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Public Mediations of Accountability in the #MeToo Era

Amanda N Brand, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


While Tarana Burke initially launched the Me Too movement in an effort to cultivate solidarity among sexual assault survivors in 2006, public appropriations of this effort have resulted in a kairotic moment of accountability in sexual assault cases. In particular, the MeToo hashtag (#MeToo) coined in 2017 continues to populate social media platforms and other media as the public invokes it to make sense of sexual assault cases, bearing witness to victim-survivors, assigning blame, or disavowing culpability. Challenging legacies of public denial, the #MeToo era marks a cultural shift in which victim-survivors are not only speaking out, they are also being heard and believed. I argue that accountability is rhetorically-constructed, negotiated, and imposed through public mediation, and filtered through political and ideological structures. I turn to public discourses, including news coverage, public statements, comedy routines, song lyrics, and documentary series to trace the changing contours of public mediations of accountability in the #MeToo era. Specifically, I look at three high-profile cases in which the alleged abusers resisted labels of monstrosity. Whereas public mediations of Harvey Weinstein’s accountability cast him as a monster, the public mediated the accountability of Brett Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Epstein, and Robert “R.” Kelly through different tropes. Rather than being cast as monsters, they were cast as innocent men of the law, the embodiment of self-made masculinity, and the promise of post-racial, neoliberal America, respectively. As such, each of these men evaded accountability for the reports of abuse against them for decades. Public mediations of their accountability traded in tropological economies that mobilized white masculine lability to sustain and reinforce white masculine sovereignty, abject hegemony, and supremacy in the face of threats thereto in the #MeToo era. These cases illustrate how white masculine hegemony, antivictimism, and rape culture persist in the #MeToo era.

Subject Area

Communication|Womens studies|Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Brand, Amanda N, "Public Mediations of Accountability in the #MeToo Era" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30576024.