The “me too” campaign may have taken 10 years before it really caught fire, but now that so many stories of harassment, assault, and rape are coming out, I’m feeling in equal measure hopeful and horrified.
I’m hopeful because when this behavior is brought to the light, it loses it’s power to do damage in the dark. I’m horrified because the sheer numbers of stories reveals how very vulnerable and risky it is to be a woman. More specifically, how vulnerable and risky it is to be subjected to people with power, often men, who abuse their power through sexual violence.
Some of the people in the news lately for sexual assault and harassment are people I never really admired or trusted in the first place, so the news of their violence confirms a bias I had against them already. Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and President Trump fit this category. I take no joy in the news stories about them, because I’m aware there are many victims who have been hurt, but I can read the stories without facing anything in myself. They are jerks acting like jerks–no newsflash there.
Then there are the other stories coming out, often about people I’ve admired.
Bill Clinton was the first of them for me, but the way congress vilified him made it easier for me to set my disgust aside.
Then came Bill Cosby. I grew up watching Fat Albert and then the Cosby Show. I had albums of his comedy, actual vinyl records I would listen to.
Then I learned Elie Wiesel grabbed a young woman’s ass. Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and author is the one who taught me:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” — Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1986
Today I heard the story about Kevin Spacey who has been accused of making a drunken sexual advance on a 14 year old boy.
Anita Hill, the first woman I saw come forward in such a public way to speak about harassment, has some helpful things to say in this article, including this:
“I do believe that people can change their behavior, but I think that after 30 years, you don’t get a chance to change and pretend it didn’t happen.There are more people willing to come forward now. There’s obviously strength in numbers. We have to deal with this as a society. It’s a legal issue, but it’s also a social and cultural issue that we still haven’t figured out. Even as late as 1991, people didn’t talk about this kind of behavior to their closest relatives or spouses. Over the past 25 years, we’ve raised public consciousness that this is a reality of women’s experiences that occurs on multiple levels. It occurs in the workplace and the street, it occurs online and it occurs when women are looking to get jobs or looking to get promoted. The next step is to get it to reach the legal consciousness level. Do people really think that this should be outlawed, and if this is outlawed, what should be the consequences when people harass?”
When men who harass and assault women become Supreme Court Justices, and President of the US, and Entertainment Executives, and Nobel Prize winners, and successful preachers, and Oscar winners, etc, the consequences for our society are immense. Not only does it legitimize their behavior, it also keeps them in charge of the story. I highly recommend this story about how lecherous, powerful men are shaping our narratives.
Do we stop watching House of Cards or Weinstein produced films, and reading Wiesel’s work because of this news?
It’s tricky business. If we only read books written, or watched movies made by perfect people, we would be short of reading materials. At the same time, lifting up their work seems problematic.
Looking back through history, we know this is not a modern business. King David is a hero of the biblical narrative. He’s also a guy known for taking women as his wives when it suited him, whether they were interested or not.
In the biblical narrative, they tell his whole story–the good, the bad, and the really ugly. We can’t go back in time and hear the stories of the women David assaulted, to lift up their side of the story.
What we can do, however, is start listening to the voices of women. We can stop excusing the lecherous behavior of men as “locker room talk” or “boys being boys”. We can start holding men responsible for their behavior by not excusing them because of the clothes she was wearing, or the amount of alcohol she’d consumed, or just a feeling “that she wanted it”.
As anyone who has tried to build a house of cards can tell you, they are inherently fragile structures. All of these stories coming to light make me realize we’ve built a house of cards in this country for so many years, where men’s misbehavior has been dismissed with a wink and a nod. It’s disorienting to watch the cards all fall.
I pray we will rebuild with a stronger foundation.