I had something else in mind for this post but decided it was a better use of space–in the wake of the Weinstein debacle and other publicised cases of assault–to write about violence and harassment against women and girls.
I woke up this morning to a Facebook feed riddled with “me too” updates. Women from all nationalities, ages, economic classes, and races stood in solidarity, using various platforms to protest the harassment, violence, and harmful practices women and girls are subject to every day.
The call to action was this: “If all the women (and other people) who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy/paste.”
At first I scrolled through my feed, giving a like to every “me too” I came across. I virtually saluted the women who capitalized on their boldness and bravery. I wasn’t all that shocked at the number of posts I saw. But as the minutes passed I became disillusioned and irritated by the crusade. The onus was again on women to speak up, “I have experienced assault and/or harassment. It’s not okay!”
Why didn’t men declare their stance on violence or harassment? There was no push for men and boys to step up and state, “#Notme! I’m not the sort of person who does that.”
This, in all its simplicity, reveals how we catalogue and perceive violence, sexual assault, and harassment in our societies. Harmful practices “happen to” or “against” women and girls instead of accepting the hard truth: men and boys do these things to us. Until now, men and boys have been able to skirt the fallout and consequences linked to their actions. And, when not held to account, many continue committing crimes (some felonies, some not) while shifting the burden onto our, already overloaded, shoulders.
You see, there is a problem with leaving the men and boys in our midst out of the linguistic equation. By doing so we shift the blame from perpetrators to the survivors and victims. “She was raped” should be “The man raped her” because a woman isn’t attacked by some unknown entity. “The boy assaulted that girl” is far more accurate than “the girl was a victim.”
In the end, the words we use to frame these issues cause us to ask all the wrong questions. What was she wearing? Why was she alone? Why didn’t she fight back? Is she religious? Wasn’t she a virgin?
If she stayed silent she must have been asking for it.
Only when the language around harassment and violence shifts will behaviours and social norms/contracts begin to change. The language we often use is lazy and passive. Our words are oppressive, antiquated, and downright dangerous.
Semantics allow the men and boys who commit such acts (perpetrators) to fly, soundlessly, under the radar. More worryingly, it institutionalizes sexism and misogyny, locking us into destructive cycles of powerlessness and shame. We continue speaking about a woman’s compliance and modesty rather than altering the mindsets of men and boys on how they ought to treat the girls and women they live with.
Fact: We no longer reside in the Middle Ages or 20th century. Women are not birthing machines or chattel. Embattled and wizened harlots we are, by God, drawing lines in the sand. Sitting on the fence is no longer an option. Do you stand with the women and girls in your life, or do you side against us?
Until you make your choice go ahead and close your eyes. Seek a safe haven but know that there isn’t enough cover. With nowhere to hide, we must confront the uncomfortable truths of the mad world we live in—the one where sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, romantic partners, friends, and colleagues walk through minefields littered with male-wrought intimidation and force on the daily. In this world women will keep shouldering the gross imbalance of blame until we talk about the roots of injustice and inequality differently.
Thoughts are words, you know, carrying the information we use to communicate. Loaded with power, they lead to action. So if you can’t grasp that it is time for you to get woke.
The words we use abso-fucking-lutely matter.