Trigger warning: this post mentions sexual assault that is part of the show ‘I May Destroy You.’
As an English and generally a humanities student, there can be a variety of media content (be it TV, films, books, songs, podcasts even endless Reddit threads) that can inspire us to think more deeply about the topics that are proposed to us in our modules. It is a privilege and a responsibility as students to be aware of the society around us and how significant these portrayals in the media can impact us. A story of representation is essential to thriving.
‘I May Destroy You’ was written, starred, and co-directed by brilliant Michaela Coel, released summer last year on BBC One. It is unsettling, beautiful, and hard hitting. The show fictionalises her experience of sexual assault, personified through the character of Arabella and her reconning with the attack. She travels through her past and her present, dismantling issues of racism, gender imbalance and sexual assault that are embedded profoundly in British society. It is the testimony of her life as a survivor.
Throughout my degree, I have always been drawn to the concept of identity within my module’s themes. It is an idea that can be explored so thoroughly in both of my disciplines, English and History, as has a profound impact on how we experience the world. The first module where I explored identity passionately was through my Literary Criticisms and Theory module. Amongst the dense texts, I discovered the theory of intersectionality – it is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:
‘The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage’.
Intersectionality sounds like an incredibly daunting phrase, but I will break it down. Kimberlé Crenshaw first defined the term in 1989 through a legal context. She observed failure in the law to recognise that social discrimination (such as racism and sexism) is maintained through overlapping systems, and does not work as singular entities. You can be discriminated for more than one part of your identity simultaneously. To me, this theory provides a more just and equal solution against social discrimination to account for every identity in our diverse society. I find it a wholly fascinating and complex subject. And well, surprise, surprise too, I am writing on this theory for my dissertation!
Representation of identity is crucial to being listened and valued. To be able to see a wealth of experience to broaden your view from outside your realm of ‘normal life’ is so powerful to intersectional rhetoric. This is precisely why I have been drawn to Michaela Coel’s narrative in ‘I May Destroy You’, at its core it is a struggle of identity – there is so much beauty in that concept. New voices are demanding to be heard, those who are in privileged positions must step up and make space for these individuals.
‘I May Destroy You’ is currently on BBC iPlayer, I urge you to check it out!
-Hannah (Third Year, English and History)