How do I write about our culture of rape, sexual harassment, child molestation and the degree to which there is an acceptance of these activities as being normal in our society? How do I write about this as a white male living in America?
Shortly before my tenth birthday, I visiting my mom in Berkeley and was invited by some friends to see The Hellstrom Chronicle, a pseudo-documentary/horror film about insects and their inevitable take-over of the world. My mom, still very stuck in the stranglehold of heroin addiction did not join us. When I got dropped off after the movie, my mom was not home, so I called my grandmother who lived in Walnut Creek to ask if she knew where my mom might be. I was informed that she was at the Hospital and that she had been raped. I knew what this meant, but hardly understood the full depth of the horror of what my mom had endured. I was however, extremely upset and angry, and could grasp the violation of her person and her safety. Hours later, my mom finally returned and I made her tell me what had happened.
She had gone up to Telegraph Ave. to score some dope and on her walk home was attacked by a man hiding inside the bushes. He held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her if she screamed for help. And then he raped her. My Mom.
As she related this to me, she was sobbing inconsolably, not as much for the rape itself, but more for how the police had focused on what she was wearing and how it might have been the “cause” for her rape. Because men cannot control themselves when a woman is dressed “too provocatively,” is that the idea? This is the very essence of Rape Culture and it is at the core of everything you ever hear about the disrespectful ways women are objectified, demeaned and victimized in everyday life.
Welcome to the Patriarchy.
It seems like the doors were finally blown open a couple of years ago with the wave of charges of rape against Bill Cosby. Since then we’ve had an admitted sexual predator who continued his run for the presidency even after an entire nation knew about it; the fact that there were enough people in America who accepted Trumps attitudes and actions against women enough to still vote him into office is beyond my comprehension.
We’ve had Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly from Fox News. After the initial righteous indignation and the adamant denials, Ailes was given a golden parachute worth $40 MILLION upon his departure, and O’Reilly settled for $32 Million against one of his accusers and then had his contract renewed by Fox before he was finally let go.
More recently, Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment have come to light, and in its wake, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time thinking about the endless barrage of unwelcomed advances that I’m sure every women I’ve ever known has undoubtedly had to endure for literally DECADES.
Lupita Nyong’o penned a remarkable piece describing the “conspiracy of silence that has allowed [Weinstein] to prowl for so many years.” and I cannot help but to consider the fact that sexual harassment —and by extension rape—is a cultural norm.
The #MeToo hashtag has been an eye-opener for many, and I’m happy that so many women have jumped on board to share their experiences. The sheer volume of those accounts on social media surely includes all the woman I have ever known regardless of whether they chimed in on Twitter or Facebook or not. I’ve always known that this was the case for women everywhere, and feel certain that they deal with this bullshit every day. What pisses me off the most is the fact that in our society, these behaviors and attacks are accepted and allowed, apologized for, excused and invariably questioned when accusations are leveled by women against their (male) aggressors.
More recently, the disappointing actions of Louis C.K. have come to light, as have the heinous predatory history of Alabama Senatorial candidate, the disgusting Roy Moore.
I mention these two because of the stark difference I see between the general responses from the reputedly liberally-minded Hollywood vs. the misogynist alliance of the Republican Party whose war-on-women is on display like never before. Do you remember any of the following statements made by misogynist members of the GOP?
“Some girls rape easy.” – Rep. Roger Rivard (R-Wi)
“If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”
– Lawrence Lockman (R-Me)
“I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape.”
– Chuck Winder (R-Id)
“What did they expect? …“Rape victims should make the best of a bad situation.”
– Rick Santorum (Referring to women who are raped in the military)
“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape; that it is something that God intended to happen.”
– Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock
“Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”
– Judge James Leon Holmes, Bush appointee
Staggering. If this is their attitude regarding the most horrendous of crimes against women, just think about how it is reflected in their broader attitudes towards women on the whole. The recent “if the allegations prove to be true” caveat from the Republican establishment regarding Roy Moore finally crumbled after the heat got too hot and public pressure mounted, forcing them to finally distance themselves from the peedophile DA from Alabama, but the simple fact is that if any of them felt they could weather the political storm (as they successfully managed with the current child in the White House), they certainly would have maintained their “proof” narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that these issues are reserved solely for our Republican brethren; I understand that misogyny, sexual harassment and predatory behavior exists with men everywhere. I just think that the Republican mindset provides a much more open home that welcomes men (and shockingly many women as well) who believe that the degradation of women is okay, and that perhaps it’s how Jesus would have wanted it. It is—of course—wrong and despicable.
I am guessing that there are women with whom I share some history who have an old memory of me as somebody who have made them feel sexually uncomfortable or uneasy in their past. I sincerely hope that I have evolved well past any of my uninformed and oblivious perspectives that I may have embodied when I was a young man. If there are any old friends who remember me in that sort of light, I would like to extend an apology to you. If you have ever been made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable due to anything I’ve said or done, I am sorry. Sincerely.
So in all of this, my (rhetorical) question is how do we, as men, raise our male children to grow up viewing the world through a lens of respect and dignity towards their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters? I don’t ever want my son to think that it’s appropriate to abuse, demean, intimidate or harass women or girls, no matter how subtle that behavior might manifest. I presume that he is mindful and conscious with his interactions and I hope that he thinks of himself as a feminist. If you consider the notion of being male and being feminist as an offensive idea, then you are perhaps a part of the problem.