On August 30, 2018, Leigh Gilmore spoke at Miami University in a lecture entitled “Graphic Witness: Evidence and Testimony in the #MeToo Movement.” Gilmore spoke about the significance of witnessing and the power of group testimony, especially for women in a male-dominated society.
Gilmore discussed the role that bias plays in our daily lives. She asked: “How and why did the #MeToo movement galvanize a public already predisposed to ignoring women’s testimony?” Gilmore then went on to answer this question through an analysis of images that were used during the #MeToo movement, on social media and other digital platforms. Gilmore suggested that the movement took cues from the Black Lives Matter movement, which relied heavily on images and social media to gather supporters and to get their message across to the general public.
One of the images that Gilmore focused on the TIME magazine Person of the Year cover honoring the Silence Breakers. She noted how the visual display arranged the images of different women in similar photo sizes, looks and general mood as to depict all the women as equals. She also cited the idea of the collective witness, which emphasizes the severity of the issue by sheer number of testimony.
This idea of collective witness is used again in an image of multiple hands, as if the hands are being raised in a participatory manner to say, “me too.” The hands also draw from the “hands up don’t shoot” protest; the multiple layers of imagery and reference to past social movements all add to the power of the image.
After her initial talk, Gilmore was asked by a student in the audience to explain the difference between “survivor” and the term that Gilmore uses, “witness.” Gilmore responded that the term “witness” pulls “the one who is hearing the story out of the passive position of hearing the story” and forces them to be a more active participant in the knowledge of the incident. Instead of just passively listening, and perhaps even silently judging, the listener now has a responsibility not just by law, but from ethics, to go with the witness to the ethical scene and make a stance about the situation. Now the listener is a witness, too.