You Shouldn't Have to Ask if You're Next
We should all be pretty familiar now with the wave of survivors, almost all womxn, of sexual assault or harassment coming forward about the misogyny, fear, and violence they’d been subjected to. There are a growing number of stories coming out about celebrities, politicians, journalists, and more. In Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein has been accused by over 70 women of sexual assault or harassment. Survivors have also come out with accusations against House of Cards star Kevin Spacey, as well as comedian Louis C.K. In news media, Matt Lauer of NBC has been fired over allegations. Washington is seeing a wave of survivors speaking up also, in part due to Anita Hill, a brave attorney and scholar who came forward in 1991 about her assault by Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court nominee at the time. She has since been a voice on sexual assault in our political arena. This wave of survivors coming forward is causing a snowball like effect and as more come forward more are inspired to overcome the fear and stigma to also speak on their experience.
We should all know that sexual assault and harassment have been around for quite some time and have occurred in many spaces. And, as appalling as the behaviors are and saddening as the stories are, I cannot say they are surprising or unexpected when we live in such a ferociously violent rape culture. Our culture specifically victimizes young womxn, LGBTQ+ people, and womxn of color. And as a young woman of color, I can say that there have been many times that I have felt fear for my safety. So… when I heard that men are “afraid” that they will be next, I had a strong reaction. I can’t decide if I’m angry or if it’s so pathetic that all I can do is laugh, but it’s probably both. I am disgusted by the turn of the conversation that focuses on how women’s claims are jeopardizing men’s careers, legacies, and livelihoods. We have to talk about why this is all the way messed up.
I can’t seem to find the sympathy for the men “afraid” that they might be “next.” Most of my life I’ve had reasons to be afraid. The difference is that I am afraid of something I cannot prevent. A recent study found that black girls are sexualized on average from the age of five. In kindergarden, I can be targeted wherever I am and be judged regardless of what I wear. This violence and misogyny occurs to me and I face the consequences regardless, without my consent or desire. 1 in 3 women do not decide to be sexually assaulted. Almost 40 percent of young Black girls do not decide to be victims of violence before the age of 18. They’ve been robbed of the decision by perpetrators who have decided for them without their consent or desire. So, I could not find a fuck to give for the lost reputations of the accused nor the fear of other men. I have, however, mustered some few words of advice, after surviving rape culture, for my brothers out there.
Advice #1: DO NOT DO ANYTHING TO ANYONE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT.
Pretty simple. Consent is an affirmative, an agreement and it has to come from both/all parties involved. Did she say “yes, I want this!” or not? If she hasn’t got the opportunity or ability to say yes or no, it is not consent.
# 2: Really think about it.
If you wouldn’t do it in public and if you wouldn’t do it on camera, it’s probably the kind of thing you need consent to do. If you take a moment to think about your actions and to consider the other person’s rights and desires, you can usually answer the question of whether or not to do it. And if you can’t answer the question, asking the other person if this is something they want and are comfortable with can clear things up. The lines are not that blurry if you respect the rights and dignity of a woman.
Finally, #3: A simple question for yall asking, “am I next?”: Have you been a perpetrator of sexual violence or harassment?
If you answered no; then no, you are not next, and you don’t need to be “afraid.” If you answered yes… you’re next. The best way to not be next is to not assault or harass anybody - pretty easy right? Can you do that for me?
In all seriousness, rape culture is real AF. It affects all of us. It creates perpetrators who make victims. It oppresses people, especially womxn of color, in their ability to live safe, satisfying and flourishing lives. It places peoples lives in danger. Rape culture is a tool of systems that work to oppress and disempower people by race, age, gender, sexuality, class, and so much more. This is the reason for this wave of accusations. These are not “out of the blue” revelations. They are a part of the violence and culture that have existed for so long. Just because your privilege does not allow you to experience how pervasive this culture is, does not mean it does not exist. Recognizing rape culture can be overwhelming, but it should not incite fear. That fear comes from realizing that you hold power in this culture - whether you asked for it or not and whether you want it or not. It’s overwhelming to decide what to do with the power you hold but the realization of this privilege needs to encourage learning, reflection, and an internal change-- not fear.