[Ruth George, the woman murdered in Chicago last month, found on her Facebook]
Exploring the complexities of the #MeToo movement and remembering a woman who lost her life.
By Ruthie Zolla.
*Content warning: this essay contains mention of violence, assault, and death*
In hebrew she means companion, friend, vision of beauty
In real life the same
Kinesiology, she studied
To heal people
The spark at the end of a dark tunnel
A firecracker for the future
He wanted her
He lusted after her
Head down, keep walking
Like a cadet in training
For the war on leering
In a parking lot the spark went out
The spark strangled by unwant
In a parking lot is where dreams die
And no one can even hear it happen
Muffled is a woman’s scream
So it goes
So it goes
I am so sorry
That your trust in humanity
Was broken by
In woman we share
That terrible pit of dread
Before you even know
what you’re up against
On a Saturday in Chicago last month, a woman named Ruth George was brutally assaulted and killed in the early hours of the morning. She was walking by a train station on her way to her car, when her killer noticed her. He catcalled her repeatedly, shouting sexual obscenities, and she ignored him. I imagine she kept her head down and her shoulders back, as she had probably seen other women do, as she herself had probably done countless times walking through the city streets. He followed her for a few blocks, spitting these sexual remarks and getting angrier still that she did not acknowledge them, that she kept her head down and shoulders back. Don’t make eye contact, is what they always say, wiser women than I, who stare at these men dead in their eye as they leer. I bore into them with my eyes; it is a singular power in these times.
I will not give this man a name, as this isn’t about him, and to do so would be to distract from Ruth, her memory, and that of every other victim. The news sources repeatedly write that he was “angry that he was being ignored”, like a 5 year old child, as if that is supposed to give us somewhat of a justification for why he put Ruth into a chokehold and strangled the life out of her, dragged her into the backseat of her car, and left her there, dead. Ruth was studying Kinesiology, had dreams to be a physical therapist. Just recently, she had organized a student discussion on women of color and violence. She wanted to heal people and the world.
People called her Ruthie. When I read this part in a CNN article, a deep well opened within me. We share a name, and yet only one of us gets to continue a life with it. Students went back to the parking garage, lit candles, and laid flowers, just blocks from where I used to live, where I used to walk home alone from the train in the late hours of night. Where I walked to elementary and then high school in the early hours of morning. I grew up walking. I grew up walking with my head down, or straight ahead, eyes unwavering, yet listening hard, to anyone who leered or smiled for too long. Our eyes hear as much as our ears do. Ruth was a victim to rage, among other things. People laugh at feminism, at the ridiculousness of being scared, and the yearning to feel safe, but it weighs so much heavier on a conscience when a life is severed, or at least I hope it weighs. That’s what we tend to ignore, isn’t it, when words turn violent faster than the snap of a finger. And for women of color, this rings especially true.
Black and brown women have had to bear the brutality of hypersexualization since the dawn of Colonialism, and even before. East Asian women, such as Ruth, have been hypersexualized as “exotic” and “alluring”. Does this explain any of the tragic outcomes we read about in the news for a day, only to disappear into the web of media? No. But it does shed light into a more deeply unsettling truth, one that for all its good intentions, the celebritized #metoo movement cannot seem to grasp. For every white woman whose story is shared, passed, and sympathized with around the corners of the internet and media, there are stories like Ruth’s, who will circulate around local news for maybe a week, and then disappear from our streams. This is dangerous as much as it is expected. It is exactly what Ruth wanted to address in her student led discussion on sexualized violence and women of color, to talk about preservation of memory, visibility, a platform for marginalized voices.
In fact, the #MeToo movement was founded by an activist from the Bronx named Tarana Burke, herself a woman of color. In a time before the boom of Twitter threads and hashtags, Tarana used the words “Me Too” to help communities of women in Alabama and Philadelphia process their trauma and start the discussion on violence. These were healing circles, led in conversation form, much like the one Ruth gave to her fellow classmates at UIC. Burke herself never intended for the movement to become a globalized trend, bringing in women from all walks of life and their stories. She also never intended for it to become a movement based on blame and accusation, and one seemingly branded by white women of socio-economic privilege... celebrities. For her, it is still about victims and their pain, the lady circles she created of latinx and black women, and the path towards inner justice. It is about the meaning of survivor, in all of its various forms.
There is nothing to yell at the man who assaulted Ruth, because Ruth cannot yell it. Because Ruth is dead. And yet yelling is sometimes the only thing a person can do for themselves. Yelling carries rage, betrayal and brokenness. I do not know Ruth, but for some reason I don’t take her as a yeller. In the face of unspeakable actions, maybe she would, and maybe she would advocate for other women, like Tarana, and continue her discourse. Healer of the world. But Ruth, and many other women, have been rendered voiceless forever. Ruth is not a survivor, although she would be if she had a choice. But for people like her, they had no choice in the matter. There is, however, a choice in how we preserve them in time, how we carry their torches further and further still.
The story of Ruth is one I cannot seem to get out of my mind. Perhaps it is because we share a name, and a neighborhood, perhaps we had crossed paths before and not even known it. Her family, in a statement to the police, expressed no “hatred towards the perpetrator”, but just hoped that nothing like this would ever happen to another girl. Such goodness in the face of evil. This will happen again, in our country or another, so long as we breathe the polluted air of rottenness and incivility. But we can try, try, try our best to not let it. To continue the roundtable discussion that Ruth started about how to protect black and brown women, how to protect those who identify as women and those who don’t and are targeted still. We can continue to carry her torch and support the people already doing it. Every day there is fear, but there is also hope. Ruth knew that already. And now, we must figure out for ourselves, how in hope, we can find redemption.
“I Used to Insist I Didn’t Get Angry…” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/magazine/i-used-to-insist-i-didnt-get-angry-not-anymore.html?rref=collection%2Fissuecollection%2F12118-issue&action=click&contentCollection=magazine®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection&mtrref=undefined&gwh=0F7AA62CDD015F205743A64F28894A62&gwt=pay
“A Man Strangled a Chicago Student After She Wouldn’t Talk to Him…” https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/27/us/university-of-illinois-chicago-ruth-george/index.html
“Sexual Harassment and Women of Color” https://www.catalyst.org/2018/02/13/sexual-harassment-and-women-of-color/
“#MeToo Founder Says the Movement Has Lost Its Way” https://www.thecut.com/2018/10/tarana-burke-me-too-founder-movement-has-lost-its-way.html
“Slain UIC Student’s Family Says They ‘Hold No Hatred’ Toward Perpetrator...” https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/uic-student-ruth-george-family-statement/2161052/