Angeline Meitzler’s SHE IS – Eva Morrison

(TW: discussion of sexual assault)

A visual artwork situated online, She Is digitally reconfigures the first 100 tweets that used the hashtag #AzizAnsari shortly after he was accused of sexual assault in a Babe.net article last January. The artist, Angeline Meitzler, corrupts the meaning of the tweets by representing them as anonymous, digitally manipulated, overlapping, and sometimes illegible. The texts rearrange every five seconds, so there is just enough time to make sense of a few words of each tweet before they are replaced by another jumble of words. The sensation is frustrating and disorienting, like watching a never-ending online argument where everyone involved strives to have their opinion deemed as truth.  It reflects and amplifies the instantaneous, convoluted, and contentious online conversation surrounding Ansari’s sexual assault accusations.

The Babe.net article describes a woman’s date with Aziz Ansari that took place in September of 2017. Under the pseudonym “Grace”, the woman explicitly describes how Ansari consistently pressured her into engaging with him sexually, to the point where she felt forced and uncomfortable. After her reticent body language went unnoticed or simply ignored, she voiced her discomfort to him. She recalls that he suggested they move to the couch instead, saying “it’s only fun if we are both having fun”, although he then suggested she give him oral sex and continued to move towards intercourse. Grace describes how she felt pressured and taken aback, unable to fully realize how upsetting and violating the experience was until after she had left Ansari’s apartment.

The story sparked divisive reactions. Many found the account of aggressive sexual pressure to be painfully relatable and applauded Grace for bringing to light the complicated nuances of sexual consent, while others argued that she should have left earlier of her own accord and even dismissed her story as a derivative of “revenge porn”.  The article itself received criticism for the informal style of writing (Grace is repeatedly referred to using the term “girl” instead of “woman), the “clickbait” format promising “behind-the-scenes details”, and the obscure, undistinguished journalism platform that broke the story.

There was some disconnect happening within the online discussions regarding the #MeToo movement after it went viral when actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to use the hashtag in solidarity.  Some women took a critical stance against the #MeToo hashtag, as a generational divide emerged when older feminists denounced the victimhood which they felt was encouraged by the campaign. Others voiced concerns that it would benefit mainly white Western women, and was an erasure the work of Tarana Burke, the black founder of  “Me Too”. There were also more openly misogynistic responses which ridiculed and dismissed the whole idea of women who stand in solidarity with sexual assault survivors.

When the personal is made political, everyone has an opinion. Meitzler was intrigued by this complex conversation and the way it was playing out within the 140-character limitation of a Tweet. She was particularly interested in the frankness with which the public was discussing issues surrounding sexual assault on social media, exemplified in the multitude of voices which interacted after accusations against Harvey Weinstein and other prominent male celebrities like Ansari went viral.  She says “I was inspired to make the piece after the Babe.net article was released because of the diverse range of complex and even hostile responses it provoked from the public. I felt the event regarding Aziz Ansari was particularly unique in its interpretations, and I think it’s worth the time to question why that was.”.

The conversation on social media following the accusations against Aziz Ansari is multifaceted and saturated with personal opinions. In her work, Meitzler creates a labyrinthine tangle of viewpoints, reflecting the ways in which the public discusses the topic of sexual assault online.  She Is illustrates an emerging form of political discourse where one can be confrontational and bold without having to be fully exposed, and encourages the viewer to think critically not only about the issue at hand, but also about the way in which the conversation develops.

The work is situated online and is being displayed as part of Montreal’s “HTMLles Festival” at the Feminist Media Studio from November 1st to January 31st.

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