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.