This has been a couple of wonderful and terrible months – all because of the wave of victims coming forward to talk about their experiences being sexually harassed or assaulted. (Content and Trigger warnings for discussion of sexual harassment, sexual assault and misogynistic responses to accusations)
It is hard to share your story. So many people think it was easy for me to write or vlog about what happened to me, and every time I had to convince myself to share it. Especially the vlog. I didn’t want anyone to see my rage or my tears. I didn’t want to face the inevitable comments from people that I was just trying to make things worse for the other parties involved (which happens every time), but every time I wrote about it or vlogged about it, someone told me they were grateful I shared my story. Which is why I still do it. Because this does feel isolating. (So please, don’t talk to TheBoy or me about how I can’t move on or I’m trying to make their life miserable. I’m literally trying to help people.)
So I am joyful that women (and yes, men and enby’s) are coming forward, because I know how difficult it is.
But all through this, there have been a lot of ugly reactions. The men who wonder how they’ll ever be able to work or date in a world where women won’t put up with sexual harassment. (The answer: if you treat them like human beings, you’ll be fine) And everyone who suggests that victims are doing this for the attention, that they’re making up their accusations for their 15 minutes of fame. And very hurtful to me personally, every progressive white woman who stood by a white woman speaking her mind, who turned their back on any victim who was different than them. Oh, and people believing white women who come forward, while ignoring black women and black men (people largely ignore the accusations of Lupita Nyong’o against Harvey Weinstein or Terry Crews’ accusation against Adam Venit – heck, Wendy Williams tried to say Crews wasn’t brave. He is.).
Currently, some of the ugliest and most revealing reactions have come regarding Leeann Tweeden’s accusation of Al Franken. Oddly, Franken had probably the best response of anyone who has been accused. He apologized for causing her pain. He did what many do and explored his actions in their statement – unlike Louis CK, Franken likened this to his failures as a comedian. Saying something, and realizing later that not only was it not funny, it was offensive. And he accepted responsibility, saying he should be investigated. (No, Louis CK never apologized. He discussed his actions, he talked about his power in those situations, said he was surprised by how much they were hurt. But he never actually apologized.)
Yet, people who call themselves progressive and feminists are acting in the most misogynistic way possible. Which is indicative of how deep seeded misogyny runs in American culture.
I have seen liberals – men and women, ponder if we should even believe Tweeden because of her political leanings. If it was a lie crafted to undermine a liberal politician. And then of course, people unearthed photoshoots that she did that were in FHM where she’s in a bikini. And offered this as an argument why we shouldn’t believe her.
Frankly, it’s rare that anyone accuses someone of sexual harassment and it isn’t true. These things ruin lives of their victims, especially in this day and age of the internet and social media. Anyone can dox them, dredge up anything scintillating from their past.
And slut shame them.
Let me be blunt, honor does not run along party lines. Harassers and abusers have one thing in common – they are someone in a position of power over someone else. Whether it’s in a workplace, or simply power based on social, economic or gender based privilege. For that matter, racism and misogyny are so deep-seeded in our society that it’s something that affects everyone. Women can be (and are) misogynistic. People of Color can be (and are) racist.
If you are commenting on the wave of victims stepping forward, take a moment to consider your own bias. Then listen. We discount victims for so many reasons, so please remember a few things:
1. A victim’s past and present does not mean they can’t be a victim. A sex worker can be sexually assaulted and harassed- their job does not mean that they give up the right to say no. It doesn’t matter what you wear, you aren’t asking for it. It doesn’t matter if you posed nude for Playboy, you still were never asking for it. Dancing and having fun in a bar is not asking for it.
2. Trauma is not a one size fits all deal. How I responded to Trauma is not how everyone responds to Trauma. Some people sink into depression, some are filled with rage. Some are very emotional, some are stoic. Some people cannot do anything at all. Some people do the bare minimum of what they need to do, and cannot do anything beyond that.
3. False reporting is rare. Very rare. Indeed, most incidents of false accusations are actually misidentification, not a false report. As I mentioned, it’s hard to come forward, especially when it comes to filing charges – since not only will you face people asking questions about what happened, you often get judged by them for what you were doing.
4. Anyone can be a victim. Men, women, nonbinary people. Cisgender people and transgender people (especially the trans community). All economic level. All ethnicities. All religions.
And most importantly, Number 5. The only way to stop people from being harassed and sexually assaulted is to teach people not to do that. It isn’t teaching self-defense, or hiding potential victims away from abusers. It’s to teach children to understand and respect consent. And it’s simple – if a child doesn’t want a hug, they don’t want a hug. If a child is done playing with another kid, they’re done playing. Adults need to respect this. And they need to teach their children to respect the wishes of other children. And teach them to speak up when other children aren’t doing that. It is the only way things change. Because they will grow into teens who respect boundaries and consent. Then adults who respect boundaries and consent.
What can adults do? Respect boundaries and consent. Call your friends on predatory behavior. Whether it’s men being creepy or women groping beefy men because they’re there… call your friends on it. Call strangers on it. Not just the big things, but the little things, too. We all have to do our part.
I know, this is long. Just – recognize your biases, recognize boundaries… and speak up. And if you have a friend who is accused- just understand that manipulative people are good at only showing what they want you to see. It is entirely possible that you were only seeing their good side, and they took advantage of others. Trust me on that one.