A few days ago, I started to write the Harvey Weinstein opinion that’s already been written a hundred times by a hundred people. It was a story about how many hands were dirty and how many moral failures and complicit cowards there were that never spoke up in the presence of the horrors Mr. Weinstein is alleged to have committed. It was a story of how hypocritical gender signaling Hollywood was to allow or even support the reprehensible behavior of a monster for decades.
How shameful it was to have let it all happen.
Something didn’t feel right about it though. I stared at it on the page for half a day and then deleted it. I was a dude screaming at a bunch of other dudes who let some rich and powerful dude get away with assaulting women. For me, that was the story. The monster, after all, was a constant. He was a disgusting, reprehensible, shameful constant. But there was nothing to be done about him. Only about the actions of those who may have been able to stop him.
Sometime between the decision to delete that incomplete opinion and now, as I give it a second go, the gravity of what I was saying hit me. It was this:
The lack of agency women have over their bodies is a constant. There’s nothing to be done about it. It is ever present. And never changing. Across time, space and culture.
And that’s the real story.
The story wasn’t just about complicit silence in the presence of a monster. The story was the monster. The story was the lack of agency he represents in a society that has simply been this way…forever. While that hangs there for a bit, consider the following:
According to the National Resource Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women in America will be raped.
47% of women experience sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime.
As I sit in a room typing, I can see without turning my head, ten women. If I’m to believe the statistics, then two of them have been raped. If the statistics have been exaggerated by an oversensitive gender signaling academic source by 200%, one of them has been raped.
It is statistically reasonable to assume that a woman in the room I’m in has been raped. And now she walks around every day with people who could do it to her again, if they wanted to. And I can’t wrap my head around that. And I’ll never be able to.
I’m a 40-year-old, fit, decent looking guy with a good enough personality, I think. I’ve never once been hit on at work. I can count the amount of times I’ve actually had to tell a woman, with words, that I wasn’t interested on one hand. Normally its sufficient to walk a few paces away. I’ve never had to tell one twice. The notion that I would be powerless if they decided not to listen has never crossed my mind.
And it never will.
For a week now I’ve been reading news stories about all the people that knew what was going on around Harvey Weinstein. They should have said something. I won’t disagree. The lessons of the Catholic Church, Penn State Football and Bill Cosby will tell you that’s the case. But the tragedy of rape isn’t just the complicit silence.
The tragedy of rape is rape.
We can scream all we want about the lack of response by others with the power to stop it. But none of that brings back the agency of the women who lost it. And in a society where we promised we would all be equal, in which we’ve sacrificed endless blood and treasure to insist on it, this happens too much.
If one in five women is a victim of rape, then there are a hell of a lot of men out there raping women.
Print that story and see if it trends on Twitter.
9 thoughts on “Agency”
Thank you, Sean. We need more men – more “good guys’ – to be aware of the problem and help us fight it. And you nailed it in the last sentence: “then there are a hell of a lot of men out there raping women,” Language is key to changing attitudes and action. “Women were raped” makes it a woman’s problem. “then there are a hell of a lot of men out there raping women.” hopefully will wake up more of the good guys.
Thanks for reading. The point of anything on this page is not to go viral. The point is to provide content for people seeking to have a deeper discussion about things that matter.
It rarely goes viral. And that’s fine. Even preferred.
The point I try to make here was to contrast my initial reaction of frustration towards those who were silent with a deeper feeling of loss for those impacted by rape. I think your point that rapists are not natural disasters is important. And it gets to the heart of what I was trying to convey. That there are men out there doing this. Not monsters. Men among us. Every day. And that’s hard to come to grips with.
I think in drawing that contrast its possible that I lightened the emphasis on the moral imperative to speak out. And that wasn’t the intent. It’s a fair criticism of the piece. Which I think is always helpful for the discussion.
Men who think they should go viral for simply pointing out that rape happens and is bad are part of the problem.
To say the “tragedy of rape is rape” lets Weinstein (a human rapist, not a monster — let’s not distance ourselves from our shared humanity with someone who commits such reprehensible acts) off the hook. It lets all the people, male and female, off the hook. Rape is not a tsunami — it is a crime committed by a human being. To wring our hands and focus on women’s loss of agency is to actually call the problem unsolvable.
The solution is still for people to speak up when they see something happening, and then to examine and dismantle the culture and institutions that prevent people from feeling that they can speak up. For us to not just congratulate ourselves for citing some statistics on rape, but to actually examine our own behavior and beliefs regarding women, money, and power.
Complicit silence is not a tragedy or trauma on the level of rape and sexual assault. Complicit silence does, however, allow for the continued tragedy and trauma of rape and sexual assault.
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I suspect that the numbers are low – so much abuse and assault goes unreported, because the first reaction is generally to shame the victim. And after you go through your days under the burden of this lack of agency, you also know that if you report it you will be mocked, ridiculed, shamed, and blamed. Your attacker will likely suffer no consequences but you will be labeled for life.
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I asked a female friend yesterday – “Do you think you’ve ever put your hands on a man when they didn’t ask to be touched or didn’t want to be touched?” – and then we both laughed. Never. Not once. And yet we’ve both been grabbed/groped and in one awful case, bitten, by men multiple times.
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We only had 5 women at book group this week. 4/5 of them admitted to being sexually harassed in the work place. No one was surprised.
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No doubt you are correctly focusing on the right issue. But don’t forget about children too. The numbers are about the same for kids as it with your rape numbers. Depending on the year/agency reporting the statistics. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are molested before they turn 18. In my son’s 5th grade class of 22. Three of his classmates have been abused.
And to make it more sobering, those numbers are from a 1st world, modern, progressive nation. What is that number in Pakistan or Indonesia, or Ethiopia, or El Salvador?
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OMG Sean, you nailed it. This is one of your finest posts, you really keep outdoing yourself both in analysis, emotion and originality of thought. You made the right call, this post should be viral. I actually had a Facebook “memory” come up, in which I had taken a census, using FB friends, my email list and my address book. I counted at least 75 friends who had been raped or sexually abused. If I expanded to acquaintances that I know enough about their story, I added at least 25. And that was about seven years ago, so I am sure the figure is higher cause I have more friends. Now I wondered if there was any self selection in my sample, in that I am a creative, and I hang with predominantly creatives, so could there be a bias there, ie do more abused people become artists? Could I, with PTSD and mental health issues related to my own abuse, choose to hang out with people who are like me in a fundamental way? Being fair, my list included several men who had been abused, and they suffered greatly because until recently, it was such a hidden and shameful thing to have happen to you. The biggest takeaway, and I hope you will continue to stress this message, rape and sexual assault is a men’s issue. For far too long women have been told they are responsible. NO. Men who rape are, and I really would like to see more focus on preventing rape from that direction than from telling women what to wear and where to walk. I know this is starting to happen on campus, but it really is going to have to come from men, and other men, making it uncool to sexually abuse people. THANK YOU for a marvelous post.
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