freelance writer & illustrator

We Need White- and Wealth-Coded Dialogues About Sexual Assault the Way a Fish Needs a Bicycle

October 31, 2017

 

 

Over the course of the last week, the news cycle has been dominated by the statements of A-list celebrities who, despite having worked with Harvey Weinstein over the course of many years, claimed to have had no idea that he was a molester.

 

It seems society at large doesn’t evoke its collectively low-level abilities to critique male behavior until a man whips his fucking dick out in a woman’s face while in a goddamn business meeting.

 

Instead of either shining the light on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and others like him or taking this opportunity to encourage survivors to deal with their assaults however they see fit, celebrities like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Meryl Streep raced out of the woodwork to absolve themselves of guilt, thus completely shifting a large portion of this pivotal dialogue about sexual violence to their own self-interested campaigns of blamelessness.

 

It sort of makes Hollywood seem like a cesspool, but that’s beside the point.

 

The conversations about sexism, misogyny, and violence against women that arise when large swaths of white women celebrities speak out are worthless in dismantling our legacy of our hatred of women.

 

Women can vote. God bless. But when we think it feminist to run articles on white male celebrities saying, “Rape culture is real,” wow! Thanks for setting the lowest fucking bar on earth, white feminists. If you’re wondering why the movement has made no meaningful internal progress, look no further. Than a mirror, that is.

 

Many of the publications that have churned out swaths of adoring articles on the gross behavior of folks like Leonardo DiCaprio—member of the Pussy Posse and man who continues aging while his ever-changing, early-twenty-something girlfriends do not—are the same ones that are slamming Weinstein for his deplorable treatment of women. (In issuing a statement of support for the survivors, DiCaprio, who owes much of his success to Weinstein, conspicuously declined to name him as the perpetrator.)

 

I know we hate women. I am one. I used to hate me too. I continue to actively work against the self-hatred that is ingrained in me. In increasingly identifying and undoing my own modes of internalized misogyny, society’s normalization of its aggressive resentment for us has become increasingly grating.

 

I have friends and family members whose vocabularies for criticizing women whose behavior they aren’t sure they like is so limited, I find myself wondering if government-funded liberal arts educations shouldn’t be mandatory nationwide.

 

But I’m not so different from these friends. For example, when I was fifteen years-old, one of my closest friends and I had a falling out, during which time she had sex with someone she knew I liked.

 

I was so angry at her. One night, when she and I were at a get-together with several friends, I told a few of them that she had been “acting like a slut.” It ended up getting back to her, and our friendship never fully recovered. We didn’t talk about it again until I apologized to her two years later.

 

However, it took me many years to be transparent with myself: I wasn’t angry at her solely because she had had sex with the person I liked. I was angry because she was pretty, because boys found her attractive, and because she knew both of these things.

 

As a teenage girl raised in a strict household, I felt sexually repressed and incapable of navigating my ideas about my own sexuality. My frustration with my own stunted sexual expression led to my being extremely judgmental of my friend in the most puritanical ways possible.

 

Modernly, we have a pretty limited framework through which we view the sexuality of women on a nearly global scale: we demand they showcase it at our every whim while simultaneously condemning them for doing so.

 

As consumers, we passively observe the hyper-sexualization of women in all aspects of the mainstream media while casually incorporating the most vitriolic forms of misogyny into our daily conversations.

 

For example, a few years ago, I briefly dated a guy who would not cease shoving my head down onto his penis or attempting to remove my clothes even when I would loudly repeat phrases like, “No,” “I said stop,” and, “You’re being too forceful.”

 

We dated for three months before I dumped him, and to anyone who is wondering, “Why didn’t you just leave?” in an even vaguely you-put-yourself-in-that-situation manner, eat shit. And if you feel I’m being too aggressive, consider me an ambassador of the future, here to bring you some Cutting Edge Feminism™.

 

Anyway, after I dumped him, I told some close friends what I’d gone through. While I am not typically easily given to the whims of regret, I still consider this a huge mistake on my part. Although I didn’t tell them because I wanted to change their perspectives on sexual assault, I most certainly thought that in doing so, I would.

 

Not so, at least with some of them. Not even close. Telling my friends about my experience with sexual assault did not change their minds about society’s relationship with sexual assault at large because they saw me as an outlier, as separate from the type of woman that sort of thing happens to.

 

They saw me as put together. I had just graduated from college. I had just ended a five-year relationship with someone who, to the outside world, appeared to be “going nowhere” (in the most capitalistic sense of the term). I wasn’t a party girl to them. I favored monogamy and studying hard, not sleeping around and partying. If a man sexually assaulted someone like me, I definitely didn’t deserve it.

 

For all the respect my outward appearance of near-perfection commanded, I wasn’t so different from the women at the top rungs of Hollywood—the ones who are beautiful, young, and white. Because when I said I was raped, my friends listened.

 

But they didn’t really.

 

The years since I shared my experience with them have been marked by comments about how a woman must have been mentally unstable, or an outright whore, in order to have found herself in a situation she shouldn’t have been in.

 

The comments are so casual it seems as though I only dreamt that I confided in these friends. They are so tone deaf that it seems as though my friends are actively seeking to evoke in me memories of my sexual assault.

 

But I remind myself that they do not see me as a woman whose failure to live up to puritanical codes of conduct makes her deserving of forcible copulation, sodomy, etc. I’m in a completely separate category from those women. I’m the Madonna.

 

Because my experience is informed by multiple privileged identities, I am, in some ways, merely an advocate on this matter. Of course, I don’t know what the public would make of my mixed-West Asian identity, and I by no means intend to minimize the bravery it undoubtedly takes to publicly name one’s accuser.

 

However, I am also white-passing and come from an upper-middle class family. That society scrutinizes a woman’s “purity,” or lack thereof, through multiple lenses—not just through that of her woman-ness—is not irrelevant to this conversation.

 

All women struggle with character indictments in the aftermath of sexual assault. However, only some women face additional, insurmountable scrutiny because they do not fit into our white-coded ideas of “woman,” worthy of love, respect, and safety.

 

The current conversation about sexual assault and rape that has been triggered by the accusations again Harvey Weinstein does not signal progress for women because, as many writers, actors, and activists have pointed out, the white feminists rallying for the current survivors are the same ones who repeatedly remain inactive and silent in light of similar instances of sexual violence against women of color.

 

When we repeatedly discuss violence against women without attacking its underlying causes, we reinforce our hatred of women. This is not a “Hollywood problem.” Part of our problem as consumers of mainstream media is that we’ve made it one, thus minimizing the severity of our addiction to a hierarchical mode of misogyny. In doing so, we fail to engage in much-needed conversations about who we consider worthy of empathy.

 

Women who are elderly, disabled, low income, fat, trans, Black, and immigrant are sexually assaulted and raped. The difference is that we have trained ourselves to view these women as abject or invisible. Their mere existences immediately diminish our collective ability to empathize with them.

 

We will forget about Harvey Weinstein and the survivors, and ultimately, not an ounce of progress will have been made for womankind. Because true to white feminist form, the word “woman” always comes with a modifier that is both as is both as implicit as it is ineffectual.

 

Originally published on October 27, 2017.

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