TW: Sexual assault, harassment, rape
I know that it’s been a while since I have blogged. It’s been frustrating to be away. I have sooo many outfits that I want to share, and I definitely have some things to say. Life has just really been getting in the way lately.
I have been super busy at work, was sick for a week and a half, and then there is everything going on in the country. Between the attacks on women’s rights and children’s health care, ongoing racial inequality and tensions fueled by our president, the Vegas massacre, and so much more, the current state of affairs has been extremely preoccupying and nothing short of overwhelming at times.
And in regards to current events, the increasing number of accounts from women of sexual harassment, assault,and rape by Harvey Weinstein is incredibly disturbing, disgusting, and unfortunately, not at all surprising.
What was a surprise (to me, at least) was the account a couple of months ago by Kai Cole, the ex-wife of another Hollywood producer, Joss Whedon. I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and up until recently, I still regularly pulled from my full series collection of Buffy DVDs to take in the Whedonverse (I can’t bring myself to watch anymore). I bought into Whedon’s branding of himself as a feminist and loved the strong female characters he created, not just in Buffy but in other series of his as well. Then, Cole wrote a statement decrying Whedon as a hypocrite for espousing feminist values and using this public philosophy and his marriage to her as a guise to cover years of secret sexual and emotional affairs (including with women who he characterized as “young” and “needy”).
We’re all capable of infidelity. Infidelity isn’t inherently a feminist issue; however, the abuse of power by men most definitely is. Whedon and Weinstein are both powerful (cis-gender heterosexual white) men. These men engaged in sexual relationships (or attempted to engage in such) with women who held much less power than them. The women were often much younger than them. Many of these women were reliant on these men for employment. Weinstein has been accused of using threats, verbal and physical intimidation, manipulation, bargaining, and other tactics to coerce or force women into sex.
All of this is a clear example of patriarchy in action. Even men like Whedon who espouse feminist ideals benefit from and willingly partake in the patriarchy when they they use their positions of power against women for personal benefit. When they use their feminist ideals to sell their brand while secretly abusing their power (and being a generally shitty husband), they betray the very foundation of those ideals.
I have talked on the blog before about being a feminist (see here), and it seems clear to me that the need for feminism is stronger than ever. Sexual abusers dominate Hollywood and the White House. But most women all over the world know the pain, fear, confusion, and embarrassment of sexual harassment and abuse all too well:
Age 21: While dancing with my boyfriend at a club, a man grabs my butt, and then keeps his hand squarely on my butt for several seconds. I don’t initially realize that it’s not my boyfriend’s hand, but when I do, I am confused and frozen in shock. My boyfriend realizes about the same time that I finally turn around. The man laughs, clearly pleased.
Age 23: While waiting for my bus transfer, a father and his young adult son accost me at a Metrolink station, sexually harass me and make joking threats towards me. Another woman, older than me, kindly gets off at my stop and walks me home, both of us shaken. While waiting alone at a roadside bus stop, more than one man stops his car in front of me and offers me a ride; one tells me that “I’m too pretty” to be waiting on a bus. When I refuse a ride and start to walk down the street to get away, one man proceeds to follow me and continue to try to convince me to take his ride.
Age 32: While working as a college instructor, a male student who is a decade older than me makes several increasingly sexual comments to me about my breasts and his desires for me. When I call him out and threaten to withdraw him from my class, he states that he is “just joking” and to not take him so seriously. He also says that he “just can’t help” himself around me.
Age 39: A man “friends” me on Facebook. After telling me “hi” a few times and sending me a couple animated .GIFs, said man proceeds to send me hardcore pornography. When I respond to his inappropriate behavior, he apologizes, but tells me that he had to do this to see how I would respond, to make sure that I was one of the “good ones.” By calling him out, he tells me that I am “worthy” and not like those “other” women who would respond positively to being sent pornography. When I reject his premise and his attempts to win me over with a tired madonna/whore paradigm, he doubles-down on the idea that he was just trying to weed the “bad” women out and proceeds to tell me that he would like to date me.
These are just a couple of my own personal stories. I can’t talk about all of them (who would have the time?), but I have been sexually harassed multiple times at work, catcalled and harassed on the street, and sexually assaulted by a partner. Unfortunately for other women and girls, my stories aren’t nearly the most heinous examples out there and they are not unique. Women’s bodies are continually under scrutiny and attack in our culture. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest Nation Network), one out of six women in the U.S. will be a victim of an attempted or completed rape. ONE OUT OF SIX!
Women’s reproductive choices are becoming more limited as access to birth control and abortion are both stripped away. The current federal government is trying to ensure that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned workplace discrimination on the basis of sex does not encompass the rights of transgender people.
The need for feminism and gender-based activism is far from over. The rights of all women need to be protected, and we need to create a safer space for girls in which to grow up. We must teach our sons respect for girls and women as people – not just as daughters, sisters, or mothers. We must teach consent to all of our children, and we must band together to keep the Harvey Weinsteins of the world from being such awful “open secrets.” Men need to be allies and call out inappropriate behavior of other men. Victims must be believed. I’ll say that again for the people in the back…
Victims must be believed.
We must also understand that not all women experience sexism the same way. Racism, classism, heterosexism, and transphobia mean that women’s life experiences vary greatly. For example, just in regards to sexual assault, transgender students are at higher risk for sexual violence than their gender-conforming peers. Women and girls of color are at higher risk than white women and girls. Immigrants and undocumented workers have been threatened with job loss, arrest, and deportation if they report sexual abuse; lack of translators may also prevent some women from reporting or knowing their rights.
What middle-class heterosexual cis-gender white women see as the big problems facing women aren’t necessarily the problems around which the women’s movement should center. It’s well past time for feminism to become much more intersectional. We succeed or fail together, and until the rights of all of us are protected, the rights of none of us are a given. Privileges of race, sexual orientation, class, etc. can no longer be ignored. Women in privileged positions must recognize and acknowledge their roles in inadvertently or intentionally promoting inequalities.
Obviously, all of this is just my perspective, my musings on being a woman in this time. To paraphrase Dickens, it is both the best of times and the worst of times to be a woman in the U.S. Society has come a long way, but we have so much further to go. And, we can’t get too comfortable. Change doesn’t happen in a linear fashion. We don’t go from less rights to more rights. We can’t rest on our laurels or assume the hard work was all taken care of by our mothers, grandmothers, or great grandmothers. We can’t just hope and pray that we (as a society) become better, we must act.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)
If you have been a victim of sexual assault, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) for free confidential assistance.