I was supposed to write a piece for She the People on rape culture, but I’ve found myself with a million things to say and no way to get it all out. For the past month, my entire Facebook newsfeed has demonstrated just how pervasive rape culture is, from Melania’s clothing, to #MeToo, to Roy Moore, to Al Franken. As a rape survivor, I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to even check my newsfeed anymore (seriously, Facebook, why did you get rid of the Groups app?!).
There was a time when I would have excused Al Franken or Bill Clinton (sorry, but I’m pretty sure I would have found Roy Moore’s actions repulsive and inexcusable at any time). There was a time when I believed Clarence Thomas over Anita Hill and William Kennedy Smith over Patricia Bowman. I get it. There is a pervasive undercurrent in our society that causes us to be skeptical or to push blame back onto the accuser. I can only speculate why or how it came to be, but I can tell you that its pull is just as strong now as ever.
One of the most common excuses I see for slut-shaming is this lousy analogy comparing rape with theft. The argument was that if you flashed a lot of money and fancy things and left your car or your house unlocked, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if you got robbed (the implication being that women who dress or act a “certain way” shouldn’t be surprised if they become the victim of rape or sexual assault). But there are multiple flaws in this analogy, which only further prove the point about rape culture. First, if your friend says he was robbed, what is your initial response? I can guarantee it wouldn’t be a question about his own behavior and home security. But when a woman says she has been raped or assaulted, the initial response is often a question of clothing or alcohol consumption. In the case of the robbery, do we tell the victim that he couldn’t possibly be the victim of a crime since he was “irresponsible”? Will his actions be on trial if the thief is arrested? Will a jury find the thief Not Guilty?
Ultimately, the personal responsibility argument needs to work both ways. Open any one of a thousand self-help books and the message is the same- we can only be responsible for our own words and actions. We can not control the people around us. And yet, as a society the message to women is that we are somehow responsible for men’s actions. It’s ingrained early, as seen in the questionable creation and enforcement of school dress codes (can’t have that bare shoulder distracting the boys, so you need to change your shirt). It continues through our lives and is reinforced every time we see explicit pictures of a woman used as evidence against her if she is the victim of harassment or assault. Why do we not put this kind of emphasis on the behavior of men? Why is it so difficult to hold a man accountable for his own actions?
I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a world where how a woman dresses or what she does for work is used to discredit her. I’m tired of living in a world where partisanship appears to cloud our judgment. I’m tired of feeling like our experiences can be brushed aside or invalidated if our truth is seen as an inconvenience.
The sad truth is that we live in a culture where I suspect almost all, if not all, men have done something that crossed a line at some point in their lives. Making excuses for those actions doesn’t help anyone. As a society, we need to start facing and owning up to it- that’s the only way we can ever hope to destroy this toxic undercurrent. This isn’t about an individual or a political party. This is about human decency.