Photo by Lexi Marshall / MTSU Sidelines Archive
It all began to unravel last October when The New York Times published an article centering on allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Among the list of women who came forward with accusations against Weinstein were actresses such as Ashley Judd, Gwenyth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.
Throughout the following months, more people stepped forward with their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. The stories spanned across industries and professions, bringing down names such as actor Kevin Spacey, politician Roy Moore, chef Mario Batali and others. Inspired by survivor experiences and stories, a movement called “#MeToo” rose and swept across the nation.
Caroline Darwin, a Middle Tennessee State University senior and theater major, was appalled by the news and was sad that she wasn’t shocked.
“We hear about the jokes like, ‘Oh, she slept her way to the top,'” Darwin said. “But, it’s this new connotation of, ‘Oh, maybe that wasn’t her choice, and she had to get somewhere.”
Working in the world of theater, it was terrifying for Darwin to realize there is a potential for those things to happen to her. Although Darwin hopes to pursue a “behind the scenes” career in stage management, she does worry for her friends who perform.
For Laurel Walker, an adjunct dance instructor at MTSU, the connection to the #MeToo movement is a personal one.
“I have been in situations and in a relationship where it was not the best place for me to be,” Walker said. “It was an unsafe place.”
Hearing survivors speak out struck her hard, and it was “heart-wrenching” for her to realize the severity of the problem.
“Even in these Hollywood-type atmospheres, there is that fear,” Walker said. “There’s that very human quality of the fear of sharing something, and it does belittle people.”
Despite the fear, she moved to find inspiration in #MeToo and decided that enough was enough.
“(MeToo) inspired me to see people coming together from across all walks of life, no matter their background, their education … their sexual preferences, political affiliations,” Walker said. “It brought people together.”
As someone who pulls her inspiration for choreography and dance from “real-life human situations,” Walker created a dance piece titled #HearMe. It is a response to both the #MeToo movement and the “Time’s Up” campaign, a movement dedicated to helping those who experienced abuse or assault in the workplace.
#HearMe was featured in MTSU’s 2018 spring dance concert. Darwin, who was the stage manager for the piece, said, “It’s about the violence against women … It’s about raising up, standing up, speaking out against this violence and supporting other women who … have had experiences like this.”
As Walker worked with her five dancers throughout rehearsals, she asked them to go into emotionally vulnerable places and explore moments in which they felt ridiculed. Walker wanted the performance to feel stripped down and raw, as if the dancers were worn down. She put them in “flesh-toned slips” and wanted their hair down and disheveled.
“I want to portray that first sense of fear of speaking out because someone has guilted you into something (and) because they’ve intimidated you,” Walker said.
Each dancer’s mouth was taped shut to represent the blind eye society turned on victims who found the courage to speak out.
During the eight-minute dance, the dancers moved as a group while a ticking clock played overhead as if to say, “Time is still going on, but when is it going to stop?” Walker explained. “Throughout the piece, there are projections on the screen … like ‘Did she really say no?’, ‘Look what she was wearing’ (and) ‘You’re just going to have to get over it.'”
As the performance came to a close, the dancers ripped the tape from their mouths.
“I think people have found the strength in numbers when it comes to (the) MeToo movement, so I wanted to show that in the end, literally a moment of them all together, get that strength to rip that tape off,” Walker said of the piece’s ending.
She hopes that, although there is no speaking or yelling, #HearMe resonates with people.
“If that was your past, that’s okay, you do not need to be defined by that,” Walker said. “You do not need to let that limit you or scare you.”
Working with students in a time when #MeToo exists, Walker doesn’t think that any of her students began to think differently of entering the show business. Instead, she is pleased with the sense of awareness the movements brought about, how people conduct themselves and how they want others to see them. Darwin hopes that women no longer feel compelled to stay silent.
“I think that (#HearMe) is a very powerful message, and this is a great place for that message to be put out there,” Darwin said.
Walker hopes that with the #HearMe piece, she can make “someone feel like they can be part of the solution to this.”
And to those who resonate with #HearMe, Walker said, “Stand up, be strong, be a warrior, man, woman, young, old and push forward.”
A version of this story appears in print on page 19 of the April 25, 2018, edition of Sidelines.
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