One of the main criticisms of the viral Me Too Movement has been the dominance of privileged white women with status and power within the Movement, contributing to the silencing of less-privileged and non-white women. This has been particularly jarring when the history of the 2017 viral Me Too Movement was uncovered as actually being initiated in 2006 by Tarana Burke, an African American woman with a history of activism in both economic and racial justice, in addition to her work with survivors of sexual violence.
Within Australia, similar dynamics have played out where Black women have felt the trickle-down effect of a change in public conversation, but where their unique intersecting existence of being both Black and a woman is silenced or denied. Burke’s history of activism in multiple areas is a strong example of why it is so important to understand intersectionality. Just as Burke has advocated for economic and racial justice in addition to her work with the Me Too Movement, so too are Aboriginal women struggling against the multiple impacts of gender, race, class and more.
Robyn Liddle is one such woman. My collaborator in this piece, I met Robyn when we both still lived in Adelaide. I was in my late twenties and she was in her mid-teens, and even back then she was a staunch young woman. A decade later Robyn now lives back in her hometown of Alice Springs with her partner and two children, and I have moved to Melbourne where I now live in the far west suburbs with my husband. Robyn’s twin attributes of both being a strong Black woman, as well as her disconnectedness from activist circles, is the driving force behind my wanting to speak to her about these issues; I am keenly interested in her views on feminism, violence against Aboriginal women and children, and the Me Too Movement.
Robyn is inherently an advocate for strong Aboriginal women, but she would never call herself a feminist: “Nup….[but] I’m all for strong women.” Like many other Indigenous women, she draws on her culture to guide her as a strong woman, believing that men and women should both enjoy participation, status and rights in society, but not the kind of equality espoused by white western feminism. We get to talking about violence against women and children in Aboriginal communities, both agreeing that while we do not have all the answers, it is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
Robyn and I talk a lot about the load that victims carry in Aboriginal communities, not wanting to be shamed or to be held responsible for tearing families and communities apart. The Me Too Movement, with its method of personal confession to provoke conversation, does not necessarily work for Aboriginal women where communities are close knit and small. As Robyn reminded me about the potential hesitation to disclose: “[it’s] the effect it’s going to have, not just on her and her family or his family, but the effect it’s going to have on a whole community.”
But Robyn and I also talk about the middle ground. Yes, there is hesitation about the impact of disclosure on whole families and communities – driven by a sense of relationality and kinship that comes with being Aboriginal – but there is also the need to hold perpetrators to account. There is something between silence and Me Too style public disclosure that must be explored, a middle ground where Black women can gain justice from within their own culture and values.
This middle ground takes into account the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal communities. That there are cycles of trauma passed down from generation to generation, where perpetrators may have been victimised themselves in the past. Breaking the cycle of violence and dysfunction can be difficult, particularly in communities that remain under siege as Aboriginal people continue to be dispossessed in their own lands. As Robyn says of both victims and perpetrators: “To heal both of them would be the ultimate goal.”