The #MeToo movement inspired millions to testify to the widespread experience of sexual violence. More broadly, it shifted the deeply ingrained response to women’s accounts of sexual violence from doubting all of them to believing some of them. What changed?
Leigh Gilmore provides a new account of #MeToo that reveals how storytelling by survivors propelled the call for sexual justice beyond courts and high-profile cases. At a time when the cultural conversation was fixated on appeals to legal and bureaucratic systems, narrative activism—storytelling in the service of social change—elevated survivors as authorities. Their testimony fused credibility and accountability into the #MeToo effect: uniting millions of separate accounts into an existential demand for sexual justice and the right to be heard.
Gilmore reframes #MeToo as a breakthrough moment within a longer history of feminist thought and activism. She analyzes the centrality of autobiographical storytelling in intersectional and antirape activism and traces how literary representations of sexual violence dating from antiquity intertwine with cultural notions of doubt, obligation, and agency. By focusing on the intersectional prehistory of #MeToo, Gilmore sheds light on how survivors have used narrative to frame sexual violence as an urgent problem requiring structural solutions in diverse global contexts. Considering the roles of literature and literary criticism in movements for social change, The #MeToo Effect demonstrates how “reading like a survivor” provides resources for activism.
A thoughtful and thorough consideration of a global movement.
— Publishers Weekly
Leigh Gilmore writes with compelling authority about the sizable contribution that narrative expression makes to our understanding of justice. The #MeToo Effect demonstrates how victims and survivors have exposed the bias in traditional fact-finding processes, emphasizing that diverse trauma sufferers’ public storytelling is a longstanding tradition that pushes society closer to the truth.
— Anita Hill, author of Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence
Paying careful attention to gendered, racial, class, and sexual power hierarchies, Gilmore offers a compelling and deeply considered analysis—grounded in literary history and criticism, from Harriet Jacobs to Sophocles—of narrative activism, storytelling in service of social change, tracing its explosive trajectory before, during, and since the 2017 #MeToo peak. This is such a smart book that complicates and enriches an understanding of recent feminist movements and the literary and activist lineage on which they are built.
— Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger
The #MeToo Effect is a powerful, persuasive, and truly comprehensive story about the moment when millions of victims of sexual assault came together and used their narrative power to change the world. This is an essential read for anyone interested in understanding how the #MeToo movement was born, its successes, and how it continues to shape our conversations and culture today.
— Salamishah Tillet, activist, scholar, and winner of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism
This book offers a powerful, painful and profound vision of #MeToo as a form of narrative activism . Gilmore asks us to be alert to the ethical and political promise of #MeToo, how it builds on a long lineage of feminist activism and creates alternative pathways for justice. A necessary and vital book.
— Sara Ahmed, author of Complaint!
Gilmore draws on her peerless knowledge of women’s life writing and feminist theory to provide a stunningly original account that situates #MeToo in a long history of feminist narrative activism. This is a searing and ultimately hopeful analysis of how survivor testimony can change the world.
— Sharon Marcus, Columbia University, author of The Drama of Celebrity
Do ‘ladies lie’? ‘Survivor reading’ and ‘narrative activism’ are Leigh Gilmore’s powerful replies to the age-old charge. She argues for a #MeToo effect that has furthered the healing and justice that courts have all too often failed to give. A readable, rigorous, and compelling book.
— Bonnie Honig, author of A Feminist Theory of Refusal
About the Author:
Leigh Gilmore is professor emerita of English at the Ohio State University. She is the author of Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives (Columbia, 2017), The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony (second edition, 2023), and Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women’s Self-Representation (1994), as well as coauthor of Witnessing Girlhood: Toward an Intersectional Tradition of Life Writing (2019). She contributes regularly to WBUR’s Cognoscenti.