporal folds that allow an “I” to slip away into sheltering silences.
“‘We Grew Up in This Movement’: A Conversation between Salamishah Tillet and Scheherazade Tillet”
Salamishah Tillet and Scheherazade Tillet
Writer and activist Salamishah Tillet and photographer and organizer Scheherazade Tillet engaged in a lively and in-depth conversation about their work to end sexual violence before and beyond #MeToo. In 2003, the Tillet sisters founded A Long Walk Home, a nonprofit that empowers young people to use art to end violence against girls and women. Yet their actual organizing work began five years earlier when Scheherazade, at twenty years old, began documenting Salamishah’s healing after being sexually assaulted in college. From 1998 to 2013, Scheherazade took thousands of images, many of which became the spine of Story Of A Rape Survivor (SOARS), a performance that the Tillet sisters created and toured with a cast of Black women singers, dancers, and actors at rape crisis centers and college campuses over two decades. Some of those photographs are included here, along with others from the performances, to provide a visual archive of the innovative artistic process and the unique political intervention of SOARS from its very beginning.
“The Afterlives of #MeToo: A Roundtable Discussion with Māhealani Ahia, Michelle Cho, Pallavi Guha, Régine Michelle Jean-Charles, Kahala Johnson, and Ever E. Osorio”
Organized by Greta LaFleur and Dana Seitler
One of the risks of a special issue with US-based editors and with a topic overwhelmingly identified not only with the US but also with affluent white women is that conversations might neglect the expertise of scholars focused on Indigeneity and the majority of the world. The diverse scholars who contribute to this roundtable—while by no means covering every region in which #MeToo activism has taken place—decenter the US in exploring #MeToo discourse, and blend discussions of medium in activism, solidarity, and cultural specificity in relation to their own stories.