Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don’t

Today, I’m angry. Yesterday, I was angry. Tomorrow, I’ll probably be angry.

I suspect I have a long road of anger ahead of me. Though, I’ll try to make sure and find some good things along the way, to revel in each small victory granted to me and every other angry woman.

I told myself I wouldn’t write about this until I had some time to take a step back and try and gain some perspective. Mind you, I took that step back. Perspective was gained. Yet, people—specifically, men—keep doing and saying stupid things, so I guess it’s now or never. (PS. This is not a hate letter to mankind or anything, before any of you anti-feminists go getting any ideas or side-eying me. No. More than anything, this is a plea.)

Unless you live under a rock or in a doomsday bunk, you’ve all heard about the multiple sex predator scandals wafting from Harvey Weinstink like a—well, like a bad stink. (Thus, my semi-clever nickname.) For those of you who do, in fact, live under a rock or in a doomsday bunker, here’s the SparkNotes version: about a month ago, reports began circulating that Mr. Weinstink has a long, ugly history of sexual harassment/assault. (You can read about his victims and their encounters here: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/harvey-weinstein-accusers-full-list.) In short, he a bad dude. What followed was an avalanche. One or two women came forward to address their experiences, a few more, and then, within a little over a week, over 30 women were speaking out about sexual abuse. All regarding one man. But that wasn’t the end of it—far from it.

Fast forward several weeks and dozens more powerful male figures have been accused of sexual harassment/assault. (See here: https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/harvey-weinstein-scandal/weinstein-here-s-growing-list-men-accused-sexual-misconduct-n816546.)

Now here’s where the repercussions get…muddled. One might think, when a man is accused of RAPE, that society would gather around the victim to offer their support. That is how people are supposed to be treated when something bad happens to them, right? I mean, that’s what happened to Johnny Depp when he was accused to abusing his wife, for instance. If you’re a woman who’s reading this, you know that isn’t what happened. Hell, do I need to remind you about the disgusting turnout regarding Brock Turner? (Burn in hell, you spineless corker.) Instead, many of the women—if not all—who have since stepped forward to name their abuser have been, essentially, burned at the stake.

“Why did she wait so long to say something? What was she wearing? It’s because of the image she projects of herself; she was asking for it. Obviously, she’s not all that affected by this if she took a payout. That’s what happens when you work in Hollywood. No job is worth staying silent.”

Each of the responses hurt. They hurt me, and they hurt other women. Because they suggest that if these women had done something differently, worn another shirt, or carried herself a different way, she wouldn’t have been harmed.

What. A. Hocking. Load. Of. Rubbish.

Here’s where I take issue with this line of thought: to infer that a woman’s outfit or actions are the sole cause of her being sexually abused infers, in turn, she had the power to stop her abuser otherwise. To infer a woman has the power to stop a man from taking advantage of her inadvertently infers that she should have power, that it’s her fault for “allowing” something like this to happen. Do we ask what he or she was wearing when they were murdered? Not only, that but has anyone ever had the audacity to imply that person deserved to be murdered because of what they were wearing? It’s really not any different, and equally as preposterous. Meanwhile, these incidents of assault have been described by some as “getting out of hand.” Not because of the volume of women who have come forward to name their accusers; rather, to suggest these women are fabricating stories in order to raise their social-standing. Or something? Society is literally holding women accountable for being abused. To that end, what so many people don’t seem to realize is that, if a person wants something badly enough, they’ll do anything to get it. Regardless of the conditions. You know, classic dog-bone-scenario.

I’m relieved to say I’ve never been sexually assaulted; harassed, yes. I don’t know a single woman who has never, at some point in her life, been harassed by a man. (Suggestive whistles, comments, and touching with permission all qualify as forms of sexual harassment.) I think back to certain moments, primarily my days in college, where one lone trip to a bar-bathroom could have led down a horrible path; where those tequila shots those cute guys brought to me and my girlfriends could have resulted in waking up in somebody’s basement. I was lucky. Nevertheless, there was still the stray touch of my butt by that one friend who had been drinking, the accidentally brush of the boob. (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about.) In each instance, I shrugged it off as an accident. “It’s my fault for standing so close to them in such a crowded space,” I would tell myself. That, therein, rests the issue.

Conditioning.

Since the dawn of time (forgive the cliché), women have been conditioned to forgive. We have been conditioned to consider others’ feelings, and the consequences of our interactions. Conditioned to, whether self-consciously or not, place men’s wellbeing above our own. (Side note: if one more man tells me I need to smile more, I’m going to rip his stubbly, unsmiling face off.) I remember being five years old or so, my mother scolding me for slouching down in my seat. “Close your legs! Sit like a lady! It’s rude.” This is not a commentary on bad mothering, nor the part where I admit to secretly resenting her in some way. (My mother is one of the biggest bad-asses I know, and I respect the ever-loving hell out of her. Don’t tell her I said that.) I don’t blame my mom for saying these things to me; because she herself has been conditioned by her mother (another epic bad-ass) to adhere to these standards, and so on. I can show you an entire history’s-worth of women who have been conditioned to accept the notion that she should be held to a higher standard than a man. Just look at any noble woman who was executed or exiled for having one affair while her husband had several. (Not defending adultery, just trying to make a point.) Moreover, women have been conditioned to forgive men in instances where they fall short of common decency or appropriate behavior.

Women have been conditioned to hold themselves at fault rather than their abusers.

Here, I return to the aforementioned instances about drunk guy friends and wandering hands. Of all the times I’ve consumed alcohol (I mean, what are you talking about, mom and dad? I never drink. Shhh!) I can tell you with absolutely certainty and honesty that I have kept my hands to myself. Same goes for the rest of my female friends. None of these occasions resulted in me pulling someone’s pants down or inappropriately fingering them. Because I know better. Because people expect better from me and from other women. Why don’t we expect better from men? Why do we continue to excuse this sort of behavior? They should know better; they do know better. The difference between “us” and “them” is that conditioning has taught men they don’t have to be better. Again, with holding women to a high standard in this instance. I can already feel some of you rolling your eyes and internally screaming “man hater!” Allow me to mention my 15-year-old brother, one of the dearest people to my cold heart, by way of response. Like me, he has been conditioned; conditioned to respect women and value their opinions, and to never touch them without permission. Even with me, his sister, he asks before hugging me. Because he respects me and other women. (“He’s the goodest boy there ever was!” I say affectionately, in the voice when speaking to a dog or small child.) He doesn’t call women “hot” or “sexy,” but “beautiful” or “gorgeous.”  Standing in the midst of the ripe, hormonal threshold of his teen years, my brother, at almost 16, is already three times the man as any other man I have ever known. (You know what I’m trying to say.) Meanwhile, at 13, my sister has been conditioned to question why things are the way that they are, to stand up to herself to boys who might try to take advantage of her. Basically, she’s well on her way to single-handedly breaking the patriarchy someday.

Getting back on track now. The reason I went so much into depth on the concept of conditioning is because that’s what happened with these victims. These women, like me, have been conditioned to excuse certain aspects of a man’s behavior and, consequently blame herself for not upholding her standards or having the power to stop him when the situation goes awry. Not only that, but these women have been so thoroughly conditioned that often the lines separating right and wrong become blurred, that a friend accidently touching her butt while drinking becomes excusable rather than an act which should be addressed as inappropriate. Quite simply, the focus has been in teaching women how to “act like a woman” rather than how to recognize when they are being taken advantage of. That seems to be the case with many of Weinstink’s victims—they didn’t realize his behavior was inappropriate, that asking them to massage him and the likes, was predatory until someone else was stepping forward to address it. Or…maybe it wasn’t that they didn’t know, but that they didn’t feel like anyone would take them seriously for complaining. Both are just as bad.

Finally, to those saying no job is worth the harassment, that she should have quit, I implore you to consider the implications of your words. I know you don’t wish these women ill or intentionally side with sexual predators. Nevertheless, to suggest a woman ought to quit her job instead of endure being sexualized or harassed (or that quitting her job will magically prevent sexual abuse from someone else down the road) is both detrimental and ignorant, especially towards young girls. There is nothing acceptable about forcing a woman to choose between her livelihood and wellbeing. Whether or not any of these victims were aware of the rumors surrounding the accused, it should not fall to the victim to figure out a way not to be assaulted. It’s heartbreaking that so much responsibility has been placed on women to this regard. Here is where the title of this essay comes into play.

“Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”

Women become damned if they don’t speak out against inappropriate behavior. They carry the burden of ensuring the wrongdoer is stopped or reported, so such terrible things don’t happen to anyone else. Yet, when we do speak up, we’re called liars or persecuted for being in that situation to begin with. I think we all believe we would do the right thing if placed in a similar position. It’s easy to be the hero(ine) of the story when you have nothing to lose. I can’t reiterate enough the gravity of asking someone to choose between having a career and not being assaulted. By telling a woman no job is worth enduring sexual abuse, we exemplify the notion that a man should not be held accountable for his actions. Regardless of intent. I can’t be any clearer about this, but I’ll say it again until the day I die: we shouldn’t have to choose.

So enough with the victim blaming. Enough with your “holier than though” perspective. Enough excusing men who don’t deserve to be excused. I’m tired of smiling and pretending like everything is ok, or putting men’s emotional comfort above my own and other women’s. It could happen to anyone. While I wait for men to be and do better, my responsibility as a woman is to stand by other women instead of discrediting them. (Even if this takes forever.) My duty, as an older sister/potential-future-mother-one-day, is to ensure our voices are heard and to prevent the abuse from spreading.

We deserve better.

 

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