Sexual harassment and sexual violence have been an issue of debate among social reformers and political activists long before the term feminism itself was coined. These serial discussions underscore how ubiquitous sexual violence remains in the power dynamic of human relations and social hierarchies and how, as a consequence, feminist critique has had to repeat its central arguments incessantly for centuries. The insistent return of the controversy also demonstrates, though, how feminist concerns mutate along with transforming social and cultural economies and media ecologies, which newly frame, channel, and absorb our attention.

Raising the question what the #MeToo movement has added to the conversation on sexual harassment and sexual violence, my talk examines the recursive moves these debates have recently made. As #MeToo targets – once again, yet by its own means and media formats – the systematic and systemic ‘nature’ of sexualized and sexual violence and readdresses central concerns and (still controversial and presumably dated) concepts of feminism, ranging from patriarchy to sexism and misogyny to “rape culture,” we may wonder: what’s new about #MeToo?

In order to answer this question, I make a three-part argument: Part one engages the so-called “rape crisis discourse” of the 1990s in order to highlight the (dis-)continuities between #MeToo and previous peaks of feminist intervention. Mapping the media ecology from which #MeToo emerged, part two aims to measure how digital modes and hashtag frame and (de-)limit the impact of the ‘movement.’ Part three shows how #MeToo manages to remember feminism forward while, like all memory practice, relying on forgetting and nurturing old silences.

SABINE SIELKE is Chair of North American Literature and Culture and Director of the North American Studies Program and the German-Canadian Centre at the University of Bonn. Her publications include Reading Rape (Princeton 2002) and Fashioning the Female Subject (Ann Arbor 1997), the series Transcription, and 20 (co-)edited books, most recently Nostalgia: Imagined Time-Spaces in Global Media Cultures (2017), Knowledge Landscapes North America (2016), New York, New York! Urban Spaces, Dreamscapes, Contested Territories (2015), and American Studies Today: New Research Agendas (2014), as well as 130 essays on poetry, (post-) modern literature and culture, literary and cultural theory, gender and African American studies, popular culture, and the interfaces of cultural studies and the sciences.