A second Hurricane Harvey swept across the country last week, leaving behind anguish, confusion, and a flood of tears. The Harvey Weinstein story follows closely after the Bill O’Reilly story, the Roger Ailes story, and the Bill Cosby story. Hollywood loves nothing more than remakes. But this story has got to end. Now.
At a conference I attended this past weekend, several attendees shared their experiences in Hollywood’s culture of rape and harassment. Their confessions were met with sadness, anger, support, hugs, outrage, tears, and most importantly: hope. It feels like the terror and abuse that women have suffered for thousands of years may be coming to a head. Powerful men who abuse that power are starting to see consequences. But this alone won’t be enough.
The #MeToo hashtag is trending again, after actress Alyssa Milano revived it on Twitter with a call for anyone who has been abused. What has followed has been a chorus of voices like a gathering wind. We are at Category 5 levels of fed-the-fuck-up. But our outrage alone won’t make it so that no woman will ever again be harmed; the culture that allows and ignores this has to come crashing down so that these stories become the exception rather than the norm.
There are things we can do. Things men can do, women can do, parents can do, young adults can do. It starts with this conversation we are now having. It starts and ends with our voices. This movement is 100% the result of women who have the courage to speak up. We need to make sure we build a climate in which they feel safe for doing so. These recent high-profile firings help. The fact that we are now believing these women and applauding their courage helps. For too long we have doubted their stories. For too long the consequences have been worse for the victims than the abusers. That needs to change.
Speaking up is the hardest thing to do. There are a million reasons to stay quiet: fear of losing a job; the shame of being victimized; the confusion of what in the world happened and why; the lifelong inurement of a million small abuses heaped up until the horrific almost feels normal. Some of these fears keep those who witness the abuse quiet as well. More men and women who see this happening need to have the courage to speak out. And there’s a truth we need to accept and have a conversation about.
The truth that we need to confront is that men are creeps. We are all creeps. Every man has the potential to abuse women. Every man. It’s the way we talk about them from our teenage years on. It’s the way we leer at them, or turn our heads to check out a stranger on the street. It’s the way we make women feel uncomfortable walking down the sidewalk, so they have to stare straight ahead, even as they can feel our eyes on them, and they think to themselves, “Don’t look. Don’t look. Just keep walking.”
We all wish the world was a certain way — a safe world where evil is the exception rather than the rule — but wishing will not make it so. Only action and communication will. The reality of the world is this: rape is common and sexual abuse is rampant. This is a fact. The statistics on college campuses alone are sobering, and these do not capture the full extent of the problem. One in four women will survive rape or attempted rape while in college. ONE IN FOUR. College campuses, where the privileged and progressive supposedly gather.
Or how about the firestorm of rape that follows troop movements? The allies in WWII raped their way through Germany, with hundreds of thousands of “heroes” abusing their victims from a position of power, taking advantage of those they were meant to assist. A large part of the problem is that we lionize those perpetrating rape. It’s sports stars, CEOs, troops, fathers, priests, coaches, uncles, all the people we are told to respect.
How about we try to respect women for once? Just this fucking once. And then let’s make that respect a habit so that it lasts. So that this hurricane doesn’t sweep by, and we clean up after it and put our ugly houses back in order. Let’s rebuild from the ground up and try something new.
Men, try to understand that your advances are NOT FUCKING WANTED. Just because you want to have sex with anything that moves, understand that women are far more selective, and that your assumption should always be that they don’t want it. They’ll let you know when they do.
Don’t honk your horn at women on the street, or call out the window at them, or whistle, or make catcalls. Mock your friends who do. Have a talk with them. Let them know that’s someone’s daughter, mother, sister. Make your friend or co-worker feel like shit when they crack a joke. If you even see their eyes wandering, or one of those knowing grins, tell them to keep their eyes to themselves. Tell them this isn’t cool. It isn’t right. These little habits should be treated the same as a racial epithet.
It sucks that parents have to have these conversations, but I think they do. Every daughter needs to hear that men are creeps and that they should stick up for themselves. They need to know to expect this behavior, and to practice what they’ll do when it happens, so they don’t freeze up in shock. We practice safety drills in other walks of life for this very reason, so that our response to danger is an ingrained habit. Stop drop and roll. Know the nearest exit. Brace for emergency landing.
From the earliest age, girls need to be taught that every male is a potential predator. It doesn’t matter how cute, or successful, or good at sports, or wealthy — the very things they are going to be attracted to are the things that allow men to feel powerful and abuse that power. Every male is a potential threat, a grenade, a landmine. If you’re a guy reading this and you are offended, fuck you. It’s time for us to be uncomfortable. It’s long past time. I’m okay with every woman assuming the worst about me if it means they’ll feel safe. You should too. If you’re not willing to feel that way, then you’re part of the problem.
Girls need to know that when something happens, it’s okay to talk about it, to press charges, to demand repercussions. Which means it falls on us to make sure there are repercussions when something does happen. The judicial system and the public sphere need to rally to this cause. Serial rapists like Bill Cosby should not walk free. Our adoration of men in power should be seen as a danger sign, not a free pass. It’s that adoration and trust that allows much of the abuse that happens. Men feed on their positions of power. We shouldn’t be surprised when a coach, celebrity, priest, president, CEO abuses someone. Didn’t you hear Trump brag about this? Power and wealth have to become warnings, not smokescreens. We have to hold these people accountable.
Don’t ask why women haven’t spoken up sooner. It’s hard to admit to being abused. I know. You are ashamed, confused, scared. There’s a wild mix of emotions, unique to each case, and you cannot understand someone else’s victimhood. No one can. Each case is different. But it’s not uncommon for women to want to control the narrative to feel better about what happened, maybe even try to convince themselves they weren’t a victim. It can take years to know you were raped. I know. And when you realize it, you won’t know who to tell. And you’ll have seen over and over how some other accuser can have their life ruined while the abuser suffers nothing. Ask Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton how they’re faring.
The abuse isn’t just between strangers, not by a long shot. It’s between family members, co-workers, fellow students, and those in courtship. Hey guys — SILENCE means NO. The only thing that means yes is yes. I’ve been too paralyzed to stop abuse before, both while experiencing it and while observing it. The only way to make sure you aren’t a part of the problem is to check in with partners at every new step along the way. Ask permission before you touch someone that you’re dating, before you even hold their hand. I promise you that it can be romantic. Check in as you lead off first base, thinking about second. Even better — let her be the baserunner. Slow the fuck down. Give her time and space to let you know you’ve gone too far.
The other part of this conversation that we must have is the biological underpinnings of our worst behaviors. Evolution predicts this culture of abuse and rape. Belief and faith in gods does not. Raising our kids, and creating a culture, in which we believe in the divinity of human beings gets us in trouble. Evolutionary theory warns us to expect an imbalance in sexual urges. The reward to men for impregnating a dozen women is dozens (and then hundreds, and thousands) of copies of that drive as their DNA is passed along. There’s very little physical cost in the labor and upbringing of those children. We see this impulse throughout the animal kingdom.
The cost to women is nine months of pregnancy, a painful and dangerous childbirth, and huge expenditures of time and resources in the upbringing of the child. This is why women are pickier than men. It’s why they don’t want your advances. Men can’t seem to grasp this; we dream of the day that a woman sees us on the street and asks us for a quicky. Our y-chromosome-diseased brains can’t conceive of a woman’s brain wherein this is not okay. So we need the constant reminder. We need it early and often. Mothers need to tell their sons what it feels like to be a girl. Fathers need to warn their daughters what it feels like to be a boy.
Is it uncomfortable to confront these truths and have these conversations? Hell yes. Are there exceptions to these accusations of manhood and womanhood? Of course. Should we continue to endanger women because of our discomfort? Hell no. Should we continue to endanger women because someone out there says they are male and they’ve never had bad impulses? Fuck no.
Almost every woman has a #MeToo story. Almost every single one. That failure is on all of us. We have to admit that this is a problem, commit to building a better environment, and continue to speak up. We have to keep the conversation going. It should be a conversation that every child hears and hears often. Do not trust those in power. Do not trust men to know proper boundaries. Speak up when you’re even mildly uncomfortable. Humiliate those who are attempting to humiliate you.
And for men: Understand how unwanted your advances are — how terrifying and revolting they are. Learn from an early age how to treat women with respect, how to be wary of any power or leverage gained in life, how to speak up and humiliate your friends, colleagues, and superiors when you see them crossing any line. We should have a zero-tolerance policy for this. It can be done. We’ve made progress in shaming smokers, and those who drink and drive. We can have the same impact on sexual abuse.
My heart breaks for every woman who has endured this. My heart breaks for every woman I’ve ever made uncomfortable. I hope we can all do better by you. I hope we can build structures that make us impervious to these thoughtless, ugly, terrible hurricanes, until we run out of names for them.