In which I decide I need to SAY IT AGAIN.

I woke up thinking about rape again (the way one does) and pondering my favorite insomnia-producing question: “What does it take to get people to believe rape survivors?”

Which is a variation on another question I think about, any time my blood pressure threatens to drop below aneurysm-inducing levels: “Why don’t men believe women?” The issues are related, not because men are never victims or women are never assailants, but because — okay, that’s for another post on another day. (And if you’re truly confused about the connection between rape culture and misogyny/sexism, well…you may wanna pause here to take a few deep, grounding breaths before reading on.)

#YesAllWomen, according to #NotAllMen
#YesAllWomen, according to #NotAllMen

I mean, How Very Nice that Heisman Trophy winner, top NFL pick, and accused rapist Jameis Winston is now giving inspiring speeches to middle schoolers, but wouldn’t it have been even nicer if the Tallahassee Police Department had believed the young woman who came to them 2½ years ago — and told them she had been raped only an hour earlier?

A full and timely investigation might have, at the very least, spared young Jameis the embarrassment of publicly claiming that being falsely accused of rape is a violent act of victimization equivalent to being raped oneself. (Yeah — but no, Jameis. Just no.)

[“YEAH-BUT-NO TO YOU, ALICE!” yells the strawman rape denier/enabler in my head. “IT’S ALL ‘HE SAID-SHE SAID’! WHY SHOULDN’T I BE SKEPTICAL! IT’S NOT LIKE THERE’S SOME LIST OF CASES DOCUMENTING A SIGNIFICANT AND LONG-STANDING PATTERN OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYERS HAVING A DICEY GRASP ON WHAT ‘CONSENTING ADULTS ONLY’ MEANS!”

Um. Here ya go, Strawman Rape Denier. (And thank you, Jessica Luther, for making my job so much easier!)]

Just keeping you informed about my upcoming intentions.
Just keeping you informed about my intentions.

What does it take for people to believe survivors? I ask again. While Bill Cosby may present an extreme case, the violent aggression and entitlement that supported his predatory behavior occurred not in the unknowable cesspool of a single diseased mind (well — not only) but within a set of cultural norms that encourage and protect such acts, especially for celebrities. [And before you even open your mouth, Strawman Rape Denier, two words: DARREN. SHARPER.]


What follows is a piece I wrote back in November, when 14 women had already accused Cosby of drugging and raping (or attempting to rape) them — yet fourteen she said‘s was still not enough, in some people’s eyes, to outweigh a single he said.

The number of women has now reached more than 40, and only the most die-hard “my head’s in the sand cos THAT’S WHERE I LIKE IT” folks are still supporting Cosby (or, at least, supporting his ongoing stand-up tour). But where was the tipping point? Between one woman saying — and fourteen women saying — and forty women saying — when was it enough she said‘ing for most people to believe?

Maybe you can help me understand?

Here, let’s try this. I’ll pour — and you say when:

He said

vs.

She said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said / she said …


I’m only gonna say this once, so LISTEN CLOSELY.

[TW for discussion of sexual assault. Most of these links, too, I’m betting. Also: adult language.]


Didja hear about the rape/sexual assault/incest allegations that have been raised about your beloved actor-slash-TV dad/singer/writer/other writer’s husband/other actor-slash-TV dad/director/other director/radio personality? And when you did, whom did you believe?

If you gave credence to the survivors, then we’re good. You can sit this one out. You’re not who I’m talking to.

If, on the other hand, you found yourself thinking, “Wow, I sure hope that’s not true. Of course, there’s no real way to know, so best to remain skeptical. Maybe there was just some miscommunicationI have a lot of questions for those people claiming to have been attacked. I mean, they hardly behaved like Real Victims™. And how terrible for him, if he’s being falsely accused. I’m stumped…but there does seem to be some ‘palpable bitchery’ going onI mean, why didn’t they just speak up at the time? They shoulda reported that to the police, if it really happened. ‘Innocent before proven guilty’ and all…” –I have one message for you:

STFU.

This obviously goes double for any of you who have previously expressed the opinion that drugging a 13yo girl before sodomizing her unconscious body doesn’t qualify as ‘rape-rape.’ (In fact, if you work for The View — especially if your name starts with the letter “Whoopi” — I’m gonna suggest your producer should just install a mega-mute button s/he can use on you any time you start to open your mouth about these types of allegations.)

Please also — for the love of all gods alive and dead — resist any urge you might have to explain to a survivor how she could have avoided being assaulted if she had just remembered to bite the guy’s dick off.

If you preside over one of the most visible anti-sexual violence networks in the country and you feel the need for investigative journalists to dig around for more victims before you’re willing to stand with the 14+ who have already come forward, please STFU. If you’re also the man who previously allowed your organization to go on the record as doubting that ‘rape culture’ contributes to assaults (scare quotes are yours, BTW) on college campuses, could ya go the extra step and make sure someone fires your ass? Kthxbai.

You wanna abdicate holding any opinion on the grounds that it’s all just ‘he said/she said’? Has it escaped your notice that most of the time, it’s actually a case of “he said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said”?

Go read this. Then STFU.

If thinking about how much this man’s work means (or has meant) to you, how hard it would be to give that all up if you acknowledge the likelihood that your beloved celebrity is also a predator — in fact, if you thought anything less thanArt is nothing compared to humanity, nothing at all” — please STFU.

(Same rule applies for anyone who actually knows the celebrity in question, obvi.)

If you find yourself feeling dubious every time one of these situations hits the news, ask yourself: how many victims have you ever listened to closely? Or are you really responding out of wide-spread cultural myths?

There are recognizable patterns to how people who have been assaulted process and describe their experiences. (Ditto for the approximately 2-out-of-100 allegations that are false.) If you don’t know what those are, then make a point to learn them–or please just STFU and sit this one out. There’s sure to be a non-sexual-assault scandal breaking shortly; you can have ALL THE OPINIONS about that one, I promise.

If you believe the accusations — but only after a man spoke up, and not during all the years when women were telling their own stories — well, okay, you get one pass. Moving forward, couldja maybe stop disbelieving women? Getting treated like we might be sociopathic liars–like, all.the.time.–gets old fast. Seriously old.

Also, own up to your past mistakes. Not sure how? Here’s a model you can follow.

Often, communities will protect members who are also perpetrators, with only word of mouth to warn newcomers about the dangerous “missing stair” (as Cliff Pervocracy terms it) in their midst. If you belong to such a community — and you don’t speak out because (1) you’re not personally at risk and (2) it benefits you not to — congrats! Yes, you’re complicit too!

Please now STFU and do some real soul-searching about that fact, instead of writing egregiously self-excusing articles for Salon.com.

die in this fire

Yes, in such cases, silence is complicity that perpetuates a toxic culture. Not listening to victims who speak out is complicity. As for me, “I know where I stand and why. I know I would rather stand where I stand and eventually be proven wrong than support [an abuser or rapist] and eventually be proven wrong.”

Speaking out can be incredibly risky for victims, even when they weren’t assaulted by someone famous. Survivors have the absolute right to decide for themselves the best way to move forward. Let’s center their needs and experiences for once.

Now if everybody else would please just STFU for a moment…


all .gifs via giphy.com. “This is a fire.” via Mark Reads.

23 thoughts on “In which I decide I need to SAY IT AGAIN.

  1. I agree with pretty much all of this, but one repeated phrase- ‘believe survivors’- doesn’t work for me. It seems like a linguistic logical fallacy- it’s circular. Nobody is going to be against believing survivors, because if they’re survivors, that means their accusation is truthful. I think what you mean to say is ‘believe accusers,’ right?

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    1. It’s a challenging semantic point, isn’t it? Am I choosing the word “believe” first, or the word “survivor/accuser”? Victim, survivor, accuser — each word brings different connotations with it. Context matters for each one, and for each one differently. I use the word “survivor” here as part-and-parcel of starting from belief. I believe (and statistics bear me out) that nearly all people who say they have been raped…have indeed survived sexual trauma.

      The point you raise reminds me of situations that sometimes come up in trials, when a judge may prohibit a witness from using the word “rape” — because whether or not the sexual act that occurred *was* “rape” is precisely what is being adjudicated. Yet requiring the witness to use the word “sex” instead fundamentally challenges and changes what s/he is on the stand to say.

      Thank you for reading, and for your comment!

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      1. Yeah, I struggle with the same thing. Leaving aside the legal example you gave- which is really thought provoking, but mostly just makes me feel frustrated because I can’t come up with a solution that doesn’t feel gross one way or another- I guess the point I was making was more political/tactical. If you tell someone ‘you need to believe survivors,’ even a misogynist is likely to say ‘yeah, of course,’ because the conclusion is embedded in the demand.

        In other words, I understand the political point you’re making, and I wholeheartedly agree with it, but I feel like the language choice actually undermines the impact. I feel like ‘I choose to believe accusers’ is a more powerful statement than ‘I choose to believe survivors’ because the latter feels (from my perspective) safe/neutral/uncontroversial.

        But like I said that’s just how the words sound to my ears, I’m *definitely* not trying to police your language or tell you to change how you talk about these issues; I just thought it raised an interested point, is all. Again, thanks for sharing/posting!

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        1. I appreciate your precision and the strategic issues you’re raising. (Didn’t feel policed, to be clear, though appreciate your precision on that point too.) I must confess to feeling less sanguine that any term, however “neutral,” will be uncontroversial! I have come across too many people for whom any second word in the phrase “rape ________” already arrives under a shadow of suspicion.

          Neutrality aside, “survivor” has plenty of its own issues, too. I’m always aware of how I may be evoking that positivist narrative in which one moves from “victim” to “survivor” and then, ‘yay you! All better now!’ Highly simplistic.

          The problem *my* ear has with “accuser” is how it seems to reinforce the unhelpful antagonistic binary of ‘he said/she said’ (accuser vs. accused) — and it does so in a way that also reverses the agency involved: the “accuser” is now the one doing something unwelcome to the “accused”. If I accuse someone, then I become the active agent (even the aggressor) in our interactions — on a linguistic level, at least.

          No perfect answers ever, of course. I do appreciate the conversation!

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      2. My apologies, I don’t think I did a good job explaining; my *problem* with “I believe survivors” is that it is OVERLY neutral. In other words, because it specifies ‘survivors’ as opposed to ‘people who come forward about being sexually assaulted,’ someone could easily agree with “you should believe survivors” while still continuing to say that women coming forward about sexual assault are lying. The reason I prefer ‘I believe accusers’ is because it is a stronger, LESS neutral/uncontroversial stance. “You should believe survivors” is just saying “you should believe people who are telling the truth,” which everyone already thinks; “you should believe accusers” is saying “you should believe accusers ARE telling the truth, even if you can’t prove it yet.” Again, just to my ears.

        Sorry I’m not writing more clearly, definitely struggling with words a bit.

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    2. In other words, I believe that as feminists/decent human beings, when someone makes an accusation of having been sexually assaulted, we should almost always assume that person is telling the truth (to be clear, I’m talking about private life, not people serving on a jury or anything). That is, I think, a relatively controversial position in our society.

      However, I think if you asked “if someone who has survived sexual assault then claims to have survived sexual assault, should they be believed?” 99.9% of the population would answer yes, regardless of their acceptance of rape myths, sexism, etc, because it’s practically a tautology.

      Really hope I’m not spamming you, I just realized I was having a hard time expressing my point. I appreciate your responses a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s all good! And I do understand the tautology you’re pointing to — I’m just far less optimistic than you that more neutral language leads to significantly less rabid opposition. 🙂
        Thanks again!

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    3. “I’m just far less optimistic than you that more neutral language leads to significantly less rabid opposition.”

      I can’t tell if we’re on the same page- I’m arguing that we should use LESS neutral language, not more.

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      1. “We agree which word is more neutral. We just disagree about whether or not the more neutral word is the better tactical choice.”

        I think ‘survivor’ is more neutral because of nobody is against believing people who are telling the truth. I think ‘accuser’ is less neutral because it means believing people just because they made an accusation. I think in this situation, we should be less neutral.

        Gonna back off now and let some other voices in, sorry for taking up so much of your time.

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  2. I honestly don’t know the answer. All this not believing of rape allegations makes me think of the many incidents when the perpetrator may even be someone close to home- like a beloved family member- and how the fight to deny by those around is often even stronger. There is something cultural and collective going on for sure beyond the misogyny, women blaming, and the needing to keep men on top system that is patriarchy. I think it defies logic which may be one of the reasons the explanations if there are even any don’t make sense.

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    1. I often wonder if the kinds of pervasive denial and inability to see even the obvious that get lumped together and called “rape culture” are reenactments, on a global scale, of the kinds of psychological distortions that happen within individuals. They certainly seem related, as I think of how a trauma survivor may have difficulty remembering certain details — or how her/his mind may defensively reject the label “rape” to describe what has occurred. (“I am not a victim. Therefore I cannot have been victimized.”) And also about the kinds of cognitive distortions and failure of empathy that must occur within the mind of many perpetrators. (“I am not a bad person. Therefore I did not really do a bad thing.”)

      Both minds and cultures are more complicated, obviously, than my metaphor encompasses. But I still can’t get over feeling that the prevalence of rape points to something very sick at the heart of our social compact…

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  3. A friend recently posted an article that was about how 214 of the girls who’d been abducted by Boko Haram, and then released, were now pregnant. Blah blah blah they’re pregnant blah blah blah the community response to their pregnancies blah blah blah. I was livid and exclaimed that we needed to name the rape. And yes, I went so far as to spell it out. Some guy asked, “Why? Why do we have to say it? We’re all adults. We know what happened.” It took me a while to calm down and be able to respond, as his silencing nearly worked on me (“Am I wrong? Maybe we don’t need to say it’s rape?”) but. These girls didn’t all go out and decide that getting pregnant would be a great way to get over being kidnapped. They were raped! And we need to name this heinous violation of women’s and girls bodies.

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    1. I have a similar reaction when I hear the terms “child marriage” or “child bride.” There are obviously issues occurring in these social arrangements that go well beyond the sexual exploitation and rape of young girls — but I do feel as though the language we use enables people to sanitize away the sexual violations of these children. Yes, we all “know what happens” — but only if we decide to actively think about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We grow up seeing the world from the perspective of the powerful. And men, who have historically been politically more powerful than women, are more worried about been accused of rape than being raped, So we end up being exposed to a bias that tends to disbelieve the victim.

    Or if we do believe that it happened, we blame her. In some cultures if a girl or woman is raped she’s killed next. Is thought to be her fault. She must’ve left a little bit of hair fall from her veil, And what man could resist?! And it seems crazy to most Americans. And yet we do somewhat the same thing here all the time. A girl is raped and we blame her for it.

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    1. I actually think there’s a certain progress exposed by the “being called a rapist is the MOST TERRIBLEST THING EVER” protesting. Anti-rape activism — which had long, deep roots well before the Second Wave came along — has finally managed to shift public opinion enough that reasonable people almost all agree “rape is bad.” (Of course, if those same people could also manage to agree on what exactly constitutes “rape,” that’d be even better!) “Rape is rly RLY bad — so you better not call me a rapist!” is an unsurprising form of backlash to this progress.

      As a rhetorical move, it re-centers men in discussions of sexual assault (not “men who who could also be victims” but “men who could be perpetrators”). It functions hand-in-glove with an essentialist reading of sexual behavior that commonly privileges men’s sexual aggressive behavior by naturalizing it (the old “feminists want to criminalize all male sexuality/heterosexuality!” chestnut). And it creates a false sense of equivalency between violation and accusation, as if (1) the two things happen with roughly equivalent frequency and (2) there were no distinction between physical assault and mean language.

      This backlash serves to shut down critique, reinscribe power as weakness (“who’s the real victim here?!”), and ensure that men with power continue to have unfettered access to the bodies of people with less power (regardless of gender). It’s similar in many ways to the “talking about race makes you the REAL racist!” argument — another place where victim-blaming runs rampant!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not to derail, but there’s also a strong parallel to the way calling someone ‘racist’ has become an even graver insult in our popular culture than actually, ya know, saying racist things. I suppose it’s indicative of a sort of progress (i.e. at least overt and obvious racism is socially stigmatized), but it’s not helpful.

        Liked by 1 person

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