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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Beyond the hashtag

Recently, Sean Penn said that the purpose of the #MeToo movement is to divide men and women, because for some reason a reporter thought that the man who almost certainly beat Madonna in the head with a baseball bat gets a say in any of this. Penn went on to say that the movement is "shouldered by a receptacle of the salacious," whatever in the holy hell that's supposed to mean - but I guess Penn would know from salacious, considering he almost certainly also tied Madonna to a chair, beat her for several hours, left her alone bound and gagged while he went out to get more booze, then came back and beat her some more, before she finally escaped out a bathroom window. Madonna has remained protective of Penn for reasons passing understanding, but there are police reports, hospital records, first-hand accounts, and a criminal conviction. If Penn is innocent, Madonna went to a hell of a lot of trouble to frame him, only to un-frame him later.
Serial abuser Jian Ghomeshi recently slithered out from whatever pit he's been hiding in since losing his job at the CBC a few years back, and the New York Review of Books inexplicably decided that anybody on earth needed to hear this guy's story. The essay is a weepy and maudlin woe-is-me where he claims to have learned his lesson, despite not actually admitting to or apologizing for anything. The piece was filled with obvious lies and obfuscations that the NYRB would have discovered with nothing more than a Google search. Of course, in order to fact-check the story, one would have to be even passingly familiar with the crimes with which Ghomeshi was charged - in an interview with Slate, NYRB editor Ian Buruma makes it clear that he didn't even know that much. Cliff notes version: Jian got off on beating women in the head and choking them unconscious. He says all of the head beating and choking was consensual - the women whose heads he beat beg to differ. He attempted to "prove his innocence" to officials at the CCB by showing them a sexually explicit video of him beating a woman so hard he cracked her rib - which he says is okay because it was consensual. So, you know, just your friendly neighborhood misunderstood totally innocent dude.
You may have heard Louis CK gave a surprise performance at a comedy club, receiving a standing ovation and praise from alleged #MeToo supporters like Michael Ian Black, who is dead to me. And to the rest of the world, honestly. Who even knew that guy still existed? Days after CBS announced it was ousting chairman Les Moonves over sexual assault allegations, the network admitted he wasn't all the way gone, he'd be staying on in an advisory role during the transition.
It seems like the #MeToo backlash is in full swing. It seems like some men in positions of power are suspiciously eager to put this whole ugly reckoning business behind us.
But it isn't just powerful men who grow weary of the movement. I've heard lots of people, including lots of women, say the movement has "gone too far." Lots of otherwise kind, compassionate women are saying that half the time these women are making things up for attention. But as I've said before, false accusations of rape are really rare, and actually, less than half of all false rape claims even name a specific person. In big studies of false rape allegations, the motivations are rarely things like attention (Like why in the hell would people choose a fake rape, of all things, to get attention? "Ooh, I know, I'm going to do a thing that's going to make a bunch of crazed fans threaten me and call me a liar all over social media and my name is going to be associated with this whole thing forever, this is the best plan, way better than getting attention by learning to tap dance or something"). Lots of false claims come from young women who don't want to tell their parents how they really got pregnant. Or from men and women with severe psychosis who honestly believe they've been raped. Or from, in a whole lot of cases, parents who can't deal with the fact that their daughters had consensual sex and want to make the boy pay.

But statistics tell me that statistics don't convince people of things. So instead I'll remind you what Me Too is really about, why Me Too is vitally important, and why we cannot and must not let the movement go gently into that good night. The phrase "me too" was picked up in 2017 by Alyssa Milano, one of the founders of the Hollywood #MeToo movement. But the expression didn't start with Milano, and it predates the hashtag.
The seeds for the movement were sewn back in 1997 when Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist who has dedicated her life to improving the lives of young girls who belong to marginalized communities, sat across the table listening to a 13-year-old rape survivor tell her story. “I didn’t have a response or a way to help her in that moment," she said later, "and I couldn’t even say ‘me too,’ ” She says the moment "sat in [her] spirit" for a long time, and led her to found "Just Be," a nonprofit aimed at helping teen girls achieve "empowerment through empathy." Soon after, she began using the phrase "Me Too" to raise awareness of sexual assault in society.

We must never forget that a huge portion of victims of rape and sexual abuse victims are children. We must never forget that most feel so much guilt and shame over their abuse that they do not tell anyone about what they've experienced. We must never forget how very often children are disbelieved when they report abuse. In addition to PTSD, kids who experience sexual assault are more likely to contemplate suicide later in life, use drugs, have problems at work or in school. Kids in marginalized communities are especially vulnerable, as are LGBT kids, in OR out of the closet. And here's what's important:
Every time we say "She's just making it up for attention" within earshot of a child, we're making it less likely that the child will come forward should he or she be sexually assaulted. Every time we say that "me too" has gone too far, we are teaching vulnerable people that society will condemn them if they speak up. Every time we choose to side with a celebrity we like over a woman we don't know, we're teaching victims that they shouldn't come forward to anyone who considers the perpetrator a friend. 

Now, personally, I don't believe in believing all accusers unconditionally. What I believe is that every woman should be heard and taken seriously, that we need to do away with the societal default of presuming every accuser a liar until he or she produces a high-definition video and a signed affidavit proving otherwise. I believe no woman or girl should be bullied or condemned for coming forward, and that every time we mistreat a woman for making an accusation we frighten an untold number of victims into silence. 
I believe that evidence should be evaluated thoroughly and objectively, and that men should not be made to suffer consequences without corroborating evidence. But that can be done without treating the accuser like a worthless, lying sack of shit.
Jian Ghomeshi and Sean Penn, however, should absolutely be treated like the worthless, lying sacks of shit they are.

1 comment:

Bob Haley said...

I'm sure you were likewise disheartened by Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation this past weekend.

Small consolation: Someone bought the domain brettkavanaugh.com and turned it into a resource site for survivors of sexual assault.

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