It has been a long week.
I seriously debated whether or not raising my voice would add any value in the great fray of voices currently raised in discussion of Harvey Weinstein and the rampant and familiar abuse of power that he represents. Would I potentially be taking space from a woman that needs to tell her story? Would I reach an audience that does not already explicitly agree that women are not objects to be owned and manipulated, and if I did would I be able to convince them? But this week was too much, and I cannot stay silent.
There are many things that have yet to be said about these events, but the most pressing one I find myself focused on is: why, in the year 2017, in a society that claims to be for the advancement of women, are we still victim blaming?
This time last year, the world was shocked by tapes of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s bragging about being able to sexually assault women because of his wealth and status. I was outraged. And many women came forward to tell their stories of assault – from bosses, friends, boyfriends, relatives… the list seemed endless. If there was anything to have learned from that event in 2016, aside from that the U.S. definitively should not elect Donald Trump as president, it was that varying degrees of sexual assault and abuse of power are an incredibly and extremely common part of most women’s lives.
Let us be clear on a few things:
1. Being sexually assaulted is not ever the fault of the survivor, just as being murdered is never the fault of the victim. This is not up for debate. Short skirts and low cut blouses have never assaulted anyone, nor have too many drinks or “mixed signals”. No woman “deserves” to be assaulted.
2. Taking a settlement is not an admission of liability by the survivor, nor does it relieve the assaulter of their crime. In any case where a buyout is offered, whether we are talking about Gwyneth Paltrow or a receptionist in Illinois, the survivor is just trying to survive.
3. For every word we speak against women that dare to come forward with their truths – truths they live with every day – we are effectively silencing women that we do not know that are not powerful or mobile enough to escape. Before you open your mouth to criticize someone coming forward about their experience with assault, do listen to their story, sit with it for a while, and try to envision what it must be like to carry that around every day, much less to remove your armor and present your story to the world. Once you have considered this, revisit whether it is appropriate for you to speak against that woman.
So, how do we move forward? Do we pressure industries (including our own, which regularly exploits and objectifies powerless and frequently underage women) to better regulate and expose injustices? Do we foster an environment where women feel safe enough to come forward to report violations, where they can feel assured that their words will be heard and acted upon? Do we look within ourselves to find the ways that we inadvertently support systems of toxic masculinity (and we all do this, in some way), and find the place where we can begin to dismantle that? The answer to all of these questions is Yes.
And we can better educate ourselves about abuse and abusers in order to recognize patterns, be cognizant of alarming behavior, and protect each other. Abusers do not abuse everyone, they look for the people they feel they can abuse, they can control. That Harvey Weinstein moved through the world as a predator for more than thirty years means that he did so with great purpose and loads of effort. There are more Harvey Weinsteins in the world than we know, and when their victims come forward, we want them to be received in an environment where their stories can be heard.
We will raise our sons and daughters to know better. We will show our husbands and brothers how to be feminists beyond the female spaces in their lives. We will look within ourselves to understand how we are perpetuating these anachronistic systems of suppression. We will tell our stories and refuse to be silenced. We will be the change we wish to see in the world.
Women are the womb of humanity. Perhaps for the first time in a long time, we have taken a few steps towards recognizing and honoring that. Now it is time to drag everyone else along with us.
Will you join me?