I am one of many young anthropologists working on MeTooAnthro. I feel immensely privileged to have been invited into this network by my academic peers, and now, I imagine this work as some of the most important, most valuable type of public anthropology I could be a part of.
In September, we will be convening a panel at the 2018 annual conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth, held at Oxford. The Call for Papers closes in a few days. Please look at the full conference abstract and submit by 23:59 GMT+1/BST Friday 20th of April.
You hear it all the time – you need to do public anthropology! It doesn’t get more public than making yourself vulnerable, than transforming your experiences of risk, sexual harassment and assault (yes, #metoo), and gendered violence into something that is out there. Forever.
There is no obligation for anyone to share their stories, but I want to write one of mine down. It explains why this work, these people, peers, and friends all mean so much to me.
It is not pleasant.
It is only in adulthood that I realised I had been told the sanitised version of one side of my family history. It is not fit for children to hear.
It begins with power, and power stripped away.
My great, great grandfather was an Irish lord. My great, great grandfather was part of his household staff (or so I was told). My great grandfather was the product of workplace sexual assault. He was given his father’s name, and that unpleasantness followed him as he travelled to Australia, orphaned. He eventually had children of his own, who were given their father’s name. Our timelines never crossed, but I have a replica of a haunting black and white photo of him etched in my memory. He is standing in a straggly backyard, wearing a homemade clown suit.
Intergenerational trauma runs deeply.
My grandmother was resilient, unyielding, self-sufficient, and terrifying. She drove a taxi in the sixties and seventies, which was not a testament to her independence, but to an overwhelming survival instinct. She experienced all manner of horrible things: domestic violence, abuse, the one-time forced removal of her children. To recreate the family she did not always have, my grandmother kept her adult children together by ensuring she was needed. My clouded childhood memories recall a problematic heroine: manipulative, unscrupulous, and fierce. I was too young to understand.
The story was passed on again.
My mother. My mother –
My mother inherited it all. Terrible things happened before she met my father, but some stories are not mine to tell. Some stories are not fit for children to hear, but I heard them all the same. I could not comprehend why I became the caretaker of her mental health and she had lost all boundaries, I was too young. I think speaking often and loudly was her minor solace, a way of guaranteeing she would not accept or tolerate future violations of her body and mind. Now I understand, but we do not, cannot talk, unless I want to invite a shortness of breath, a sudden heat to my face, and overwhelming panic.
I am motherless, unbound, and isolated.
This story stops with me, I hope. It will end everywhere I walk, every place I occupy, and every path I tread. I stand an overconfident, over-optimistic vigil that is compromised by the vulnerabilities I am told I have: I am a tiny femme in an overwhelmingly masculine landscape.
I do not want this story to infiltrate the things I love dearly. I do not want it to become part of the discipline where I have found a home, when my own family life became crumbled beyond repair. This story has already found too many homes, in too many places where I once found comfort.
I have built my own extended family instead; they can be found across the world, hidden and transient, seeking to unfold and uncover our shared humanity. We have the same thirst for knowledge and understanding, and we are hurt.
We are not alone. In that thirst for knowledge and understanding, there is space for networked care and comfort. There is power in our solidarity, and there is strength.
There is no room for this story anymore.