First, you have to have the courage to let other people know. This is much more difficult than you might imagine. The prospect of family, friends, and co-workers knowing you were assaulted or harassed is intimidating. These are very deep and intimate details of your life, the kind you normally would never share with most folks. But coming forward means many people will find out what you’d rather they didn’t know. And if your accusations are against a famous man, then just about everyone will know, right up to the stranger who recognizes you while walking down the street and mutters something to his or her friend.
You also need to the courage to deal with the deniers. The asshole you accuse? Yeah, good chance he (most likely a “he”) will deny it. And he’ll also have his defenders (not necessarily a “he”). These may be individual defenders, such as his family, friends, and co-workers. They may also be institutional, like a private arbitrator picked by your boss, who’s handling this because of the contract you unwittingly signed or couldn’t afford not to sign. Or the legal system that features a defense team hell bent on publicly destroying your name and character by informally putting you, the victim, on trial.
And then, finally, you’ll need the courage to deal with some of your so-called allies and supporters. Most of the people close to you, hopefully, will be truly loving and supportive. But odds are, not all of them will be. And I’m not talking about some other corner of the world where after being raped you’re forced to marry your rapist, or perhaps be killed by one of your own relatives to save your family’s honor. I’m talking about here in America. Because it’s not just one or the other. It’s not either someone’s a medieval monster who feels compelled to punish victims of sexual violence or they’ve achieved sainthood simply by recognizing that sexual violence is a bad thing. Just like anything else in life, there’s a continuum, a spectrum of shading. And dealing with the people who are supposedly on your side, but really aren’t? In some ways, they’re perhaps the worst of all.
People close to you who don’t look at you the same way anymore. And you don’t know if it’s because you’ve been victimized or because you made them uncomfortable by speaking up about it.
Or those sons a bitches, many of whom consider themselves good Liberals or Democrats, who in this pivotal cultural moment when society is having a much needed and overdue conversation about the horrors and shear pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment, say crap like: “Yeah, of course this stuff is bad, but enough already; it’s becoming a distraction from more important things.”
These are the people you really wanna punch in the face. Not full on castrate; they’re not the actual assaulters, after all. But they sure as hell are backdoor enablers, and you really wanna give ’em a good crack in the chops.
Alright, I won’t put that violence on you. I don’t know what you want. But goddammit, I sure wannna punch these selfish blowhards in the face.
However, I won’t. Instead, I’ll try to live up to this site’s url and take the professorial approach. I’ll simply and briefly explain why that sentiment is so terribly misguided.
First of all, who exactly gets to decide which issues are “more important?” You? YOU?
No, it’s not you.
Right now we don’t even have a president with that kind of moral authority, so guess what? It sure as shit ain’t you, blathering in the comments section of someone else’s Facebook page, who gets to decide which crucial issue has more social or political import than another.
You know who actually decides? Us. All of us. This is a society, not your personal tea party with a stuffed bear in the other chair taking directions from you on when to sip and how to hold the cup. This is 335 million-plus trying to sort out a whole bunch of stuff. And right now, it’s crystal clear that we, American society, are discussing this issue: the pervasiveness and social tolerance of sexual assault and harassment, along with the deep need for change. This is what’s really important to us right now, for the first time in more than a quarter-century (see: Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas), and don’t you dare try to shush us.
Second, we’re not rats in a maze. People can do more than one thing at a time, and we can certainly think about more than just that piece of cheese at the end of our twisting path. Believe it or not, we can have discussions about sexual assault and harassment and still go to work and raise our families and take a dump and watch the game and read the news and be cognizant of other important social and political issues.
So stop freaking out just because whatever you think is the most important issue in the world (Lemme guess? How horrible Trump is? Yeah, we get it.) isn’t drowning out every other call for social change for the moment. Just calm the fuck down. Yours is still important too. Yours is still on the radar. Don’t be a selfish prick.
The truth of the matter is, there are too many important issues out there for all of them to be front and center all the time. Sometimes we have to take turns with the megaphone. And that doesn’t get decided by you personally ranking which issues are “worse” or “more important.” That’s not your job. That’s society’s job. And society generally has to muck through it, balancing the many important issues as best it can, occasionally giving one more attention than the rest. It’s a sloppy, imperfect process, which is why we’re now having a national conversation on sexual assault and harassment for the first time in 26 years.
And anyway, even if we could generate a clear list (which we usually cannot) that ranked social and political issues by importance, then the top issues would still have to take turns with the lesser issues. Why? Because if the top issues always hogged the spotlight at the expense of the lesser issues, then the lesser issues will never get addressed.
Jesus, why do I have to explain this?
In other words, once you start saying that important issues need to take a back seat to other, more important issues, you have become a tool. Specifically, a tool of repression. At that point, you are actively working to subvert efforts to address an important issue. And here you thought all along that you were one of the good guys. Nice work. Congrats.
Look, I get it. The issues important to you really are important. Personally, I think it’s kinda fucked up that this issue isn’t that important to you, but whatever. You can prioritize however you like, but be aware that sometimes you have to share.
You wanna complain that Kim Kardashian and the NFL are distractions? Great. Go with that. But please, stop bitching that for us to address a plague of sexual violence that’s as old as humanity itself is somehow a distraction. It’s not your top issue? Fine. But at least have the good grace to be thankful that someone else is addressing it. I know that I’m grateful for that on this day of Thanksgiving.
Now eat your goddamned stuffing.