My first sexual experience was non-consensual. At the time, my emotions were all over the board: guilt, shame, anger, frustration, but most of all, it felt lonely and isolating. You can know the statistics (1 out of every six women and 1 out of every 33 men have been victims of attempted or completed rape), but the experience itself does not make you feel like a kindred spirit. More likely, you’ll be questioned for how much you resisted, what you had been drinking and/or wearing, and if it was indeed non-consensual at all. Or, most likely of all, no one will ask anything because you don’t say anything at all. And who could blame you?
Sexual assault and harassment has no positive side effect. I have seen the phrase “the #metoo sisterhood” after Alyssa Milano’s trending hashtag to expose the sheer numbers of women (and men and other genders) who have experienced it themselves. A sisterhood it may seem to be, but it’s an invasive way to have to connect to both survive and expose the systemic structure that allows it to go on and on and on.
“I wish we didn’t have to rip our pasts open & show you everything & let you ogle our pain for you to believe us about predation and trauma.”
The sad fact is, though, that sharing seems to be the only way to make any headway in chipping away at the bedrock that allows people with any modicum of power (physical and/or otherwise) to exploit the vulnerabilities of those who have been raised to be silent and self-blaming. Victims are forced to either take on the system themselves or join together to raise a tiny flag to create a larger flag aiming for change. Or worse, we’re only believed when someone else points it out.
There was a large push to boycott Twitter after Rose McGowan and other popular figures were banned from the site for sharing their stories and condemnation of the perpetrators. Author Roxane Gay mused that silence wasn’t what she thought the answer was in this case, especially when people of color like Jemele Hill were largely being ignored for being silenced on social media:
I…. don’t think silence is gonna be the route I go.
— roxane gay (@rgay) October 13, 2017
The next response was the #womenwhoroar hashtag that then spawned the #metoo trending topic (originally started by black activist Tarana Burke) that surged this past weekend. Whatever criticisms we will ultimately hear about this conversation, it will make victims feel less alone. The question is whether it will change the hearts and minds of those who still don’t believe and defend them.
I have now seen the hashtag all across my own Twitter feed and even into Facebook, where we all know is the most divisive place to share anything other than recipes and baby pictures. There will be ways to criticize this particular movement, and we should always be critical, especially when it comes to issues of intersectionality. But most of all, let’s strive to keep our eyes on the ball when it comes to sexual assault, harassment, and exploitation. Let’s continue to call out perpetrators of violence… even when they move to Europe to avoid charges, or some enjoy their films, or they live in the White House.
Calling ourselves out as victims with #metoo means that we need to start calling out the perpetrators with a “yes, you.” Here’s how writer Helen Rosner put it:
Sexual harassment and assault didn't *happen* to me, it was *done* to me. I resent having to affirmatively embrace my victimhood when he's never been forced to confront his villainy.
— Helen Rosner (@hels) October 16, 2017
“In the words of one of my dearest friends: I don’t want to say ‘me too.’ I want to say ‘yes, you.’ Sexual harassment and assault didn’t *happen* to me, it was *done* to me. I resent having to affirmatively embrace my victimhood when he’s never been forced to confront his villainy…
I resent having to affirmatively embrace my victimhood when YOU have never been forced to confront YOUR villainy.”
Believe victims of assault and intimidation. Believe women. Believe people of color. Believe sex workers. Believe those who aren’t a “mother,” “sister,” or any other qualifier that makes a person somehow more “worthy” of protection. Defend them when they are contradicted, blamed for the crimes of others, and second guessed. Believe men when they share their stories. Do not let anyone dismiss the issue as something other than what it is: a rampant epidemic with no end in sight.
Victims don’t owe us their story. Some can’t even tell their story.
Remember that there are countless other people who have been victims of assault who won’t post to the #metoo tag. It doesn’t mean their story isn’t real and important and it’s absolutely okay not to talk about your own. Self care, y’all. Victims don’t owe us their story. Some can’t tell their story. Some aren’t even around to tell it anymore.
Therefore, here we go:
When the amplification matters more than the desire to not tell your story #metoo
— Catherine Clark (@enidjcoleslaw) October 16, 2017