(Now, it should go without saying that being a feminist simply means I believe everyone who identifies as female deserves rights equal to those of everyone who identifies as male. That's it.)
On the one hand, it's a good thing that all of these abuse allegations are coming out in the open. From Roger Ailes to Harvey Weinstein, I'm heartened to know that a light is *finally* being shed on problems that have been going on for basically forever.
Naturally, some people will ask why women sometimes wait so long before speaking out about the harassment they've endured. I understand what prompts that question. I think most of us like to think that if someone did something illegal to us, we'd go straight to the police and report it, or at least expose the offender.
The truth, though, as it so often is, is a lot more nuanced. When your livelihood depends on staying in someone's good graces, when your career could be toppled by a powerful force in your industry, when making it in your chosen field means putting up with the crap other people sling at you, you might not say anything. Really, you might be crazy if you do say anything, because, after all, you're risking everything you've worked so hard to achieve. That's why you might remain silent, why you might not speak up for years.
Also, there's the fact that our society casts a skeptical eye on women who do speak up about sexual abuse. Newspaper articles will comment on what the victim was wearing, or they'll include quotes from people who talk about how "mature" for her age a young woman is. What is this other than casting some doubt on the validity of the victim's claim? Do articles ever mention what male crime victims are wearing, or how "mature" others perceived them to be? If your car is stolen, do you expect a police officer to say to you, "Well, sir, maybe if you weren't wearing that Michigan State University baseball cap, your car wouldn't have been stolen"? Maybe that last statement sounds ridiculous to you. If it does, I hope you'll think long and hard about why it's equally ridiculous when applied to a rape victim's clothing.
I love being a woman--except for all the things I hate about it. I hate having my qualifications and my intelligence questioned. I hate that someone like me, who doesn't wear makeup, has a lower chance of getting a job based on that fact alone. I hate that I think all the time about how to say things in the least offensive way possible, because women are socialized to be likable and liked.
There are so many everyday indignities to being a woman. They include things like:
- Being catcalled while walking down the street
- Having male coworkers voice the opinion that mothers have no right to be working rather than staying home with their kids
- Walking through a secluded hallway in your high school and fearing for your safety because a much larger guy is walking with a friend behind you, making lewd comments about you while his friend snickers and eggs him on
- Having a man explain something to you, even when you're an expert in that field, because he perceives your knowledge as being inferior to his, solely on the basis of his presenting as a man and your presenting as a woman
- Trying to gently let a man know you're uninterested in him, only to have him turn viciously on you and call you hurtful words like "bitch" or tell you you're not that good-looking anyway
- Being afraid to go out alone at night because you've been conditioned to believe it's your responsibility to prevent yourself from being raped
I've experienced all of these things at various points in my life. I still experience many of them.
One of my favorite video game series is the Mass Effect trilogy. With the exception of an incident in Mass Effect 1, in which an NPC refers to a female Shepard dismissively as "princess" and makes suggestive comments about her (been there, experienced that too), Commander Shepard isn't questioned about her competence or her leadership. Her squad follows her, and if they have an issue, it's because of something she does and not because she's a woman. She becomes a hero, and people admire and idolize her because of her accomplishments.
A big reason why I love this game so much is because it is so liberating, as a woman, to vicariously experience a world in which I have a job to get done and no one stands in my way just because I'm a woman. No one questions my ability to get the job done; on the contrary, many of my companions repeatedly tell me how strongly they believe I can do it. When I'm tough, no one tells me to stop being a bitch. When I'm assertive, people react to me the same way they do to the male version of my character.
I want the real world to be like this, for myself, for my daughter, for every woman I know. I also want it to be like this for my son, because I work hard to teach him that every human being is worthwhile and worthy.
Writing is a good space for me, and being an independent author is particularly good for me, because it gives me the freedom to explore sexism and its insidious effects. It allows me to create worlds where women are heroes and leaders and no one thinks that's weird. In short, it allows me to imagine a place where no matter where someone falls on the gender spectrum, they are treated equally. I love the idea of that place, and while I know that in reality we'll never reach a point where every last person acknowledges and respects women's basic humanity, I like to think we're moving in the right direction. I find all of these things coming to light personally painful because they are such a pointed reminder of how little my basic humanity is respected at times, but I hope they mean things will improve in the future. I hope they mean people will stop and think very hard about what they observe, and that they'll take small steps to change their behavior.
Where we are now isn't where we have to be.
Quick update: I just finished reading The New Yorker's excellent piece on Harvey Weinstein. It's chilling and devastating, and it really helps illustrate how backed into a corner victims feel when a powerful figure abuses them.