Many of my close friends on Facebook, and some of my favorite people I follow on Twitter, have been posting the status “Me too.” Since the recent revelation that famous film producer Harvey Weinstein is a serial sexual predator, there has been a lot of conversation about the prominence of sexual assault in our society. I have always had a lot of thoughts and feelings about sexual assault, and now that my heart is being broken seeing how many of my friends have been victims of it, I think that now would be a good time to put my thoughts on blast. And in order to do that, I need to spend a lot of time talking about our patriarchal, male-dominant society.
Quick note: This post isn’t going to bash men. Some men are freaking awesome. But some are awful, and the awful ones ruin it for everyone, men and women alike. Also, men aren’t the only ones who commit sexual assault, nor do they only commit it against women. I’ll touch on that a bit later in the post.
First thing’s first: all of history. Remember how long it was before women were given the right to vote? At every step of history, women have been denied power.
And then we never had a female president until 2017. Oh, sorry, she won the election by a lot, but didn’t get elected. All throughout history and up to this very day, women have been treated as lesser than men, and are less likely to be in positions of power than men. This has always been intentional. I assure you, if men wanted to be inclusive of women, there would be more women in politics, in STEM, and in other male-dominated, respectable fields of work. Unfortunately, the reality is just the opposite.
Second thing’s second: all the media ever. Across every type of media, and in every genre, women are expressed as sexual objects. There’s a reason why people are lauding that recent excellent films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars VII, and Wonder Woman have great female lead characters. Women have never been portrayed as strong or independent. In films throughout history, the protagonist is often a man, and the MacGuffin to be obtained is a woman. In TV commercials targeted at men, women are used as a sexual object to draw men’s attention. In video games, there is a trope known as “chainmail bikini” which describes how female characters, inexplicably, wear only sexy outfits and yet are somehow as versatile as heavily-armored male characters. Even female characters who are powerful and well written are still sexualized– see the image of Mia Fey to the right. I can go on and on. Magazines: Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue, and there are others a lot worse than that. Sports: our culture really only cares about male-dominated sports like football, but even if you watch baseball, soccer, or something else, it’s all men– if you want to see women’s sports on TV, you really have to look for it. Because of how infrequently we see strong female characters in any media, and how often we see them portrayed as sexual objects, and how long all this has been going on, our society has normalized the idea that women are supposed to be sexy, and men are supposed to lust after them, and they are something for men to earn.
Third: the normalization of presenting women as lesser, and as sexual objects, starts young. Men’s very upbringing teaches this. When boys at the playground tease girls and chase them, adults will cutely look at each other and say, “He has a crush on her.” It might seem innocent and cute at that age, but by encouraging that behavior in boys’ formative years, well, just guess what it turns into. Not “respect for women,” I’ll tell you that much. Here’s a radical idea: let’s teach boys to flirt with girls by, I don’t know, being kind, instead of teasing or insulting them.
Fourth: let’s talk about women’s clothing for a second. One of the cruelest questions you can ask a woman who is seeking help after sexual assault is, “Well, what were you wearing?” That question implies a few things:
- That you being sexually assaulted is your own fault, and
- You were asking for it to happen, and
- If you wore a sexy outfit, you should be ashamed of yourself.
The reality is, women have been sexually assaulted REGARDLESS of the clothes they had on. Definitely check out this photo gallery of perfectly normal clothes women wore when they were sexually assaulted. It is worth noting, however, that sexual predators will identify a woman’s sexy outfit as an invitation to have sex with her, even though obviously the clothes are not a form of consent. And in some cases, it doesn’t even matter if you’re awake, as Brock Turner demonstrated.
Let’s talk about consent for a second, since I just mentioned it. Without consent, you can’t have sex with someone. Unfortunately, I never received proper education about consent until I was in college, and I imagine that hasn’t changed. Consent is something that every person needs to understand from a very young age. Because once puberty hits, the desire will be there, forever, and without a proper understanding of consent, people will become predators before they even realize there might be a problem with touching someone without permission.
Let’s bring alcohol into the consent conversation. A woman who is drunk cannot give consent, because being drunk means you aren’t thinking straight. And yet, many men use alcohol as a tool to get women to have sex with them. I’m always so grateful when my male friends offer to buy me a drink at the bar, because it destigmatizes the idea that buying a drink for someone is code for trying to loosen them up so they will have sex with you. Ugh.
Speaking of parts of male culture that don’t make sense, let’s talk about President Trump’s leaked Access Hollywood tape. Our commander-in-chief disregards all criticism of his boasts about committing sexual assault by calling them “locker room talk.” Now, that sounds like a weak excuse because it is. But I would have to say he wasn’t wrong– even though men do not talk to each other at all in the locker room, that IS how men talk behind closed doors.
In my life, starting around puberty age and ending after college when I chose my adult friends much more carefully (and only for that reason), any time I was in an exclusively male setting, the conversation was always about women and how hot specific women are. When women are present, men know how to be charming. But take them out of the environment and men’s attitudes towards women become vulgar and cruel. It always made me uncomfortable, and I’m not the only one– but I often do feel like a minority in that regard.
Sadly, it is extremely difficult to stand up to other men in these all-male settings. Because many of the gross men are making similar remarks, you as an uncomfortable man immediately get shutdown. In addition, you’ll be ostracized and bullied. Because of how much it feels like it won’t make a difference, and how it’s such a high risk, the uncomfortable men don’t speak up. And I am really ashamed to admit this, but all men typically stick together and won’t warn the women in our lives that the other men we know are creeps. There were many times in college when I could have warned a woman I knew about a certain guy who said disgusting things about her in private, but didn’t. I am sorry. I can be a better ally, and I try every day. For any woman reading this, if you were to ask a male friend if he knows any other guys who would probably commit sexual assault and should be avoided, he would probably say no. But he knows exactly who those guys are. Men don’t warn women about other men. Remember Trump’s disgusting admission of sexual assault? Well, if Billy Bush had any decency, he would have shared what he was told with the world right away, and especially once Trump ran for office. But hey — men don’t warn women about other men, even when we know other men are sexual predators.
And like I mentioned earlier, it’s a societal problem, and some of these awful men have been so inundated with lessons from history and media and their upbringing that they would never even think what they’re talking about and doing could be seen as sexual assault. That doesn’t make sexual assault okay, obviously, but that’s a big reason why it’s so common– many men just don’t even know what sexual assault or consent is.
With how much our society has been talking about sexual assault lately, I have been hyper conscious of my actions around women, so here’s a quick story: I met a cool woman at a bar this past weekend, we talked a lot and hung out late into the night. Even though it was perfectly amicable, and nothing sexual happened between us, I sent her a text the next day apologizing if I had done anything that made her uncomfortable. And she sent me a text back, indicating she was super confused why I would say that. I had embarrassed myself by apologizing– I knew I hadn’t done anything even remotely wrong, and so did she. But after reflecting on all these recent events, I was worried that even I might be so inundated with inaccurate views about consent and sexual assault that I could have flirted too aggressively and made her uncomfortable. Better to risk embarrassing myself than have hurt someone, I thought. Still, I’d rather have not embarrassed myself at all! But that’s how influential and overpowering male culture is– I didn’t even trust my own self, because I’m a man and I’ve been around male culture my whole life, and I know what kind of person emerges from that culture.
Let’s talk more about influence. Sex and money and power are often all talked about in tandem. Have you ever wondered why Game of Thrones has so much sex but is still a good show? George R. R. Martin was smart enough to observe that sex (or, rape, more accurately) has often been the primary method by which men prey upon women in order to feel a sense of empowerment. And money goes right along with that; most men are civilized enough to know they can’t brute-force a woman to have sex with them, so they buy women things and flaunt their wealth in order to attract women. Sometimes they just pay for prostitutes outright. Have you ever noticed how there aren’t male prostitutes? In the world of men, having more money often means getting more sex. Obviously, that’s bullshit, but it is an often-shared idea, that as wealth increases, so too does the frequency of sexual encounters. Men who make a lot of money tend to believe they have not just earned the money, but earned sex with whoever they want. And they will get angry and forceful and commit sexual assault when women reject them. This tweet explains the same concept a bit more artistically than me.
Speaking of tweets, Terry Crews, an all-around nice guy actor and former NFL player, recently made headlines by revealing that he has been sexually assaulted too, and recognizes the difficulty that goes along with that. You would think, as a man, and as a very physically intimidating man at 240 pounds, he wouldn’t ever be victim to sexual assault. But unfortunately, it happens between men constantly. Not nearly as much as women, but I’m still going to use the word constantly. Even if it’s playfully pulling down someone’s towel or slapping them inappropriately in the high school locker room after the game, it’s still sexual assault. And when that shit never gets addressed or condemned at that somewhat-more-innocent level, it turns into a much more harmful, serious kind of sexual assault later on.
And don’t forget: at its worst, there is widespread cover up of sexual assault. See: the Catholic church. Just like how men don’t warn women about other men, and men like Terry Crews haven’t come forward until now, there is always a cover up. Despite sexual assault being rampant and happening to everyone and ruining all our lives and the lives of those we care about, no one talks about it. And when people do, they are criticized and have their lives destroyed further, after already going through something terrible. Especially for women.
I won’t share my full story here, but I was once taken advantage of by a “friend” while I was really drunk. It really screwed up every facet of my life for months, and I know many women have a far worse story than me, and have more than just one story.
We’ve heard about that “1 in 4” statistic. But I don’t think it’s 1 in 4 women who are sexually assaulted. I think it’s 1 in 1. Sexual assault is a systemic issue and it affects everyone. We all need to keep using our voices to stand up for what’s right.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please don’t let the conversation stop with Harvey Weinstein.