On the silencing of Women.
The ability to speak is one of the first ways a person expresses themselves and communicates their needs. Language is a powerful and vital tool contributing to emotional intelligence. Moreover, it is essential to each person's personality as language conveys morals and passes on cultural values inherent to human development. Therefore, language use becomes vital to someone's identity, and the right to talk gives autonomy to the individual.
However, what happens if women are forbidden to speak or when the commodity of language becomes governed through policy? Though, in many ways, women's autonomy has been reclaimed through feminist movements, new ways of forbidding women to speak are surfacing, and some old ways are being overlooked and not revised.
In this essay, three aspects of how women are silenced will be discussed by using the Japanese pictorial maxim of the three wise monkeys See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no
Evil which will serve as a metaphor to analyse in which ways women are silenced. Firstly, by examining the issue of rape culture, the power structures surrounding it, and government policies and reporting. Secondly, a critical take on analysing the "Me-too" movement and its implementations towards all groups of women will be discussed.
Lastly, the concept of freedom of speech will be questioned with examples of current social and political issues, and a conclusion will be drawn from the need for feminism based on the third wave of feminism. Finally, the pictorial maxim will be rephrased, replacing the conditional Evil with Fem to adapt its meaning to the relevant topic of feminism and to include different forms of womanhood.
See No Fem.
In October 2017, The Weinstein Company (TWC), a major film studio in North America, announced that Harvey Weinstein, its chairman, would be fired from his position as a director due to allegations of sexual misconduct and rape by as many as 80 women. This event marked a critical point for the "Me Too" movement as TWC filed for bankruptcy in 2018 due to the controversies surrounding Weinstein. The first allegations against him date back to 1980, which raises the question of why they did not surface earlier.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, visibility refers to the state of being able to see or be seen and the degree to which something has attracted general attention (Stevenson, 2010). Therefore, understanding how sexual abuse is portrayed in society and covered by the media is essential in comprehending how victims view the narrative and fear the stigma placed on affected women. In addition, the fear of possible legal actions, defamation, and victim blaming by media institutions are further contributing factors prohibiting reporting sexual crimes. Therefore, journalists must be aware of their influence when writing about sexual abuse and the consequential perpetuation or reaffirmation of dominant power structures by influential men such as Harvey Weinstein (Baker & Rodrigues, 2023).
The societal perception of victimology plays a significant role in the delayed reporting of sexual abuse crimes. The notion of prompt reporting, for example, is a widely spread and accepted "rape myth" that even police forces in some countries use to determine the severity and urgency of a case. For example, in 2017, the Australian government issued a guide for police forces on misconceptions of rape, including the illusion that real victims report immediately. However, research has revealed that over 80% of women do not report at all, and victims of child abuse do not report until adulthood (Robinson & Yoshida, 2023).
These reports suggest that influential men like Weinstein use their power over the media and deeply-rooted patriarchal societal stigmas of victim blaming to silence and discredit women and make them fear the consequences of coming forward.
Hear No Fem.
The cases of actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd, both of whom came forward with allegations against Harvey Weinstein, demonstrate the substantial impact that movements such as "Me Too" can have when popularised by individuals with extensive international reach and whose voices can pressure perpetrators through the power of social media. However, it is crucial to recognise that the movement was not initiated solely by white celebrity women but by Tarana Burke, who first used the term in 2006 on MySpace to raise awareness of sexual crimes in her community. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the voices that carry the most weight regarding the complexity of sexual abuse, which in the #MeToo 2.0 movement largely safeguarded the interests of individuals that belonged to a privileged, cis-gendered group of women, according to Hooks (2000) as cited in Baker and Rodriges (2023).
It is commonly safe to say that the media and societal focus is on women's experiences who live in "respectable" environments. Moreover, these women are often expected to hold "good" jobs with cultural recognition and value. However, what about women who do not fit these parameters and whose stories bear less weight than those who live outside them? In other words, sexual abuse and rape are often seen as accepted occupational hazards in some work environments. For example, women who work in the sex industry, particularly women who are not cis-heterosexual, face enhanced danger.
In her book We Too, Natalie West (2021) presented an edited collection of essays written by women whose experiences are often excluded due to their profession as sex workers. The stories captured in this book convey intersectional messages about the experiences of different people who identify as women, which differ vastly from the women predominantly mentioned in the media. She further highlights the difficulty that defining sexual assault within the context of commercial sex work complicates the already challenging task of prosecuting such crimes. As a result, one of the only ways women in the industry can have security is by seeking it within their community by sharing client information and warnings about abusive behaviour from them (West & Horn, 2021).
In this light, it is crucial to consider intersectionality while pondering whose voices are being silenced in this debate since a comprehensive intersectional evaluation will reveal various forms of discrimination contributing to this circumstance (Connell, 2021).
Speak No Fem.
In the context of freedom of speech, new ways of silencing women are currently emerging. Certain groups face constraints on their ability to be themselves based on their assigned gender at birth. More precisely, transgender women are increasingly subjected to discriminatory hate speech and hate crimes due to their identity and pursuit of recognition as women. Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge the experiences of transgender women who face misogyny from cisgender women, as they are not seen as fitting the societal norms of womanhood (Colliver, 2021).
This emerging trend encompasses the deliberate exclusion of transgender women from the concept of womanhood and the broader feminist agenda. So-called TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) are surfacing more frequently on social media and across news channels, sometimes appearing alongside controversial figures who promote Nazi ideologies and rhetoric. An illustrative case in point is the rise of activist Kellie-Jay Keen- Minshull, a prominent figure within the TERF movement. Despite not identifying as a feminist, she actively challenges inclusive narratives regarding transgender women. During her recent tour in Australia and an attempted continuation in New Zealand, incidents occurred as Neo-Nazis openly supported her speeches and even marched alongside her to secure space for her announcements (Hawley, 2023).
Furthermore, examples of this rhetoric can be seen in current literature, like in the book Gender-Critical Feminism, in which Holly Lawford-Smith, appeals to the reader to evoke agreement In various seemingly liberal statements. The author does so by pointing out the Intersectional experience of POC (People of Colour) women compared to white middle- class women. Although her argumentation of gender-critical feminism initially appears inclusive of transgender women, a closer examination reveals that her position emphasises the liberation of cisgender women while regarding transgender women as a distinct category of its own (Lawford-Smith, 2022). Therefore, it is essential to recognise the emerging ways women are being silenced and acknowledge that freedom of speech can only be guaranteed when its consequential rhetoric does not jeopardise the individuals' safety, regardless of gender identity.
When considering the concept of waves in feminism, there is a prevalent argument that there is no distinct third wave but a continuation of the second wave. This criticism highlights the necessity for further research to continue the categorisation of feminism. The crest of the hypothetical third wave lies in recognising the diversity of womanhood and the subsequent establishment of broad categories and values.
Pursuing equal value is the overarching goal of all forms of feminism. However, the persisting lack of clarity in various aspects within this domain leads to the conclusion that we have yet to achieve equal clarity. In feminist economics, there is a general assumption that women and certain societal groups face barriers that impede their complete autonomy (Jacobsen, 2020). Therefore, all women's voices must unite because togetherness and a sense of community will lay the foundation to conclude the third wave of feminism. Feminism will face further challenges for as long as the autonomy of the female body remains suppressed and lacks universal inclusivity of all women, the ongoing necessity for feminism will persist.
Hawley, S. (2023) Lidia Thorpe, 'Posie Parker' and the neo-Nazis, ABC News Daily, 24.03. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/abc-news-daily/lidia-thorpe- posie-parker- and-the-neo-nazis/102136482
Baker, A. & Rodrigues, U. M. (2023) Reporting on sexual violence in the #MeToo era, Abingdon, Routledge.
Connell, R. (2021) Gender: in world perspective, Cambridge, Polity Press.
Colliver, B. (2021) “Not the right kind of woman” Transgender women’s experiences of transphobic hate crime and trans-misogyny. In: Zempi, I., Smith, J. (eds.) Misogyny as Hate Crime. Abingdon, Routledge, pp. 213-227.
Lawford-Smith, H. (2022) Gender-critical feminism, Oxford, United Kingdom, Oxford University Press.
Jacobsen, J.P. (2020) Advanced Introduction to Feminist Economics, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar
Robinson, J. & Yoshida, K. (2023) How Many More Women?: The Silencing of Women by the Law and how to Stop it, Sydney, Australia, Allen & Unwin.
Stevenson, A. (2015) Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed., Oxford, Oxford University Press
West, N., Horn, T. & Selena (2021) We too: essays on sex work and survival. NY, The Feminist Press at the City University of New York.