High-profile allegations of sexual assault and harassment have been rippling through the film, literary, music and news industries and advanced the “#MeToo” social media movement.
That's had direct effects in Madison; after a former member of the band Crystal Castles accused a current member of sexual assault and abuse, the Majestic Theater, like many other venues that had booked the band, cancelled the show.
“When we found out what was happening with Crystal Castles it affected us, we were really upset about what we learned,” said Hillary Gunn, marketing coordinator at the Majestic.
But the Majestic decided to turn that disappointing news into an event that would move #MeToo “beyond the hashtag,” to a safe space in the community.
Instead of Crystal Castles, the Majestic will host “#MeToo: Voices in the Crowd,” at 115 King St., on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. The event will feature live music, stories of sexual assault, and support for survivors. Proceeds from the $5 admission will go to the Rape Crisis Center.
The title is a reference to the recent social media trend, started in the wake of the allegations that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted numerous women. Actor Alyssa Milano started the hashtag, posting: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Soon, thousands of women on Twitter and Facebook posted using the “#MeToo” hashtag, some adding stories about their experiences.
The Me Too movement has been around for much longer than the hashtag, however. Tarana Burke, a black woman who has worked in social justice and youth leadership for over 20 years, started the campaign years ago.
At Thursday’s event, Madison residents who may have typed and posted “Me Too” a few weeks back will get the chance to experience solidarity with other survivors, continue the discussion on sexual assault and harassment, and if they want, get connected to community resources to deal with the aftermath of their experiences.
The event will feature live music, including DJs Sarah Akawa and DJ Boyfrrriend, and a performance from local filmmaker and musician Wendy Schneider.
“She writes some beautiful music about some tough things women have gone through,” said Erin Thornley-Parisi, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center in Dane County.
Cooper Talbot, a host at WORT FM radio, will emcee the evening. About a dozen community members will come to the stage to share their experiences of sexual assault, through stories, poems, songs or performances. There will also be a “story sheet,” where attendees can anonymously write down their stories of sexual violence.
“Not everybody likes to get up on the stage,” Gunn said.
The Rape Crisis Center (RCC) will be there to give a self-defense demonstration from their Chimera program, but will also have counselors on hand. Thornley-Parisi said the RCC wanted to help create “a safe, designated atmosphere” for survivors to share their stories.
“We really look at this as an opportunity for the community to heal,” she said.
She wants everyone who has experienced sexual assault to know there are community resources available to help them. She said that often, victims will not think they should utilize the RCC for help, because few people view their assault as “rape” or their situation as a “crisis,” unless they are assaulted by a stranger and the victim of another crime like strangulation or beating.
Society reinforces this message, Thornley-Parisis said, making excuses and normalizing everything but the most violent stranger assault.
“What the #MeToo campaign is doing is saying this is not normal,” she said. “This is not something that women should be living with.”
At Thursday's event, sexual assault victims will stand on stage to shed some of the stigma of shame.
“The world has been telling you is your fault. So you’ve been conditioned, all women have been conditioned to take some responsibility,” Thornley-Parisi said. “So to get up there and basically say ‘My truth is is that I didn’t ask for this, and I didn’t want to be sexually assaulted,’ … is a courageous action.”
Parisi emphasized that the event and #MeToo movement is not meant to force anyone to tell their story.
“RCC is the last place that's going to do that … especially in the light of having so many choices taken away from you (in the assault) about your own body and your own emotions,” she said.
Thornley-Parisi noted that the event is a good way for the men who have been looking for a way to support the Me Too movement to get involved. Gunn said everyone is welcome.
“We think that sexual assault isn’t exclusive to women, it's not exclusive to age,” Gunn said.
While the subject matter is serious, Gunn said she wanted people to leave with a positive feeling.
“We want people to walk away ... feeling like they got something off their chest that maybe they weren't previously able to,” she said.