“To unapologetically ignite, and together, rise”
In September, I wrote an article about the “red zone” phenomenon at colleges and universities across the United States. In brief, the term “red zone” refers to the fact that 50 percent of all sexual assaults that occur on college and university campuses each year do so during the first four months of the school year: August, September, October, and November. Look, I’ll be the first to say that sexual assault offers a recurring topic to the articles I write for “1972.” I wholeheartedly believe that there are many (myself included) who think “1972” could do a better job of living up to its founding purpose: to represent a diversity of social justice issues, faced to varying degrees by our students and the general world population. In light of the recent events that brought Harvey Weinstein’s crimes to the surface, though, I raise the following question:
Do I really have a choice except to write about these things?
I have no doubt that those who read this column will have heard about the charges raised against Harvey Weinstein. In brief, several brave women have come forward in the last month to attest to the crimes Harvey Weinstein committed against them, ranging from sexual misconduct to rape. We must first and foremost honor the strength of these women. We must also, though, have a conversation about sexual assault.
Let’s talk about Harvey Weinstein, but, more importantly, let’s talk about a culture that allows, forgives, and shelters the Harvey Weinsteins of this world; a society where a slew of nondisclosure agreements can still translate to a 25-million-dollar contract extension by a knowing network. Let’s talk about Bill Cosby, Casey Affleck, Bill O’Reilly, Roman Polanski (and that Weinstein defended Polanski in 2009). Let’s talk about non-disclosure agreements and the under-reporting of sexual misconduct in the California state Senate. Let’s talk about the significance of the People of the State of California v. Brock Allen Turner court decision, and the culture that surrounded Chris Savino (of Nickelodeon) threatening his victims with potential blacklisting. Let’s talk about the fact that I had no shortage of names and things to add to that list above.
And when we talk, what will be our reaction? Will we wryly shake our heads as we conclude that “not all men” assault women?
In the days following the break of the Harvey Weinstein story, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the following: “Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem…If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Milano was referring to a movement started by Tarana Burke in 2007, who began the “me too” cry to “let young women of color who survive sexual assault know that they are not alone.” As of October 16, 2017, more than 500,000 women had responded to Milano’s original tweet, identifying themselves as victims of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault and sharing their stories or simply tweeting “me too.”
If I got a dollar each time I heard someone say, “As a father of daughters” or, “as a brother to sisters” every time they talked about sexual assault, I would have enough to pay off everyone’s student loans. Why is it that our society dictates a sort of qualifier required to take a stand against crimes of sexual assault— an invisible social preclusion of gender that somehow excuses men from the conversation? Why does the language that descries sexual assault so often specify a connection to women to emphasize that sexual assault should not occur? Sexual assault should be damnable without the fact that everyone “has a mother,” “has a girlfriend,” or “has a female friend.”
It is ever-critical we address the issue of sexual assault and the conversation surrounding sexual assault because of the sobering fact that most (almost all, relatively speaking) of the “me too” hash-tagged posts were not detailing stories about Harvey Weinstein. They were speaking of attacks from the regular creeps, committed by the average Joe. Just as we must condemn Weinstein, we must condemn the virulent perpetrators, complicit ideologies, and rape culture that precedes all violence against women.
1) “Fox knew of Bill O’Reilly harassment settlement before renewing contract” CBS News, October 21st, 2017, (10/31/2017), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/21st-century-fox-knew-of-bill-oreilly-settlement-before-renewing-contract/
2) “Outcry Over Polanski’s Detention,” BBC, September 29th, 2009, (10/31/2017), http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8277886.stm.
3) Jess Bidgood, Miriam Jordan and Adam Nagourney, “Sexual Misconduct in California’s Capitol Is Difficult to Escape” The New York Times, October 29th, 2017, (10/31/2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/us/sacramento-sexual-harassment-california.html.
4) Debra Birnbaum, “Fired Nick Showrunner Chris Savino Responds to Sexual Harassment Allegations: ‘I Am Deeply Sorry’ (EXCLUSIVE)” Variety, October 23rd, 2017 (10/31/2017), http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/loud-house-showrunner-chris-savino-sexual-harassment-allegations-1202596465/.
5) Lisa Respers, “#MeToo: Social media flooded with personal stories of assault,” CNN, October 16th, 2017 (accessed 10/31/2017) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tarana-burke-me-too-creator-activist-speaks-out/.
6) Lisa Respers, “#MeToo: Social media flooded with personal stories of assault,” CNN, October 16th, 2017 (accessed 10/31/2017) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tarana-burke-me-too-creator-activist-speaks-out/.
7) Lisa Respers, “#MeToo: Social media flooded with personal stories of assault,” CNN, October 16th, 2017 (accessed 10/31/2017) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tarana-burke-me-too-creator-activist-speaks-out/.