Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I’d like for us to start in the middle, with Harvey, because he is in a unique position. I believe he might be the one predator most of us agree is guilty, no matter our politics, because of a few factors. First, apart from his surname, Harvey Weinstein himself was not widely known. While we’d seen his movies, most hadn’t known the man behind them. Then, the majority of his accusers were famous, beautiful and white. They had names and faces we knew, and we’d watched their films for years. Finally, there were his photographs.
Harvey doesn’t appear to take very flattering pictures. In most of them, he’s making an unfortunate face, as though caught in the middle of talking to someone just outside the frame. He also has an appearance that is easy for many to see as monstrous. In a culture that worships perfect skin and a certain size, there stands Harvey with his large stature and asymmetrical, pockmarked visage.
We want to believe rapists and harassers are monsters. It’s a common and pervasive myth. I hope to dispel three myths herein, and this one is the second most important – the idea of the perpetrator as a shadow lurking to grab the unwitting, a stranger with a van, a criminal, unknown. Since I am open about my sexual assault, more people than I can count have shared their stories with me. They are like the stars; they haunt me at night. Every one of us knew our abuser. Many of us were in relationships with them. The idea of the stranger patrolling in the van is not untrue, but it is atypical. It must be dispelled.
The only accuser Harvey chose to respond to, we should note, was Lupita Nyong’o. Her story was that he asked to massage her and she deflected by offering to massage him instead. In this way, she said, she could know where his hands were at all times, and perhaps maintain some control. He said he remembered things differently.
Some people may think this is not sexual assault. Some people might have dismissed Al Franken’s accusers at first because it was a silly photo, then another story of a silly photo, then another. I know I diminished it. In fact, I have done what he has done. I don’t have the photos at hand, and I can’t remember particular instances, but I’m sure it’s true. Who among us has not taken silly photos with friends? Who can honestly say that they’ve never once struck a provocative pose when the cameras came out?
Perhaps you can. But this is the second myth I have come to dispel: the idea of sexual assault as always violent, always a fight, always screaming and biting and scratching. This has been some victims’ experience, but it wasn’t mine or myriad others’. Many of us wake up during it, or simply come to. For us, it’s quiet and we experience neither fight nor flight but simply fright, freezing us into silence and immobility.
When I woke up, my rapist was inside of me. I went into shock and froze. My brain told me it was a dream. My brain told me if I pretended to be asleep it could be a dream; if I could fall back asleep it wouldn’t be real. I was mentally and physically incapable of moving at all or making a sound. When I confronted him, my rapist told me he didn’t rape me. He said what happened wasn’t rape. If it was rape, he asked, why didn’t I scream and fight?
He doesn’t get to draw the lines around what is and isn’t okay, just as bystanders don’t get to tell Franken’s victims it was harmless flirting. If I punch you full-force in the nose, can I then deny the blood? Can I tell you it doesn’t hurt, it was just harmless fun? Of course not. This shouldn’t be hard to understand. We should have had this discussion back when Robin Thicke put out his Blurred Lines video. Congratulations are due, I suppose, to Pharrell and T.I. for not going down in flames like Robin did, but we must recognize that there currently are blurred lines when it comes to consent. And we have to sharpen that image.
We have to teach children to draw lines. We have to help them practice yelling, practice saying aloud, “That is not OK.” “I don’t like that.” “Stop.” “Don’t touch me.” And until that is truly easy for people to do, until no one goes into fight, nor flight, nor freeze, the rest of us have to learn to ask questions. “Is this OK with you?” “May I do this?” “Could we try something?” If the answer is anything other than an emphatic yes please, we have to listen and stop.
Franken should not assume, just as I in the past should not have assumed, just all of us in the future should not assume, that what we’re doing to or with another person is acceptable just because they do not fight, scream, scratch or kick us away. I’ve seen too many people defending Franken, saying he should have stayed in the Senate. But Franken gave the exact same response that Weinstein gave to Nyong’o: that he remembered the incident differently. So, to those people I say: Look at Franken, right into his smiling portrait.
And realize that he has put his hands on women in inappropriate ways many times for the sake of a funny photograph. He is accused of forcing kisses by different women, and he may have come on to one woman by suggesting that he accompany her to the bathroom, in such a way that she felt unsafe, felt terrified, grabbed a friend to go with her like so many of us have, clinging to the adage that there is safety in numbers.
What’s the number of people who’ve been violently raped? What’s the number of people who simply woke up while someone was having their way with us? What’s the number of people who’ve had our bodies grabbed in photos? Are we safe?
What’s the number of those who have been the people placing our hands where we shouldn’t have in these photos? Are we safe?
When I was a senior in high school I thought it was funny to flash people my butt or breasts. Were they safe?
I have an ex who used to initiate sex in his sleep. I didn’t mind. I was in love with him and enjoyed being with him. He would sometimes wake during the act. He would sometimes wake upon climax. Sometimes he wouldn’t wake up. Was he safe?
I’m currently in the healthiest relationship of my life with a partner that says I don’t need to ask before initiating intimacy with him. He wants me just to go for it. Is that safe?
One night I told a very drunk patron at my bar that he should keep his hands to himself. I remember saying, “I am uncomfortable with the level of touching that is going on here.” He grabbed me and forced me to kiss him. He was the boss’s friend. He was allowed to return. I did not feel safe.
These are the truly blurred lines of consent that we must bring into focus. These are the conversations we need to have. Because I have done what Franken has done. I have flirted with people who rejected my advances. Did I make them feel unsafe? And I have been where Franken’s victims have been. The man in Italy who snuggled me on the train. The boy in Spain who grabbed my ass. The beverage supplier who shoved me into the kegs. The man at the bar who fondled my breasts under my dress, saying it was okay, because he was gay. The multiple guests at different restaurants and bars.
The man inside me when I woke up.
Only people on the receiving end get to draw the lines around what is and isn’t acceptable or safe.
I said I was starting in the middle with Weinstein because he seems to be the straw that broke society’s back, the predator who set off a string of powerful men being brought into the light and shown for what they are. Since him we’ve learned about Spacey, Rose, Lauer, Keillor, and the long overdue Louis C.K. These men have felt swift repercussions when their actions came to light. But before him, you had to be an Eppstein to get taken down. Allen still directs, Kelly and Brown still sing, Moore stands a chance of being elected, Bill Clinton campaigns for others and Clarence Thomas sits in the highest court in the U.S.A.
So why the disparity? I think it’s because we choose who we identify with, who we are and aren’t willing to call predators. I know Roy Moore is a predator of young women, but not all of Alabama is with me. Many Alabamians look at Roy Moore the way I once looked at Franken. They see someone of value; I must not dismiss this. They see someone who would defend their values and identify with him; they prefer him to someone who would vote to preserve a woman’s right to choose. It’s safe to assume most of them are southern Christians, who believe they must forgive sins. I was raised as a southern Christian so I am well acquainted with this idea, especially the selective implementation of it by many. Because of this, it’s difficult for them to admit he’s flawed.
More Radical Reads: #MeToo: Will My Son Grow up to be a Rapist?
So let’s talk about Weinstein again. When I brought him up, I spoke unkindly of his appearance. When I look at him, I see a predator. But two women look at him and see a man they loved enough to marry. Five children look at him and see their father. Many look at him and see a business partner, someone who gave them their first break, the man who paid their salaries and made their lives possible. Everyone who spoke up in support of him sees a friend. Bob Weinstein sees a brother. His parents saw their little boy and never lived to see his downfall. I called his face asymmetrical. But do you know the reason for that asymmetry? He was injured in an accident when he was a twelve-year-old little boy.
Listen to me carefully. My point is not to humanize monsters, nor demonize everyday people. My point is to erase the line between demons and people. My point is to say we are one and the same. We are in the middle of an opportunity for an awakening, a reckoning. So why are we having the wrong one?
Now is not the time for men to think, I can’t have meetings behind closed doors, I can’t hug anyone, I have to look over my shoulder all the time. Now is the time for us to dispel the most important myth of all – the myth that we and our friends and loved ones cannot possibly be guilty of sexual assault. It’s time to for people who are accused to realize they need to apologize, then be quiet and listen, not to defend or claim they remember things differently. Just as some can look at Moore and see a disgusting monster while others feel the need to forgive him in order to protect certain legal policies, there must be those who can look at Franken and say, I’ve never taken a photo like that. But Franken was the moment I woke up and realized: We all contain multitudes.
More Radical Reads: Beyond #MeToo: BURN IT DOWN
Don’t worry. Your Franken is coming. He might be Lauer, Keillor, Rose, or someone not yet named. He might be your friend, your family member, your pastor. Your Franken might be you. We must look at the accused and see ourselves. We must look at ourselves. We must have the difficult conversations, ask the painful questions, and listen to the hard answers.
And get better. You must find your Franken, and get better.
Because that’s the only way any of this will get better.
[Featured Image: A photo of a silhouette of a face in profile. Behind them are red and yellow lights. Source: Luminitsa]