Ok, darlings… Buckle up this one’s going to be bumpy.
I’m going to talk about rape, harassment, feminism and grown assed women. That’s enough to make grown men cry….
In the past several weeks, you may have seen the media feeding frenzy surrounding Harvey Weinstein, his money and his stunning willingness to abuse his position and threaten everything he holds dear in order to get just one. more. orgasm. from. a. strange. pussy. He’s this month’s version of Anthony Wiener, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer….. The parade of diddlers and gropers and rapists and abusers goes on.
I am always amazed by what men will risk for an orgasm.
But I’m not really here to talk about Harvey. Or men like him. As you know, I am here to talk about grown assed women.
Specifically, I’m here to talk about all the women who are now, many years after the fact, popping up to say that they, too, suffered from being hit on (or worse) by Harvey. And I’m here to talk about all the other women who are popping up to talk about the other men who have hit on them (or worse) at some point in the past and to explain why they waited until now to say something about it. I’m talking about the women who now say, sometimes after 30 years, that Bill Cosby raped them. Or some other powerful guy propositioned them or hit on them at some point in either the near or distant past. You can find them on Twitter and Facebook at #metoo.
And that, my dears, is my problem. And I am going to suggest to you that putting up with abuse, no matter how we define it, is every woman’s problem. #metoo was started to raise awareness of men’s poor behavior but what it shouted out to me was an awareness of how many women have put up with this crap to a greater or lesser extent and the willingness of those women to now discuss their experiences.
But let me back up.
Before we talk about sexual abuse, how do we define it – or re-define it – as the case may be?
The definition that seems to be the going fad is the one that defines the “rape culture” that we all live in. Under this definition, sexual abuse is defined so broadly that you’d be hard pressed to find ANY woman in America who cannot say, on some level, that she has been victimized by sexual predation. Under this definition, I am a victim. I’ve been hit on, touched, followed. Disgusting, dirty, entitled and drunk men have all hit on me at some point or another. One guy in college walked past me on a dark street and jumped at me just to scare me and then snickered as he walked off. Once while I was jogging in law school a guy stripped naked and flashed me. Hell, I’ve got a stalker from way back. This, I think, makes me a victim by some definitions. But I don’t feel like a victim and I refuse to identify myself as such.
On the other hand, there are those who define rape and sexual abuse in more narrow terms. We all know that too many women (one is too many) have been raped and brutalized by men. Many women’s lives have been smashed by sexual violence or sexually predatory behavior, including sexual harassment and retaliation in the work place. Some women recover. Some don’t. Some let the violence define them and some don’t.
While I might live in a “rape” culture – I am not a victim of violence under the second definition and to claim that what I have experienced rises to the same level is, I think, disrespectful to the suffering of women who have suffered from a nightmare that I can’t speak to.
The difference is that in every instance of my own experience, I have had the power to do something about that guy. Women who have been raped don’t have the power . But if a guy like Harvey says “do ya wanna?” and you say “no and I’ll be leaving now” – unless he tanks your movie or somehow retaliates for the “no” then are you really a victim? He tried. You said no. Its over. It was 20 years ago…. Why are you suddenly a victim? Is he gross? Is he a letch? Should he know how to act better? Yes to all three. But ARE YOU A VICTIM?
I’m just not willing to accept a definition of rape or sexual abuse that assumes as its premise that so many grown assed women don’t have a voice or a brain or a backbone to say no. This applies to those who allege coercion, confusion, duress, little girl fears of being called not nice and those who get so voluntarily drunk that they can’t remember what happened to them or even remember if they consented. If you’re wasted and he’s wasted, why is he supposed to bear the burden or punishment for the drunk decisions that you both make? In these instances, the women on the receiving end have power that they either don’t or won’t use and responsibility that they don’t want or won’t admit.
Yeah – I told you – bumpy.
So here’s the thing that almost nobody wants to say out loud: In so many, if not most circumstances, we put up with this crap no matter how broadly or how narrowly its defined. We put up with the leering. We put up with the unwanted touches. We put up with the whistles, the catcalls and the guys who hit on us one minute and then call us a fucking bitch when we say “Get lost.” We put up with it every time a woman who is raped takes a shower and doesn’t report it. We put up with it every time we don’t call a rapist for what he is. We put up with stuff that we have the power (yes, power) to stop.
In order to explain this overwhelming female response to overwhelming bad (if not criminal) male behavior, women’s groups talk about fear. They talk about shame. They talk about feelings of worthlessness. They talk about women’s voicelessness and the abuse of the powerless. They talk about how society teaches us not to speak up. And to drive the point home, they offer to prove the pervasiveness of the problem while continuing to support the conspiracy of silence. How? By hand holding and hugs and tearful speeches every time one of us decides, years after the act, to pipe up and say #metoo.
But are we powerless? Are we voiceless? Is this really a “them v. us” thing? I’m not fucking powerless. I refuse to identify myself as a person who is powerless.
I’m not a little girl who needs to be protected by men. By the law? Yes.
Men and the law are not the same thing, are they?
Make no mistake, when women’s groups and cultural protestors talk about rape and abuse and rape culture and how “we” have to end it, the underlying demand is not for “us” to end it, its for “them” – the “men” who are not apparently “powerless” and who ought to be taking care of us from their exalted and unshakable positions of privilege, strength and power. The “somebody” who ought to put a stop to it, they say, is men. And I think that’s bullshit. The somebody is us, the time is now and the opportunity arises every single time some sleezeball touches you when he doesn’t have permission.
Joan Didion – intellectual and feminist dilettante though some claim she is – argued that the great success of the women’s movement was to classify women as a “minority”. And she pointed out then (rightly, I think) that we’re not. Women are not a minority and we are not powerless. We’re half of the population and we have as much potential economic, political and intellectual power as the other half of the population (i.e. men). I, for one, am sick of asking men to look out for our needs or to “give” us what they take for themselves without thought. Women deserve equality and parity because we’re human beings, not because some guy or group of guys should be more benevolent and we’re too weak or too powerless to get it ourselves. We not only deserve – but HAVE -equal protection under the law and we need to point that out at every opportunity.
In short, we need to start acting like grown assed women.
Now – some of my feminist leanings (maybe most of them) come from how I was raised. Maybe some come from my intrinsic nature. Maybe it’s just that I am so steeped in hillbilly culture – a culture where women have been known to get even – that I have never consented to see my life as a woman as less. I have never thought that being a woman made me a minority. My voice isn’t less. My intellect isn’t less. My gender isn’t less. My intrinsic nature as a woman – whatever it may be – is not less than a man’s.
So how does this work? An example:
When I was a very young lawyer I attended a dinner thrown by the local Bar, of which I am required to be a member. It is a professional requirement.
Anyway, I was at this dinner of colleagues. I was 26. Also attending this dinner was a judge before whom I had to appear regularly. Judge was drunk. Really drunk. I was not. Judge was inappropriate. Really inappropriate. As in touching me, following me around – a full on rush job. Over and over I deflected him, ignored him, and moved away from him – only to be followed. Did I mention that I was the only female lawyer there? No other men intervened to say anything to him. They pretended it wasn’t going on.
Ladies…. nobody was coming to save me.
Nobody (as in no men) was willing to call this guy out at the risk of getting on his bad side. He was a powerful man surrounded by sycophants and I was a 26 year old woman – alone.
When we sat down to eat, Judge took the chair opposite of me at a table that seated 4. He continued to pester me during salad and the speech and after dinner was served he said “Hey, Tonya”. I looked across the table at this sloppy drunk middle aged man (with a wife and three children at home) and was greeted with the sight of him simulating oral sex on his dinner roll. Did I mention that at the time he was spending all his sober time trying to get appointed to the federal bench? That he was a Republican? Those conservative saviors of America who are all about straight sex, God and family values?
So anyway, when confronted with his tongue and this spectacle – in that split second – I stopped cutting my steak and put my right elbow on the table, leaned toward him to look him dead in the face and pointed my steak knife right at him. And then I told him – in no uncertain terms – that I had had ALL that I was going to put up with from him that night and forevermore. He jumped up and ran away at that point, while the other two male lawyers at my table just seemed embarrassed – for him and themselves, not for me – and continued to eat and pretend none of it had happened.
(Kinda like George Clooney and Matt Damon and all the rest of the “good guys” who are now crawling out to express their horror at Harvey – but I digress).
Anyway, I finished my dinner and left as soon as possible. I cried all the way home and all weekend because I *knew* that this judge would ruin or try to ruin my career. Despite this fear, I did not regret what I’d done. As far as I was concerned, come what may, I had handled the situation the only way I knew how. And if he made more trouble, I resolved to fight him. It was all I knew to do because I knew that my parents (including my darling Daddy) didn’t raise me to be treated that way – they didn’t raise me to put up with mistreatment, with disrespect. They didn’t raise me so I could let some man I didn’t really know abuse and hurt me. And because of this, I decided in that split second, that I was not going to be this man’s victim.
On Monday morning, the senior partner at my firm called me into his office, grinning like a Cheshire cat. He wanted to know how the dinner was (he did not attend) and when I demurred (because I had sworn to myself that it was handled and over with and I would not discuss it) he kept pressing. Finally, I said “Well….”
After I said “Well,” he interrupted me and said, “Sit down in that chair and let me tell you about my Saturday morning.”
Apparently Judge had called Partner’s house and after discovering Partner wasn’t home, went out looking for him throughout the town in order to confess his sins. Partner said to me, while laughing, “Honey, I don’t know what you said to him but I ain’t ever seen that man with his tail tucked so far between his legs.” Later that day, Judge came to my office and sincerely apologized for his behavior and I accepted his apology. After that, we had a very collegial relationship. I never won a case or lost a case as the result of any of this. I dealt with it – directly. He apologized. My career did not suffer. I would not feel any compulsion to now arise against him and point out something that happened more than 20 years ago.
So my point is, if women want “rape culture” to change, then women have to start putting a stop to it – in its tracks. Women have to stop waiting until years later, protected by the passage of time and the sorority of the #metoo chorus and call these men out now. On the spot. Slap them, report them, have them arrested, deal with them.
Deal. With. Them.
Did you ever wonder how the guy who is hitting on you in line at the grocery store would behave if you ever-so-sweetly took out your cell phone, dialed 911 and said “Yes. I’d like to report that I am being assaulted and harassed at Harris Teeter. Please send help and notify the store to have their security officer detain this man until you arrive. I am ready to press charges.” Did you ever wonder what would happen to the rape rate if women took control of legislatures and the punishment for being convicted of rape was to have the offending penis just chopped the fuck off? Oh, there would be a great, pouting and scandalized uprising by men who were being called on the carpet….
And one more thing. And this is where Myaim Bialik got sideways… and I may, too.
Because I refuse to see myself and other women as powerless victims, I’m going to say out loud what I intimated earlier and that is this: Ladies, we’ve got some responsibility here.
Yes. We are also responsible for letting these men get away with this crap. And you cannot be a grown assed woman unless or until you start taking responsibility and that means responsibility for not using the power that you have.
When you scroll down your Twitter feed or your Facebook feed or your Instagram feed and see all the #metoos, you can see the magnitude of the problem. You can see how many women have had the experience of unwanted sexual advances. You can see how many women have let it slide.
And I’m going to suggest, dear ladies, in the name of all that is good and holy and feminist and by swearing on Gloria Steinem’s hallowed bunny outfit that those tweets need to stop saying #metoo and start saying #notme.