by Rose Madder

It’s shocking to believe that almost a full year has passed since America’s greatest threat to democracy took office. In that time, I have made and lost hundreds of friendships, took part in countless debates, and developed unbreakable bonds. But despite all the ideals many of us shared, there is one subject where we seem unable to agree. What does feminism mean to you?

The discussions began with the allegations made against Al Franken. Most of my closest friends shared my feelings, which came as a relief. My affinity for him began 2 decades ago, so learning that the supposed advocate for women was nothing more than another perpetrator of assault was a hard pill to swallow. Equally shocking were the personal attacks launched against his first accuser: She is a Republican. She is a plant by Roger Stone sent to torpedo Franken’s possible presidential aspirations. She was photographed groping Robin Williams. All of these were coupled with the implied or verbalized understanding that she was promiscuous and got what she deserved. I shed some friends during these discussions.

Now accusations have been made against Aziz Ansari. It all started again, except it’s much more personal this time around. The account given by his victim rings true to me, as I have experienced a similar assault. As I scanned my FB feed, I learned that many other women had also been through comparable encounters. I put all those forever raw nerves out there to share my own story, to explain why I identify so strongly with her. But the response from some people was disappointing, to say the least.

Feelings about what constitutes as sexual assault or harassment can vary immensely from one person the next. All of those opinions are valid, but not the same. I expressed the sentiment that if someone feels they were violated, they were. But instead of the support and love I was hoping for, my own words were tossed in my face scornfully. I was belittled and informed that regret over a sexual encounter isn’t rape. It was like rape victim Olympics, and apparently my experiences don’t qualify, even though they were emotionally devastating.

So I come back to the query of what feminism means to you. Does it mean we always support women, even if we greatly admire the men accused? Do feminists get to be the people to decide the hierarchy of what is real or imagined assault? Can you be a feminist if you victim blame or slut shame? We all have such different perceptions of feminism, so I can’t be the arbiter of it. I know that I don’t feel that anyone has the right to devalue another person’s feelings, even if we disagree. I hope to soon be in a world where questions of women’s sexual history will become irrelevant in regards to accusations of assault. Consent should be the one mantra we can all live by.