Understandably there’s been a lot of coverage of sexual assault, rape, harassment and sexual violence in the press after the Weinstein revelations and allegations. The #MeToo tag on social media has exploded, and with it some interesting and alarming responses and reactions. The primary focus – understandably really – has been on male perpetrators and female victims. A lot of the commentary has also been from women, but I have been surprised from the number of women who have reacted negatively and with considerable vitriol to other women for supporting the #MeToo campaign.
Jackson Katz has been cited a lot on social media during this debate. He’s an American educator and film maker, who has spoken widely about violence against women being a men’s issue. I have linked his Ted talk from 2012 at the bottom of this post. If you get a chance please listen to it. One thing of his being quoted is a talk where he firstly asks the men in the audience to tell him what actions they take to prevent being sexually assaulted each day, and then asks the women the same question. The men say they don’t think about it. The women take many steps each and every day. The difference is stark, but probably not all that surprising, sadly and brings the need for #MeToo into sharp relief. [You can find the whole piece here]
Another Katz piece that really interests me focuses on the language used to report violence and assaults against women. Katz notes that generally reporting uses a passive voice, shifting the focus from the male perpetrator to the female victim.
“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls, we talk about how many teenage girls… got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.” he says.
“The use of the passive voice has a political effect. [It] shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto women,” Katz continues. “It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them… Men aren’t even a part of it.”
This passive language, and the lack of accountability put at the feet of the perpetrator leads, I believe, to the victim-blaming culture we currently have. Should a rape or sexual assault case get to court, the focus seems to be on attacking the victim’s life-style or wardrobe choices. This just perpetuates the belief that somehow this is the woman’s fault “what did she think would happen being dressed like that, being drunk, she was asking for it etc” rather than turning the spotlight on the attacker’s actions and behaviours and why he felt it was acceptable to carry out a rape or assault.
It’s as though women have to behave and dress in a subdued, subservient way as men have absolutely no control over their actions and if an assault takes place it is due to the victim’s poor judgement rather than the man’s monstrous behaviour. It also leads to the mindset that all men are potential rapists. This clearly isn’t true but is the flip-side of victim-blaming. I’m sure we’ve all heard women say if only they hadn’t said what they said, or dressed the way they did, then an attack or assault wouldn’t have happened. This is wrong on every level, and as a society we have a responsibility to eradicate this belief. We will be failing if another generation of girls and boys become adults believing that it is a woman’s responsibility to prevent herself from being assaulted. The focus and conversation needs to change to why so many men think it is acceptable to use non-consensual sexual contact to assert their power. Believe me, it’s all about power, control and humiliation.
The number of reports made about sexual assaults, sexual violence and rapes are shockingly low. The number that make it court even less and the resultant convictions almost negligible. The #MeToo campaign is highlighting how common this is, and I do thinks some sections of society are genuinely shocked by it. The campaign is highlighting (again) how many assaults are carried out by family, friends or partners, rather than the feared stranger lurking in a dark alley.
I know very few female friends or colleagues who haven’t been subject to cat-calling or wolf-whistling; a stray hand “accidentally” brushing a breast or bottom; a stranger rubbing up against you on public transport or a man deliberately masturbating in their eye-line. That’s before you get on to the casting couch, naked line-ups, grooming, sexual assault, attempted rape and rape itself. As a society I think we’ve become so desensitised to this that the groping hand and transport-rubber are just seen as something that happens in day-to-day life and not even registered as an assault.
On top of the type of incidents above, I have been subject to sexual assault twice; once in my late teens/early twenties when the father of a friend tried to get me to sleep with him, and the second twenty years or so later after a night out. I didn’t report either incident, mainly for the reasons mentioned above. Would I report a similar incident now? I honestly don’t know.
I hope the #MeToo campaign raises awareness throughout society of just how widespread this issue is, and leads to reports of assaults being taken seriously and investigated properly. A male friend of mine commented that he thought it was a watershed moment; “like Saville”. A spotlight has been turned on, a lid has been lifted and now there’s no going back. I hope he’s right. I hope this makes everyone think about their behaviour and whether or not they use their power and influence to coerce or force someone else to do something that’s against their wishes.
I am fully aware that the victims of sexual assault and rape are not exclusively women. Many men are also now speaking out about their experiences and they deserve as much support and commendation for this as their female counterparts.
And to those who don’t feel able to speak out yet about their experiences, it’s okay. We stand with you and for you. You aren’t alone.