No means no.
This three-word, nine-letter phrase is simple. It’s direct. They’re shouldn’t be any debate about it…right? Then, why does it feel like it’s the most complex philosophical statement ever written? Why do we, and by ‘we’ I mean society and its media, why do we treat rape culture with such mind-numbing and dangerous language?
This is a question I have been asking myself for a long time, but one that has been increasingly pervasive in my mind since the Harvey Weinstein stories of sexual harassment and assault started to break.
I want to be very clear: I am completely against sexual assault and harassment in all forms against all people. Nobody, and I mean noBODY should ever be treated like an object that is simply there to be manipulated, controlled, and/or abused by another person EVER. Nobody should ever be made to feel like a victim, so completely ashamed of the crime that was perpetrated against them that they’re afraid to come forward to report that crime. Nobody should ever be made to feel that their assault was their fault because of what they wear or say, how they carry themselves, what they drink or don’t drink, or for whatever ‘reason’ someone uses to justify his or her heinous actions.
But this post isn’t about the reality of sexual assault and harassment.
This is about the way in which we choose to talk about it (or not talk about it as is the predominant process in our society). This is about the words we choose, the misconceptions we perpetuate, and the idiocy that is spewed by people who, frankly, don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
Let’s start with the alleged (and I use this word for no other reason than he has not as of now been charged with a crime) victims of Harvey Weinstein. Let’s be honest, here. He was not the first high-powered pig to be in the wake of these kinds of allegations and he certainly won’t be the last, a fact that does not excuse his actions by any means. But, let’s look at what has happened since the news broke.
Many high-profile people have jumped in to offer an accusation of sexual assault either by Weinstein himself or people just like him.
It all started with Rose McGowan. Herself a victim of sexual assault, Ms. McGowan took to Twitter to express her outrage with Weinstein for being a level five creep and criminal and with Ben Affleck for supposedly lying in a press conference about Weinstein’s behavior. McGowan’s account was temporarily suspended for tweeting a private phone number, which is against the site’s Terms and Conditions. This action fueled the movement #WomenBoycottTwitter that called for women to stop tweeting in support for the actress. Many women abided and sent out one last tweet letting their adoring fans that they were protesting.
First of all, I commend anyone who is willing to speak up and tell their stories of sexual assault. Not all victims are that brave. I also commend people who are willing to protest the fact that people are still blaming the victim, pretending that nothing is happening, or that are missing the point entirely. But, where was all of this outrage and coming together for Megyn Kelly or Jemele Hill? Just because they don’t share your politics or your ethnicity, they shouldn’t get your support? Don’t get me wrong, I think people taking a stand against something unjust and morally reprehensible is great, but just don’t forget that this world is diverse and so are the victims of the world’s most despicable people. We need to be more careful about what sides we take and when they take them. I’m not suggesting that everyone take to Twitter about every person that is ever victimized for whatever reason. If we did that, our society would implode and our thumbs would probably fall off from constantly tweeting. However, we do need to consider just who is on the other end of these protests and we need to consider the implications of our voices.
That brings me to my next topic: victim-blaming.
So, the self-described “feminist” Mayim Bialik wrote an op-ed column for the New York Times that, I assume, was meant to be a comdemnation of Hollywood pressures and practices when it comes to actresses in the industry, but it reads a little more as an indictment to women of “traditional” beauty standards and their roles in their own sexual assault nightmares. Sorry, Ms. Bialik, but you can’t claim to be a feminist and imply that other women that choose to dress and act, as you put it, less “conservatively” than you somehow deserve what they get. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say that wasn’t what you intended to do, but it is just another example in a slew of examples that show how easy it is to be lazy with or language and not consider what it could mean to someone on the other side of the computer screen.
The problem with her language as is the problem with most victim-blaming language is that it takes the responsibility off the people in our culture who choose to commit these horrific acts. Instead of teaching people not to rape other people or to stop when someone says stop, we’re teaching people, “Hey, don’t get raped. Do whatever you can to make sure you’re not in a situation to get raped, and if a simple “no” doesn’t suffice, fight like hell to get out of there. Just don’t yell, “Rape” because no one will come for you. Shouting, “Fire” is more effective.” This may seem hyperbolic to some, but for the rest of us, this is reality. And it does nothing but perpetuate sexual violence. What’s worse, it makes the victim blame themselves and lets the abuser off the hook.
Language is everything. Its intention means nothing, and its perception means everything.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at our culture and our society and change the way we think and talk about sexual assault. Whether we like it or not, we’re part of the problem. We need to band together and use our language to change our perceptions.