This post is dedicated to the man who told me the only reason Bill Cosby was being accused was because he was a powerful black man in America.
It is dedicated to the woman who ended a work diversity meeting during Sexual Assault Awareness Month with, “But, what do they expect? Going out dressed like that?”
It is dedicated to all the women who are not famous or white enough to warrant protection. It is dedicated to all of us who have blamed ourselves.
It is dedicated to the women afraid to be sensual, to the women harassed and silenced on social media, to the little girls who fear becoming women.
It is dedicated to the next time.
I had a friend who worked for the Weinstein Brothers. In 1986, it was her first job when she moved to NYC from New Mexico when she was 28 years old. I liked to imagined her then—young and vivacious; right in the middle of the artsy, wild New York City I had always admired.
“Was it cool working for them?” I asked.
“No, they were assholes.”
This was uttered with the kind of deadweight that makes it clear that this was all that was going to be said on the matter.
The first time I realized I was not a girl anymore was when I was 12. I was walking home from school and the sky was slowly changing into a dusty orange. A pick-up truck of skater dudes slowed down and one of the guys in the front seat yelled out, “Hey! My friend here wants to pop your cherry!” I could still hear them laugh as they drove over the hill and away from me.
The thing about these Weinstein and Cosby stories is that it will happen again. It is a matter of when and not if. My friend says if we all knew half of what these industry heavyweights were doing, we’d probably be disgusted. We texted back and forth about bystander syndrome and why it is that certain men feel so powerful when they sexually harass and assault women. I want to live in a world where women share more in common than our victimization.
3 Things I Will Never Forget from 2011 Coast Guard Victim Advocate Training:
- Serial rapists and harassers often have a “calling card”. Much like serial killers, they like to leave an accent mark on their crimes. For Cosby it was ‘ludes and “let me help you with your career”. The allegations against Weinstein reveal a man who always wanted a massage and private casting meetings. These men are predators.
- Serial rapists and harassers will most likely go after the kind of woman (or man) who no one would ever believe. In the Coast Guard, it was the loudmouth girl who was always late to formation, the skinny guy seen as a quiet loner type, the girl already labelled a slut weeks out of boot camp at her new duty station. These perpetrators know exactly who to pick and use their power strategically.
- A victim/survivor doesn’t want advice or plastic sympathy. They just want you to listen. And to believe them.
I read an article the other day before the Weinstein story broke. It was from Bill Cosby’s daughters. They were saying what a good, kind-hearted man their father was and that he was being taken advantage of solely based on his race. I think the letter even used the words “public lynching”. They were women using the same one-dimensional logic Clarence Thomas did to recuse himself from responsibility after harassing Anita Hill.
It was sad but predictable.
And I’ve always wondered about Them; the perpetrator’s closest friends and family. I can only imagine how difficult it must be, how world splitting to see another side to this person you always thought you knew.
When I was at military school, a friend of mine was accused of rape and I vehemently defended him, was 100% sure of his innocence. I was 20 and since this was the same guy who made me laugh with his silliness and came to my birthday party–this was “not the sorta guy” who would rape anyone.
Eleven years later, I know better.
Most of the time, due to an amalgamation of racism, the masculinization of dark-skinned black women, and being 6’3″, I feel pretty powerful when I walk the streets. I still get weird, sexual, disrespectful shit said to me all the time, but I think there is something to be said about being taller and stronger than a lot of men out there.
Physical presence counts for something.
When I was 19, a fellow cadet would say rude sexual stuff about me while I was in formation. I reported it but nothing happened and I decided it wasn’t a big deal, especially since many of my friends had experienced far worse. What was a little crude language?
Months later, this same guy sat next to me on a bench and asked if he could take me out sometime. I nervously declined. He then asked if I was lesbian.
What I hope is that more men speak out. That instead of shaking their heads in private or getting into “not all men” arguments, that they open their damn mouths and do something. It’s kinda like white people doing the work of dismantling racism. Men need to do this work, they need to look closely at how these behaviors dehumanize not only women, but themselves. Talk to your brother because this shit is a headache.
I am an optimist. I believe we are getting better as a society when it comes to allegations like these:
Donna Karan says something victim blaming and gets called to the carpet for it.
Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek speak out their own stories.
We have a long way to go, but I believe we are moving in the right direction.
In 2014, I took a self-defense class via the Center for Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn. We learned to block attacks from on high, the correct and most hurtful to kick someone, how to interrupt sexual harassment in public. At the end of the course, all the women break a 2X4 block of wood Karate Kid style, with a quick dash of the palm.
I will never forget the look of sheer amazement and delight as each woman cleanly sliced those blocks in two. For the briefest of moments, we were seeing evidence of our power and not just our supposed weakness.
It was beautiful.
I am a tall woman who weight-lifts and sometimes I still get scared walking around cities alone. I worry about the little girls I know who are becoming young women. If I give a friend a ride home, I watch them actually enter into their houses before driving away
I know that this is not the end.
But, I also know that there are many out there who are eager to create a world free from this sort of fear.
I think we are on our way.
A reminder: Take care of yourself. These kinda news stories can drum all kinds of traumatic memories. Talk to someone. Don’t feel you have to deal with this on your own.
For those in power, if you see something, say something. What’s the smallest step you can take to combat sexual harassment and misogyny? Find out what that is for you and commit to doing it as regularly as you can.
Art : Gerber Daisy by Grace Mehan de Vito