I only follow politics minimally – it does not interest me. I never write about political issues and have no experience writing op-ed type pieces. The following piece is borne out of my sorrow and frustration at the recent weeks’ events in American politics, and my desire to help society escape the oppression that patriarchally-induced misogyny creates. Addressing patriarchy and misogyny without mentioning a particular current politician, a world leader who embraces and even personifies the two concepts, is challenging, and near on impossible.
As the final days of September 2018 unfolded, fall imminent in the air, it felt like déjà vu. This was not just about leaves turning. One year on from the revelations exploding in the international press about Harvey Weinstein and the growing throng of women coming forward with stories of sexual assault and rape at his hands over the decades, followed by their decades of trauma, isolation, mental ill-health and destroyed careers in Hollywood, we seemed on the eve of an instant-replay, of sorts. As fall approached, the curtains went up on a new horror show surrounding another public disclosure involving another successful woman alleging sexual assault perpetrated by another powerful American white man. Another revelation which would, in the space of a few days, mobilise the masses and enrage women (and men) around the globe. Again.
Brett Kavanaugh, a man the majority of the world perhaps had not heard of before, was skyrocketed to notoriety when a woman called Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who would become the latest “poster-girl” for speaking out about sexual violence, accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party in the early 1980s. While she was still a child. Worth saying here that Brett Kavanaugh’s profession is relevant in this scenario. You see, Brett Kavanaugh is a judge. He was nominated this summer by the President of the United States of America (yeah, him) to become a Supreme Court Judge. So, of all people, he needs to be squeaky clean in terms of his past and his behaviour. And his attitudes towards sexually violent crimes. He also needs to be completely honest and trustworthy. And non-judgemental. Right?…..
Back to the deja-vu, the pattern was the same:
Woman accuses high profile male.
High profile male vehemently denies and publicly decries the claims.
Sides are taken, lines are drawn in the dirt.
Then ensues a frenzied debate of which one is lying – a debate played out the world’s socio-political centre stage, captivating the attention of both mass media and social media for endless days and nights. Everyone has an opinion, people come forward with corroborating accounts, and further allegations emerge.
As this is happening, simultaneously the backlash starts. The people speaking up to defend the woman are barraged with offensive, insulting and sometimes non-permissible comments. This is especially rife on social media. Interestingly, there are few complaints about the defenders of the man being ‘trolled’ in the same way. Dozens of articles appear as everyone and their dog have an oft-polarized viewpoint to share on “what happened” and “what now?” As if they were all present in the room during the assault the woman speaks of, and have since lived the trauma she has carried.
Photographs, often ugly ones, some with facial contortions to show them in the worst light are shared of those involved. Last October, a steady stream of such images of Harvey Weinstein appeared in my feeds on social media. As if his face alone is not scary enough. Now, the face has been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh looking his most conceited, aggressive and arrogant self. The photos are very powerful and the faces of the two for me, and possibly for other women who have been sexually assaulted, symbolize sexual harm and have a physiological impact linked to the trauma of it. We feel these photographs in our bodies. The words in the post/article we can choose to read or not, but the photographs register as we are scrolling through our social media, whether we want them to or not.
Re-framing Their Photos
Ultimately, I want to rewire my mind so that when I see a picture of Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and whomever will be next on this growing list in the Hall of Fame of sexual predators who are slipping through the net of the law and of society, I will not feel that tension in my stomach, that sick taste in the back of my throat, that cold chill on my forearms while my breathing goes shallow. Instead I will stand up a little taller, with my shoulders pulled back and smile a little, knowing that men like them will soon have a metaphorical “fall” of their own.
So, what can we do?
The helplessness of waking up the morning after Brett Kavanagh was voted into the Supreme court of America is a horrible empty feeling, like a burnt-out shell of a building after a bombing. It is more essential than ever that we find ways to help us keep the energy up to keep going when all seems truly lost. What follows is a list of ideas that I find helpful. They are not rules, they may not even be helpful to you. If not, please try to create your own. Your story matters, YOU matter, the future matters. It doesn’t really matter how we achieve it, but we must find a way to feel hopeful in these times of fear, intimidation and recklessness.
- Speak to children – any children, your own, your nieces, your nephews, your friends’ kids. Have the conversations, explain it to them, simplify it for them, help them to understand. It’s so important that children are part of this conversation if anything is ever going to change.
- Support each other. These are such upsetting times, especially for women who have survived sexual trauma, which let’s face it, is really a very large number of us. Be there for your friends and let them be there for you.
- Take breaks; it is easy to feel immersed in the news, it’s everywhere and we want to know what is going on, what is going to happen next, but it can be emotionally flooding. Know when to pull back and watch something non-taxing on TV, pour a glass of wine or paint your nails. With the news off.
- Use your voice; find ways to speak out in conversations with others, do not feel too intimidated to talk about your views. Give others a new perspective to consider. It’s not “talking politics”, it’s “talking humanity”, and it matters.
- Hope: lastly, and probably most importantly, keep the hope. Look at the teenage girl at the bus-stop you are driving past, staring into the screen of her phone. Look at her as you pass. And change the future for her.
………She deserves so much better than this, don’t you think?