The Time Person of the Year cover is a visual reminder of how white feminism attempts to dictate the direction of progress while BIPOC are expected to do the behind-the-scenes (or between the pages) labor.I held my breath when I saw the TIME Person of the Year shortlist, hoping that the weekly news magazine would not vindicate Trump after crowning him with devil horns on last year’s cover. Thankfully, the magazine gave credit to the well-deserved Me Too movement and the thousands of sexual assault survivors who have come forward in recent months. It was their selection of cover models that left something to be desired. No men or nonbinary people were featured, and although Tarana Burke was granted a feature inside, the founder of the Me Too movement is noticeably absent from the front cover. Standing solemnly in the right corner is Taylor Swift, who won a lawsuit earlier this year against David Mueller, a radio DJ who groped her during a meet-and-greet event. According to Swift, Mueller reached under her skirt during a photo op and grabbed her ass. After the photo was taken, Swift alerted her security staff, who confronted Mueller and informed his employer of the incident. Blaming Swift for his firing, Mueller sued her for damages to the tune of $3 million. Swift, refusing to be silenced, counter-sued for $1. No one is denying the significance of that moment and what it demonstrated to Swift’s young fans about standing up to our abusers, but we cannot ignore how the pop star’s privilege played a role in her victory. We also cannot ignore Swift’s selectivity in supporting feminist movements, and how she only seems to do so when it serves her interests. TIME’s decision to position her as a voice of the movement is not only inaccurate, it displaces victims like Ke$ha, who literally lost everything by refusing to back down from her abuser (and yes, I am aware of Swift helping her cover legal expenses). The TIME magazine cover doesn’t get it entirely wrong. They recognize victims who are unable to come forward by picturing the arm of an anonymous woman. They also feature Adama Iwu, who is changing the face of lobbying with a campaign to expose sexual harassment in Sacramento. Since the Me Too movement was reinvigorated on Twitter via Alyssa Milano, it’s become clear that the status quo is changing. The entertainment industry will likely never be the same, but to honor the spirit of this movement, we have to give space to those who continue fighting an uphill for justice.
White women have a legacy of protecting white men, even if it means hindering their own progress and especially when it means gaslighting Black women.[TW- mention of sexual assault.] Men who attack and harass women, other men, non-binary, trans and gender non-conforming people live in our social circles. It’s a culture and it’s unavoidable but when we find out that someone we know has acted poorly or worse, generally, they are no longer invited out with the gang. Unless you’re Lena Dunham in which case you just claim, “insider knowledge” and accuse the victim of being part of the 3% of made up claims. Before you slide up in my Twitter mentions with your outrage, I know that Dunham issued a statement apologizing for her earlier remarks. We’re going to talk about that too and lay out why it compounds the bullshit of the original issue.
The Problem with Her First Statementhttps://twitter.com/lenadunham/status/931672937308057600 When Murray Miller was accused of raping (not just inappropriate sexual comments or touching but sexual assault) of a then 17-year-old actress, Aurora Perrineau, who happens to be a woman of color. Dunham came forward to say that she supports her friend alluding to some “behind the scenes information.” When the accused were not in her circle, she was quick to “stand with victims” and denounce the bad behavior. As soon as it was one of her friends — Miller works as a writer on her show, Girls — suddenly things aren’t so black and white. It is difficult to ignore the racial dynamics of Dunham’s statements, Perrineau is a biracial Black woman, one of the few to have made an appearance on Girls and for Dunham, who is white, to protect a cisgender white man adds layers to the racialization of rape and rape culture. White women have a legacy of protecting and electing white men, even if it means hindering their own progress. The misogynoir runs deep. This is made worse by Dunham’s position in the world. She is a well-known “feminist” actor and author. She is influential and many women see her as a voice to be listened to. Right or wrong, this is the place that Dunham occupies in our media landscape.
The harassment that Page faces particularly hit home for me because it shined a light on the specific struggles that LGBTQ+ people face.[TW: discussions of sexual violence and harassment, homophobia.] If you've been taking note of anything in public media lately, you've most likely seen accusations of powerful Hollywood figures committing acts of sexual violence finally getting the publicity it needs. In fact, it's hard to take note of what was in the news outside of that. Day after day, we've seen stories shattering the facade that these abusers have so carefully crafted in the public sphere. The lock has been lifted on Hollywood's secret of sexual violence, and there's no turning back. But despite the long list of survivors telling their stories, the stories keep coming. For me, one that took my particular attention was Ellen Page's. Page took to her Facebook page last week to speak on the sexual harassment that she experienced. As she writes, she was harassed by director Brett Ratner, who she worked with X-Men: The Last Stand when she was 18. In the post, she speaks on the deliberate outing of her sexuality that she had to endure, slurs and derogatory comments that Ratner made about her and other women on set, and even comments suggesting that Page be "...f*cked so she realize that she's gay."
Right now is the perfect time to shine a spotlight on the forgotten crimes perpetrated in Hollywood, and Patricia Douglas deserves to be avenged.[TW: This essay contains discussion of sexual violence] Ten years ago, Girl 27 went to Sundance. The film should have made a bigger splash than it did, but I suppose it makes perfect sense that it didn't garner as much recognition as it deserved, given its subject. Girl 27 is a documentary that tracks the forgotten story of Patricia Douglas, a film extra and dancer who was raped at an MGM studio stag party thrown by Louis B. Mayer in May of 1937. She was lured there under the false pretenses of a casting call. With 120 young women and girls in total, she was listed as number 27 on the "call sheet." David Stenn uses his quaint film to deliver an account of the entire story in gruesome detail, an extension of his exposé written for Vanity Fair in 2003. There were four separate police departments represented at the party that night — the LAPD, the State Police, Culver City Police, and MGM’s own private police and watchmen. None of them filed a report about the rape. When Patricia bravely took her story public with a lawsuit, the other young women and girls who worked as extras in the industry were given a questionnaire about her with questions like, “Have you ever seen Patricia Douglas intoxicated, before or after the party?” They were asked to “state in detail what you know about Patricia Douglas’ past reputation for morality.” The Pinkertons surveilled her and the doctor who first examined her was asked to create false records to show that she'd previously contracted a venereal disease. All of this was done in an effort to paint her as a drunken, loose woman. Patricia's lawsuit (seemingly the first known federal rape case) was dismissed by the court after collecting dust for three years for “lack of prosecution.” Her lawyer had failed to appear in federal court on any occasion. He went on to become elected as District Attorney of LA County, and David Stenn suspects that it was thanks to the support of MGM. Patricia's own mother—appointed her Guardian ad Litem—was paid off by MGM and let the case die. [caption id="attachment_48575" align="alignnone" width="220"] David Ross in L.A. for a grand-jury inquiry, June 16, 1937.
From the Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library/Corbis[/caption] Metro Goldwyn Mayer was home to the brightest Hollywood stars at the time. Louis B. Mayer was the highest paid man in the nation and the biggest name in the film industry. Patricia never stood a chance against the most powerful Hollywood executives at the most powerful movie studio on the planet. What happened to her was almost completely wiped from the record. Her rapist, David Ross, was never served, arrested, or charged. But Patricia did inspire a young singer, Eloise Spann, to come forward about her rape by an MGM executive. Her case was mishandled in the same way and she never received any justice. She stopped singing, became depressed, and died by suicide many years later. Peggy Montgomery worked as a film extra during the same time as Patricia and Eloise. In Girl 27, she speaks of how she was sexually harassed on the casting couch and of the culture of misogyny rampant throughout the industry. Men using their powerful positions to coerce, pressure, manipulate, and force young women and girls into uncomfortable sexual situations was common, expected, and even encouraged. “At sixteen, I went to work for MGM, and I considered it was a windfall. There was an air, a constant air of being pursued. All the men tended to try to break women down. These were very aggressive men. Twice, I was asked to go to be interviewed, and the guy got up and said, ‘Well, let's see your legs,’ and you'd pull up your skirt and he’d say, ‘Turn around, Honey. Pull it up higher.’ And then he'd say, ‘Let's see how you feel, ‘ and then he'd walk around the desk and grab you. You couldn't go to the Citizen's News and say, ‘You know, Mister So-and-so did this to me at MGM.’ No way! Because the studios owned Hollywood. I mean, this is no exaggeration. It was one of a laws I learned very early on. Even the adults were afraid. Everybody seemed to be afraid of something. Except the men that were pursuing girls, you know. That was the one thing that nobody seemed to have any compunction about.” [caption id="attachment_48576" align="alignnone" width="220"] Patricia Douglas identifies her attacker, David Ross, from a stack of photographs.
From the Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library/Corbis[/caption] Patricia's devastating account was only brought to light when David Stenn was researching his Jean Harlow biography, Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow (1993). The same week that Harlow died in 1937, the story of Patricia Douglas hit the papers, but after that, it disappeared. Girl 27 and David's investment in her experience allowed Patricia to truly be heard and believed for the first time, more than sixty-five years after she was raped. She describes how she was lured to the party, how she was literally forced to drink a mixture of champagne and scotch by two men there, how she was attacked and violated by David Ross in a field behind the barn where the party was held, how she had been a virgin before that night. For the rest of her life, Patricia struggled with physical and emotional intimacy. She experienced insomnia, depression, agoraphobia, and isolation.