Moving Beyond Easy Outrage

Feeling outrage at the actions of someone we don’t know is easy. Take Harvey Weinstein. He has become the poster child for disgusting, for rapist, for predator. When a man is accused of doing something slightly less vile, we are thankful it wasn’t at the “Weinstein level” because that is atrocious.

This is easy outrage. This is the “woke,” “correct,” outrage and it doesn’t necessarily require you to sacrifice anything. It’s often the outrage you can express to your friends and feel good about yourself because you landed on the right side. But #MeToo is not just another news story. People you know and love are living it everyday. These stories are slippery and they move beyond the hypothetical and into our living rooms, into our relationships.

It seems to me that many well-intentioned people do not know how to be an ally to survivors when it gets personal. Many of us have wrestled with this without realizing it. It’s in those moments when we sit around asking each other whether we can support artist X despite of what he did to Y because he sort of apologized and we really like his art and hasn’t he suffered enough?

I am so sick of having this conversation. I’m not going to give you a morality pass or help you feel less guilty. If you’re going to support a rapist, you probably should feel guilty. I am over mourning the lost art of a man who sexually harassed or assaulted a woman. I want to know what art and contributions we’ve lost because of what X did to Y. We so easily sweep aside the latter and obsess about the former. It’s enraging. I’m done talking about the other side. I’ve lost too much.

To be an ally, you may need to sacrifice something of your own. That might be a relationship that you deem beneficial to your career or a friendship that you value. It’s unfortunate that in this social media era, many survivors are at least peripherally connected to the person who assaulted them. This is certainly true for me and it’s hard to miss when someone who has purported to be an ally supports the man who raped me.

At first, I was confused about the message this sends. I slipped back into the narrative that they don’t believe me. Then I realized that it’s not necessarily that they don’t believe me — it’s that they don’t care. This is the same message the Senate Judiciary Committee sent to Dr. Ford and it completely hallows out my soul. For some, periphery to power is still more important than doing the right thing when the chips are down.

If you believe a survivor but don’t value her story, you are telling her that she survived an attack on her body for naught. That physical pain she felt the next day and the bruises — they don’t matter. The body memories that surge through her and remind her that she was violently raped — they don’t matter either. Telling us that this violence and violation don’t matter is telling us that our lives do not matter. Rape is an attack on a person’s bodily autonomy and it completely shatters the survivor’s sense of self. When describing her gang rape in her Netflix special, “Nanette,” Hannah Gadsby said, “ It would have been more humane to just take me out to the back paddock and put a bullet in my head …” I also believe that this would have been more humane. The suffering would have been much less.

There are so many things about the effects of sexual violence that I cannot put into words. It’s a lived reality, an experience that only we understand. Survivors spend years, decades, reckoning with the symptoms and the aftermath. None of it is linear or direct, but it permeates everything. Only the survivor really knows all the violent details and we live with them everyday. This is an incredibly isolating reality and this is why we need allies who are actively trying to understand.

As a white woman, I try to be an active ally, and I will still get shit wrong. I will keep trying and I will keep listening to disenfranchised groups because their truths matter. I can’t emotionally understand their perspective because I have not lived their stories. But I will do everything I can to raise them up and fight against the systems that have oppressed them. I will stop supporting companies that feed their oppression. I will call out racism when I see it. I will challenge my own beliefs and assumptions. I will stop supporting the oppressor.

Survivors need this, too. We need you to be outraged about what happened to the survivor you know, not just the ones you don’t. We need you to understand the systemic oppression of sexual violence. We need you to stop supporting the oppressors and elevate and support those who have suffered at their hands. We need you to hear our stories — really listen to them. Ask us questions, try to understand what it is like to live with these memories. We need you to carry them with you, because we can’t do it alone. This may require sacrifice, but that is what being a true ally demands of all of us.

Finding Hope and What Kavanaugh Reveals About #MeToo

In the aftermath of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, I feel like I can sense the collective pain of women swirling around me. This is a traumatic moment, but it is also an educational one. It has taken me some time, but I have found perspective and, yes – hope.

I think it’s really important to remember that we tested #MeToo in one of the most politicized moments in our nation’s history and the fight was over a Supreme Court seat. Mitch McConnell already broke this process in 2016 when he refused to hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. At the time, this breakage of the norm was unprecedented, and Democrats didn’t know how to push back. We still don’t. Now it’s 2018, and any sense of “normal” is long gone.

We can’t dismiss this context. If Kavanaugh had been nominated for a different powerful position, I believe that we might have won. We didn’t and it’s enraging and now we are stuck with Kavanaugh ruling over our bodies for a generation. The analogy writes itself.

Some Powerful Women Are Getting it Right

In searching for something to hold onto, I have watched videos of Democratic female elected officials speak about Kavanaugh and what strikes me most is their passion and their anger. More than almost any other political issue, apart from the internment of immigrant children, I can see fire in their eyes. They are finally expressing the solidarity and rage and understanding that I have wanted to see from powerful women since I was a teenager. They are not doing this because it is necessarily politically expedient — just ask Heidi Heitcamp. They are doing this because #MeToo is working.

Lessons from the Hearings

The Kavanaugh story reveals what I see as some of the necessary next steps for #MeToo. First, it highlights that we do not have a collective understanding about what trauma does to the brain. If we did, the story of Dr. Ford’s testimony would be a different one. Her gaps in memory would not be a reason to doubt her; they would be evidence of her trauma. To many Americans, though, this leads to one, simple conclusion: She’s lying.

This leads me to my second point. Though I have tried to insulate myself from the hate being spewed from the right, one thing I can’t let go of is the charge that Dr. Ford should have provided evidence to prove her accusations. On a very basic level, we need to understand that in most sexual assault and rape cases, there isn’t any evidence.

More importantly, though, Dr. Ford is the evidence. This is a truth that all survivors have to reckon with: Their bodies became a crime scene and their reaction to the trauma is the evidence. The symptoms are different for everyone, but it tells the story. My fears and triggers are specific to what has happened to me. Dr. Ford’s are, too.

In her questioning of Dr. Ford, Rachel Mitchell seemed to understand this. When she asked Dr. Ford about her fear of flying, she was recognizing that she has psychological damage as a result of what Kavanaugh did to her. By the end of that line of questioning, Dr. Ford testified that she flew to Washington for the hearing and that she has flown a lot in her life. The implication, and conclusion for many, was that this isn’t a real symptom of trauma. That conclusion is wrong. Everyday in a survivor’s life, there is a moment of overcoming a symptom. Dr. Ford flying to Washington to testify was just that. An overcoming.

This story also reveals that the onus for tearing down the oppression of sexual violence is still on the oppressed. Dr. Ford had to bare her soul in front of the entire country, the world, and relive the worst moment of her life. She said that the second most traumatic was that moment — when she had to testify about what happened to her.

This needs to change. Survivors should not be required to relive every violent detail of their violation for the correct course of action to take place.

Finally: White women. You believe that your proximity to white men serves you. It gives you more money. It gives you more safety. It gives more power. You also see your husbands and your sons in the eyes of Brett Kavanaugh. Here’s the thing, though. Most men are not predators. If you admit that Dr. Ford’s testimony was credible, you are not condemning your husband or your father or your son. You are condemning Brett Kavanaugh. Period. We need you in this fight.

This is a Bend in the Story

Kavanaugh didn’t ruin #MeToo. This is a really dark moment in what will be a generation-long fight. Remember that without the women who told their stories about Bill Cosby and Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein, we wouldn’t have a Dr. Ford and a Brett Kavanaugh. We lost this one, and it hurts. A whole fucking lot. But we can ground ourselves in the fact that the majority of the country still believes us and thinks that what happened to us matters. Stay mad. Stay loud. Keep fighting.

Reflections on #MeToo

This was originally published on Medium on December 1, 2017.

For the last month, I have tried to allow myself the luxury of imagining what this world will look like post #MeToo. I’ve envisioned this country as one where my daughter, if I have one, will be genuinely and innocently confused about why we allowed this epidemic to last for so long. I’ve written her life without a single #MeToo moment. It’s a picture of clarity and freedom that I wish I could have lived myself.

Throughout this process, I have also tried countless times to write down my thoughts/visions/insights but I have been struck either incoherent or speechless each time. I realized that this is partly because it’s too painful and emotional for my brain to also be logical and analytical. It’s also because #MeToo is *so huge* that I: (1) don’t want us to fuck it up and (2) feel so completely overwhelmed that I stop talking. I don’t want to ever forget this moment and I don’t want us to lose the momentum. Will this be the end of violence against women? Will it actually be possible for our daughters not to know the impact of sexual violence? We don’t know yet. And that’s what is so fucking terrifying. There is too much at stake for us to fail.

I’m rambling, so I will get to the point. Instead of writing something that will contribute to the scholarship of this revolution, I’m going to attempt to provide an emotional perspective because I’m afraid that in the politicization of this movement, it may get drowned out by the noise. If this happens, we have lost the thread. When you are having conversations with friends and relatives about #MeToo, remember this.

Remember that on the other side of a news alert about public figure X being fired for “sexual misconduct,” there are likely multiple women who have suffered because of X’s abusive behavior. I’ve seen memes — at which I have admittedly laughed out loud — going around that depict a text message exchange where someone texts just the name of a famous man to a friend and the response is, “dead or rapist?” This captures the absurdly common event of sexual violence, sure. But the weight of this truth is simultaneously eclipsed by the humor of the image. It invalidates the importance of each woman’s story by allowing us to forget the impacts of the perpetrator.

I can’t possibly impart to you in words how difficult it is to heal from sexual violence. For one thing, it’s different for everyone. And for another, it requires more than facts and descriptions. It’s baring one’s soul to the night. It’s allowing yourself to delve deep into the dark, secret pieces of your story that you’ve had to hide from yourself and the world and *choosing* to feel its entire weight on your heart. There aren’t words to convey either the pain or the truth of this process. It just is. I wish that I could say something like, “it’s only the little things in my life that have changed,” but that would be a lie.

So when the next news alert about the next powerful man being fired from the next powerful job comes in the next 24 hours — remember this.

Remember that each time you are grappling with whether to support the art or work of a man who has been accused of sexual assault or harassment, there are women whose own art, whatever form it may take, has been at the very least stifled, at the worst destroyed by what he has done to her. Rape changes a person forever. If we are lucky, we come out on the other side a stronger, but different person, than we were before. I understand that it’s hard to watch icons fall. It’s even harder to never get the chance to climb that high because of what an icon did to you.

Remember that the term “sexual misconduct” includes rape and sexual assault, and does not only refer to sexual harassment. #MeToo encompassing both is, as I see it, a double-edged sword. I understand the why and I understand the because — it’s easier to talk about sexual assault and rape if it’s attached to something more digestable. Coining the term “sexual misconduct” was the media (read: powerful men) finding an easy and vague way to talk about these stories without saying the words rape or assault where applicable. Well done. PLEASE: If you are referring to sexual assault and rape, stop calling it sexual misconduct.

If we want this moment to sustain, we have to be really fucking honest about the details, even if they are ugly. Rape and sexual assault are not “misconduct.” They are, inherently and by definition, offensive and violent. Period. I know that the word rape is uncomfortable. We have collectively avoided using it and looked away when someone wants to talk about it — I’ve seen it all and I’ve seen it my whole life. #MeToo demands more of you.

My hope is that with #MeToo, we can have conversations about the impact of rape and sexual assault on survivors. #MeToo is not just about speaking the facts of our truth. It’s also about speaking the truth in our story. And for every survivor I know, this is the hardest part. This truth is in the not knowing how different, and how much easier, your life would be if you had never been raped. There aren’t words for this either.

Remember to be gentle with survivors, both the ones you know and the ones who are speaking publicly about their experiences. This movement is exhausting and I don’t think I am alone in feeling skeptical and tentative. Being a survivor has been defined by keeping our stories to ourselves. More often than not, if we spoke up before #MeToo, we were ignored or told to stay quiet. This framework has been in place for millennia, which means it’s dated and hideous, but it’s also familiar. My reaction to being raped in law school might have been different if I was raped in 2025. For the women who were violated before #MeToo, give us time. This is a new context in which to understand our suffering. Forgive us if we aren’t ready to believe that the structures that kept us silent and afraid are suddenly gone — they’re not. Not yet.

The Breaking Point of Silence

This post was originally published on Medium on October 12, 2017

I am sitting in my office, head in hands, eyes closed, because I am simultaneously exhausted and enraged. As a rape survivor who has tried and failed to claw my way to justice, the Weinstein story demands that I speak in unison with the women he assaulted.

I can take time here to list my PTSD symptoms and tell you how my life and my soul have been indelibly marked by what I have survived. I can try my best to impart on you how difficult it is to heal from sexual violence. I can also tell you that my rape was likely a hate crime based on my sexual orientation. I’ve already told this story, but I will do it again if it will help. The problem is that it won’t. We (women, survivors) have been telling this story for decades, and while there has been progress, we (mostly men) continue to be shocked at the rampant sexual assault and harassment revelations that rock the media. It feels like every new story is the first time we’ve heard about violence against women. The learning curve isn’t steep. This is objectively straight forward. It is the silent response that allows this issue to remain confusing and misunderstood.

Social scientists who are smarter than me are penning articles right now about toxic masculinity and how to break down our societal norms. All I can say is this: I need this to be the breaking point. I’ve thought this before when the (insert name of powerful man being accused of sexual assault/harassment by countless women here) story broke. But quite frankly, with a rapist in the White House, I think the silence might finally crush me if we can’t shatter it with our collective voice.

It will be six years on December 2nd that I was raped in my own apartment for two and a half hours. He was my law school colleague and my clinic partner. For three months, we worked side by side defending our client. I didn’t trust him. He had made some unwanted comments about my appearance. But in an effort to maintain my professionalism and my safety, I laughed it off and marched on. I had been sexually harassed before and had learned that if I stayed quiet, I might escape unscathed. Women learn at a young age how to navigate the often dangerous world of unwanted overtures.

Towards the end of my last semester, I finally confided in a friend what happened. The truth was eating away at me and I felt like it had taken off an entire layer of skin, leaving me blistered, bloody, and exposed. I could barely get out of bed in the morning. I sometimes fantasized about jumping in front of the metro.

The next three months passed in a blur. The main substances I put in my body were alcohol and nicotine. I lost at least ten pounds. I was ill. Trying to write down the turmoil I was in won’t do it justice. Each day, the front of a train looked even more appealing. I wanted to advocate for myself and tell my story, but I was terrified of the consequences. I spent weeks agonizing over every decision. In the end, I decided to report the rape to the law school, the police, and the DC Bar Committee on Admissions. I sought justice in every corner we are socialized to look. But I came up empty.

For the last five years, I have lived in California with my incredible spouse and I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life. I left DC for my sanity, but I have managed to start over and create a more beautiful life than I knew was possible.

For the last five years, I have also watched from afar while my law school put the man who raped me on a pedastol. He has mentored law students. He has received awards for his advocacy. He has been interviewed multiple times by the dean. Each time I learned about his involvement, I sent an email to the law school asking why they had disregarded my story in such a callous manner. Each time, the dean ignored me.

The injustice in stories like mine does not end with the analysis that that these men continue to live their lives unscathed — though I have shed many tears over this cruel reality. Even deeper than this, is that I am ignored. This silence tells me that what happened doesn’t matter. Or worse, it is implying that it didn’t happen at all.

I am not exaggerating when I say that survivors have chosen to take their own lives because of messages like this.

I keep trying to change it. I keep trying to be heard. But I keep failing. And every time I do, I feel like a victim all over again. What are my options? I can do what they want and stay quiet. Or, I can keep poking with the understanding that I may never change a single thing. Go to hell or dance with the devil — those are my options.

This has to change.

The epidemic of silence around sexual harassment and assault is nearly as painful as the crime itself. Worse, this silence allows it to continue with such frequency, that I guarantee every woman you know has a story to tell. Ask the women in your life if they’ve ever encountered someone like Weinstein, and they will roll their eyes and ask how much time you have. This isn’t just a Hollywood problem. This is a societal problem. Weinstein is doing us a favor. He is holding a mirror up to society and saying, “Hey, this is how you get away with it. If you have enough power, people will look the other way and stay silent.”

Sound familiar?

I am begging you to speak. If you have a story to tell and you feel safe, share it. If you have children, teach them about consent early and often. If you have a friend who has been harassed or assaulted, reach out to them and ask how they are faring. I can’t tell you how much validation that will give them.

And for the love of humanity, intervene if you witness behavior that could possibly be harassing or assaulting. It feels trite and painfully obvious, but, to borrow from the public safety phrase: “If you see something, say something.” I guess that’s where we are.