The testimonies of sexual harassment and assault coming from women and men in Hollywood in response to the media’s recent focus on the misogynistic actions of some of the Hollywood elite, like Harvey Weinstein, has prompted a much-needed public dialogue. And there is no better time than now (or yesterday) to address the need to end all forms of sexual violence.
The harsh reality, however, is that there exists many Harvey Weinsteins in the U.S. They still have their jobs. They still wield their power to do harm. They will continue to escape accountability and self-reflection. They will continue to impede their self-transformation even as issues like rape, male dominance, sexism, femme-hatred and sexual harassment are trending topics within social media and topics of table talk in real life.
The most recent conversation points to a long-standing and common problem that is often ignored by the larger public. We may think sexual violence is exceptional when it impacts the lives of celebrities, but every day, all manner of people are targets of others’ unwelcome desires. And it is often the case that such actions are ignored in our towns, on the streets, in our schools, on our jobs, in government offices, in our worshipping spaces, and in our homes because within those spaces the people we know, or don’t, tend to be harmed.
Just search the Internet for testimonies if you need proof beyond statistics. #MeToo, for example, was created by Tarana Burke, a Black feminist writer and organizer from New York City, ten years ago as a way of creating empathetic space for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories. But it’s possible we might forget #MeToo next week after Weinstein is no longer covered by media or after we collectively lose interest in a matter of importance that is trivialized within society.
Beyond our right-now-moment-of-reckoning, prompted by Weinstein’s harmful actions, what will it take for us to collectively create the conditions for our mutual survival moving forward?
First, we cannot be afraid of having tough conversations. To end cycles of harm, we must not be afraid to name what harms us or resist bearing witness to the testimonies of others. We have to listen to those impacted by such harm—not only in seemingly exceptional moments, like when a celebrity is cast in the spotlight for sexual harassment, for example, but when folks, who exist across the spectrum of gender, and non-gender conforming people without celebrity status, speak up. And we should feel discomfort, because sexualized violence should make us all uncomfortable. We should lean into that discomfort and confront the types of sexual violations, which break bodies, hearts, spirits and lives.
We must ask how we may or may not add to the harm that is at the heart of another’s testimony. Did we speak up when someone demeaned another, turning them into a sexualized thing as opposed to a human being? Even if we may not have been guilty of touching someone without consent, was that someone safe in our imaginations and sexualized fantasies?
We must contend with the work that must be done to transform a culture so steeped in the disdain of women, femme people, non-gendered individuals, transgender women and men, queer folks, sex workers, the disabled, the non-white, and the indigenous. It’s a culture that teaches men, white people, able-bodied people, and so-called naturalized citizens that they have a right to plunder both the land and bodies of others and that such dispossession is possible because all others are to be owned: their bodies, their minds, their desires.
To end sexualized violence, which is to end sexism and misogyny and queer antagonism and trans hatred, is to also end white racial supremacy and patriarchy. We cannot pick just one to dismantle. We must dismantle it all.
Sexual Assault: Same Standard For Black And White Men?