And such a short time after the big explosions of 2016 and the #metoo movement, we're back. Feeling frustrated. Feeling triggered. And opening up our wounds to each other in the hopes that maybe it will make an impact (I've certainly sobbed my way through so many testimonials from people I love, people I hardly know, people I like on tv, and otherwise people who've suffered in an essential way). Maybe the thinking will change finally. Boy do things move slowly though.
You know what I'd like to see? Instead of women detailing their experiences and explaining why they didn't report about them, I want to hear from men. How about a #holyshitIhadnoidea hashtag for men's posts? I see that this is starting to sink through for some, and I really appreciate the men who are passionately discussing this issue. But I still feel like we could get further here. Men who maybe realize now that they pushed boundaries and overstepped the comfortable zone of consent. Men who realize that they just assumed their daughters and sons had stayed above the fray. Men who are showing that they realize what's happening and showing that we may actually be moving past this dynamic. Every woman's got a story or several and not many of my male friends do. So there's a little dissonance there still. Not to say this hasn't happened on a smaller level. I've had some pretty intense conversations with my male friends since 2016 and I cherish the support from a handful of more vocal companions. But on a societal level, I think we need more. We need men to address toxic masculinity because it's crushing them too.
This is about human beings. Men and women are harassed and assaulted, albeit at different ratios and social pressures and systemic problems screw them both differently. This is about us respecting the essential dignity of other human beings and about defining who we are as individuals. And about recognizing there are ways our society has made that worse. Without purchase from both genders, this is gonna take a lugubrious slog through some centuries and a lot of backsliding. And when it's somebody we like it suddenly gets a lot harder. I see systemic sexism in both parties still so deeply entrenched. No hands are clean here.
I get the concern from both sides (when it's "our guys"). I think "Believe the victim" can be misunderstood. Yes, false accusations are devastating. I have worked in DV cases where false accusations allow one spouse to deeply wound and control the other. It's a lot less common than accusations having long been forestalled because DV is complicated and survivors are complicated and nothing is that clear. And usually the court system sorted it all out (we hope). But it happens and it can have lasting impacts on the families and children. SO I get it.
But, I don't think "believe the victim" ever means "wholeheartedly and undiscriminatingly believe all accusations no matter how far fetched and regardless of personal intuition." It's more about confronting our internal biases that make us disbelieve those who raise the alarm, and our reflexive inclinations to silence them. It's more about "questioning our supposed intuitions and taking a prima facie openness to their claims." That's a lot less catchy. It's also just a utilitarian choice where we weigh the impacts and numbers of survivors of assault to false accusations and make a choice. That's a harsher way to look at it but sometimes we weigh interests of one group against another.
We're in a messy period right now in which cultural norms are shifting. I've had drunken encounters that were objects of sentimental adoration for years following. I was publicly kissed at a camp award ceremony by an older counselor as a "reward" for being a good sport in water skiing, and I cherished it instead of being disgusted by it. So I hold these things even while I look at the ick and discomfort I felt when my body became not-my-own.
What was known to be wrong but still widely accepted is suddenly getting re-slotted. There is some valid retroactive panic to people I'm sure. I know that going over 65 mph on the freeway is illegal but I'd be a little nervous if I heard people were retroactively getting tickets for driving 75. I'd be a little freaked. Moving forward requires delicacy, but it inevitably means that a certain group of people are going to have it a little less easy. I get that panic. But we're human beings. We don't have to accept this shit. We don't have to perpetuate this culture.
But there's that gut-punching feeling that this isn't changing fast enough to protect my daughter. There are so many ways the world will chew up your children. This is probably going to be one of them. I was taught all the "right" things about body autonomy. It didn't change that my autonomy was taken from me sometimes, or that I responded by hiding from it, feeling guilty, and otherwise burying it. I know the same is true of so many peers..Having theoretically had the tools to avoid these things made me feel like a failure for not having done so. It made me feel like there was something wrong. Because I should have avoided those moments.
So where are we? For me, I feel myself in a position where I am trying to find the words to teach my child that her autonomy is supreme, but that doesn't mean it will always be respected. It doesn't mean she can always protect herself. It doesn't mean that the lines will be clear. And if something happens to her, I want it drilled into her to respond and to care for herself. Of course I want to do all that without freaking her out about the world and teaching her not to trust. Because there's so much to trust in this world. It's tricky.
I think about all the things I want to teach my daughter and here are a few.
1. "Good people" do "bad things." We are complicated. People may do so much good in parts of their lives, but do bad in others. It's worth/necessary trusting people, but if one person isn't what they seem, that's a part of life and not a subversion of anything we assume about all human beings. Trusting the world is a calculated risk.
2. Bad things *do* happen to good people. The fact of something bad happening to somebody has no impact on their value as a person. Nor does it reveal who they are. It is a thing that happened to them. It doesn't get to decide who they are, even if it necessarily resets the course of their lives.. People may not want to accept that. That's because we're all scared and it's easier to tell ourselves stories about people who are hurt. Don't live your life so scared as to condemn the victims and celebrate the perpetrators, especially if you are the victim..
3. People are never perfect. It's rare that a story shows a 100% angelic survivor and a 100% evil perpetrator. Sometimes both people cross lines. Sometimes harm is done from good intentions. Sometimes it's messy and difficult to understand. But basic autonomy is always a person's due.
4. We are called to love everyone. Even those who are hurting us or others.The part we love is a person's basic humanity, not the perversion that causes them to tear away from that.
5. Love never means refusing to enforce our rights and the rights of others. Love never means abstaining from pursuing justice. There are always reasons a loved one hurts another. There are often ways in which you may want to protect somebody who's hurt you. It isn't necessarily easy. You can love from a distance. Sometimes you need to love but walk away. Sometimes you need to do more.
6. Forgiveness is a way of letting go the hold somebody else has on our mental health. Forgiveness is about personal freedom. It is not reconciliation. It does not stop us from enforcing our rights or seeking justice. It is not for the sake of another person but for ourselves.
7. Our brains have lots of thoughts and feelings and they don't always agree with each other. When we're in scary or difficult situations, our brains try to make us feel better by telling us stories, giving ourselves the illusion of control or choice when we have none. Sometimes they help. Sometimes they make things worse when the situation has passed. Always have outside parties to talk to and draw from perspectives beyond your own. Never let yourself be isolated from different perspectives. If anyone ever wants to do that to you, they are not putting valuing you interests.
8. Our intentions and the impacts we have on others are not always the same thing. For most purposes the impact is the most relevant information for going forward.
9. Dating and sexuality are complicated. There are squishy lines and ambiguities. The kindest and safest thing to do is to be very very honest about your feelings. Accepting rejection makes it easier moving forward. If you are unsure whether rejection is a safe option, find friends and back up. All people are deserving of basic respect. No person is entitled to your feelings or affection nor are you entitled. .
10. Own your body. Own it physically. Own it mentally. Own it spiritually. Take agency for its love, health, and pleasure. Do not wait for somebody to introduce you to it. It's yours to share and yours to keep.