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.