Content warning: Sexual harassment and abuse, rampant rape culture
I keep watching as powerful man after powerful man is accused of some degree of sexual violence—be it harassment, sexual assault, or serially preying on young people. Some of these allegations of sexual predation are more disappointing or more disturbing than others, but none of them are remotely surprising. They don’t surprise me, because I have memorized the litany of enabling excuses we make for men my whole life.
When they’re 5, and boys harass girls, we’re told, “Honey, he just likes you.”
When they’re 12, they tell us, “Boys will be boys.”
When they’re 16, we’re often reminded that “Girls mature faster than boys” so we can’t expect them to treat us with dignity.
When they’re 20-year-olds in college, their violence is shrugged off. “One youthful indiscretion shouldn’t ruin this boy’s life.”
When they’re 35 and don’t know how to interact professionally with women at work, we are told “Don’t make a fuss if you wanna move up the ladder” or “You don’t wanna get a reputation.” That’s right. Our reputations are at stake if we name the harassment we face.
When they’re middle aged, we must “Consider all the GOOD he’s done.”
When they’re old, we can’t expect better because “He’s from a different era.”
When they’re entertainers or athletes, we are shamed. “You’re just trying to get money/rich/famous.”
At all stages of life, we are blamed. “What did you do/what were you wearing/how much did you drink/but weren’t you flirting?”
I live in a world where men’s unwanted sexual advances are always to be understood or withstood.
I live in a world in which my therapist would not use the words “sexual abuse” to describe the time the older neighbor boys—my distant relatives—called me a whore and forced their hands down my pants, and made me let their kid brother touch me too. (This is not my current therapist. My current therapist is one of the fiercest advocates for me I’ve ever known.) And now I live in a world where we’re experiencing collective shock that powerful men are wielding their power recklessly. We want to nail all these bastards now!
But not when black women were being terroristically and systematically raped by white men. Not when indigenous women live in a jurisdictional purgatory where no one claims to have authority over the men who violate them. Not when black and brown and indigenous girl children are viciously preyed upon at alarmingly high rates. Not when colleges purposely obstruct justice for women who are raped on campus. Not when thousands upon thousands of rape kits sit unprocessed or jurisdictions have the gall to charge rape survivors for the service.
So I don’t know. I don’t know how to join the shock. I don’t know how to join the furor over this widespread abuse from a world that’s literally created the ideal environments for it to thrive.
I just wanna know how we plan to move forward if we’re exiling all the abusive men (spoiler alert: it’s most of them, even the ones virtue signaling all over social media). Then what? I wanna know how we end sexual violence and not just punish the most visible examples of it, while so, so many more still hide in the shadows.
I wanna know how we make better men.
I just wanna know why the tipping point for our nation to finally take seriously women’s claims of sexual violence was powerful white cisgender women naming their abuse. And I really wanna know if all this rage and disappointment will extend to the most marginalized and vulnerable women among us, because so far it hasn’t.
*This blog was originally posted at Daily Kos. You can see it here.