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Emerson Faculty Go “Beyond #MeToo” in Arts, Media

Six months after the #MeToo movement gained traction following revelations about serial sexual assaults of women by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Emerson faculty came together to look at ways to move forward in the arts and communication industries, and on college campuses.

Beyond #MeToo: Confronting Power Imbalances in the Arts and Media Industries was held Wednesday, April 11, in the Bright Family Screening Room, and was sponsored by Visual and Media Arts and Performing Arts.

“We want to move beyond the headlines and think about what’s next,” said moderator Miranda Banks, associate professor of Visual and Media Arts.

While the #MeToo movement was started in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, it didn’t gain international notoriety until powerful men such as Weinstein were outed for assaulting primarily wealthy white women who have since gotten fairly powerful themselves. Banks asked how we amplify the voices of all the women who are harmed by power-based assault and harassment.

Jessica Chance ’00, assistant director of Career Services and a professional stage actor, said she appreciated the Time’s Up website.

“What I liked about it was it was inclusive of women working in restaurants, women in janitorial positions where the risk [of speaking up] is way higher,” Chance said. She credited Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey for highlighting the story of Recy Taylor, a black woman who was kidnapped at gunpoint and raped by six white men in Alabama in 1944. Despite confessions from the men, two grand juries declined to indict any of the men.

Kristin Lieb, associate professor of Marketing Communication, said that what’s interesting about #MeToo and Time’s Up from a marketing perspective is that neither really has a center. So while there isn’t as much diversity within the movements as there could be, there’s still a wide and varied range of stories getting out that might not with a more centralized marketing campaign.

At first, said Wes Jackson, director of Emerson’s Business of Creative Enterprises program, he was a little skeptical that a movement with no “leaders” could make a difference.

“[Then I realized] this is brilliant, because they can never really stop you,” Jackson said.

The trick with any decentralized movement powered by social media, said Catherine D’Ignazio, assistant professor of Journalism, is finding the people who can push beyond the stories.

“How do you surface a leader or leaders who can then go build relationships with institutions, create legislative agendas, push for change,” D’Ignazio said. “There’s all this solidarity when we tweet #MeToo, but there’s the moment of solidarity and then there’s ongoing solidarity.”

Lieb, who studies the music industry, said she does see interest groups beginning to form within various industries, saying “what are we doing in the music industry, the film industry” etc., but agreed with D’Ignazio.

“We need to sort of flip from collection [of stories] to getting things done, while still collecting in the background,” she said.

One area where #MeToo hasn’t made enough inroads is the tech industry, which is notoriously male-dominated and sexist, said D’Ignazio, who, with Banks, is a Fellow at the Emerson Engagement Lab, is a research affiliate at the MIT Center for Civic Media, and is helping organize a “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon” later this month at MIT.

The devices used to milk cows are better designed than the typical breast pumps nursing parents use while at work, D’Ignazio said.

“This project…is a way to bring this technology out of the closet, to bring this moment in a lactating parent’s journey and say there are huge gaps, huge silences,” she said.

As someone who counsels students on their future careers, Chance said she hears from students who worry about potential employers’ expectations of what their body should look like, how they sound, how they’ll get cast, how they’ll be perceived.

“I remind people, ‘You’re bringing an incredible amount of talent into these communities, but at the same time, have your social justice lenses on,’” Chance said. “There are going to be times you have to say no, and that’s O.K.” 

Sexism and discrimination make no business sense, said Jackson, who has 20 years’ experience as a concert promoter and entrepreneur in the music industry.

“The pure logic of this argument is going to win out in the end,” Jackson said. “If you widen your gaze and you hire everybody from every shade and gender, it’s just good for business, even if you’re a cold, calculating capitalist.”

An audience member asked the panel how Emerson can bring the discussion into the classroom so students can work on solving issues before they get out into the working world.

“I don’t know that there’s a good answer,” Banks said, “but I know the question is one we all need to be thinking about and all see the complicity we’re in, and not let it become an ‘afterschool special’ but [ask it] in every classroom.”

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