The Relationship Between ‘Mean’ and the #MeToo Movement

Let’s consider the historical context of Gurba’s 2017 memoir.

myriam gurba, mean

The #MeToo movement gained recognition worldwide in 2017, highlighting the prevalence and pervasiveness of sexual violence and misogyny, not only in the United States but around the globe. In addition to women in an array of industries and fields calling attention to everyday assaults, the emergence of different art forms and writing brought to light myriad, varied perspectives. Myriam Gurba’s 2017 memoir, Mean, is one of the most revelatory texts to have emerged during this period.

Mean is a multiform memoir that details Gurba’s coming-of-age as a queer Mexican American with an immigrant and working-class background. Even as Gurba recounts her personal and political transformation, Mean focuses deeply on the impact of her sexual assault and the legacy of the woman who was murdered by the same assailant.

A few critics have noted the ways in which Mean is aligned with the rise of the #MeToo movement. Gurba, however, remains ambivalent about this association.

“I have very mixed feelings about those connections. On the one hand, I understand why those connections would be drawn because my book focuses largely on misogyny and it focuses quite a bit on sexual abuse and sexual violence,” Gurba said in a radio interview. “However, much of the violence that I describe in the book stands apart from #MeToo’s interests, in the sense that much of #MeToo is concerned with how to reform existing relationships.”

“I think that quite a bit of the violence against women that I write about in Mean isn’t necessarily violence that I have seen addressed by the Me Too movement,” Gurba elucidated further in a different interview. “The type of assaults that I describe in Mean are for the most part violent stranger assaults, where for the most part the Me Too movement seems much more concerned with oppression and discrimination that happens in the context of existing interpersonal relationships. So in that regard, I think that the violence I describe in Mean is more akin to the violence that has been addressed in larger anti-violence movements, particularly movements to end violence against women.”

Gurba’s distinction becomes quite necessary because it compels us to consider the ways conversations about misogyny collapse various kinds of violence against women. While these different arguments may be interlocked, interconnected, and perhaps co-constitutive, the distinctions between these violences matter, not only to help clarify the stakes of our social movements but also to suggest how we might engage with women who write about misogyny and the impact of sexual violence.

To join Alta’s California Book Club conversation with Gurba on April 15 about historical context, meanness, and other topics, click here.

Rasheeda Saka is a graduate student in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
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