Tag Archives: #MeToo

#MeToo Has to Support Men, Too

26 Aug

 

 

What a month. Asia Argento, one of the first women to speak out against Harvey Weinstein and lead the #MeToo movement last year, was accused this week by a younger man who claims she coerced him into sex when he was underage. Argento denies the charges.

Early last week, Professor Avital Ronell, who is lesbian, was found guilty by New York University of sexually assaulting one of her students, who is a gay man. Throughout the university’s investigation, many feminist academics–including superstar Judith Butler–defended Ronell and slandered her accuser in ways reminiscent of how so many women of the #MeToo movement have been.

The next day, a grand jury investigation into six Pennsylvania dioceses was released, which is the largest study by a government agency of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to date. The investigation found abuse of over 1,000 children by 300 priests over the course of seven decades. Most of the victims were boys.

In a rant that now appears astoundingly prescient, Samantha Bee kicked off the month of August by pointing to a fact that is as harrowing as it is simple: we are really bad at talking about men as victims of sexual abuse. Even if you don’t like her humor, her argument is rock-solid.

Studies range widely in the estimate of how many men and boys are raped or sexually assaulted. The CDC says 1 in 71 men in the U.S. have been raped; the National Crime Victimization Survey found in 2013 that 38% of victims of sexual violence in the U.S. were male. As with all cases of sexual assault, statistics are muddied by the vast problem of under-reporting and by variations in definition. In many jurisdictions around the world, it’s not considered rape if your partner did it, and it’s not rape if you begged your partner to stop after sex began, and it’s not rape if you’re not a virgin, or anything less than a flawless human being, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

Even the more liberal estimates confirm the already widely held belief that more victims of assault and rape are women and girls rather than men and boys. But that doesn’t mean we should only afford male victims a cursory mention. Human rights means justice for everyone, no matter how rare their experience, and if you believe in equality for minorities, then you know fighting for their rights demands particular rigor because minorities are so easily shoved to the margins.

For almost a year now, the #MeToo movement has shed much-needed light on the horrors wrought up on straight, white, cis, non-disabled women. But its failure to communicate the horrors wrought upon victims of other demographics with the same frequency has been disturbingly persistent. And it’s not just because straight, white, cis, non-disabled women are the most common victims. They’re not. As shown earlier this year, disabled women are far likelier to be victims of sexual assault than the general population.

Before anti-feminists joyously insist that this just proves women’s rights activists are a bunch of dumb hypocrites, it’s important to realize that almost no one has done a very good job of talking about rape victims who are men. It’s traditional gender roles that say that guys can’t be raped by women because we should assume guys are constantly horny and would never turn down a chance for sex. It’s traditional gender roles that, at worst, find it funny when a man is raped by a man because it means he’s either weak or gay or both. It’s traditional gender roles that, at best, recoil in horror at the idea of a boy or man being forced but ultimately have no idea what to say about such a thing.

Two years ago, Raymond M. Douglas published a book, On Being Raped, about his experience and the failure of modern society to equip boys and men with the appropriate language to talk about it. Mainstream feminism has failed to tackle this problem. Now’s the time if ever.

As #MeToo founder Tarana Burke wrote on Twitter last Tuesday:

I’ve said repeatedly that the #metooMVMT is for all of us, including these brave young men who are now coming forward. It will continue to be jarring when we hear the names of some of our faves connected to sexual violence unless we shift from talking about individuals… and begin to talk about power. Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender.

And as Douglas told NPR in his advice to other victims, “The most important thing: You’re not alone. There are so many more of us out here than you think. Don’t give up.”

 

*I use the term “victim” in deference to Douglas, who says, “One of the reasons that a lot of people are a little squishy about the word ʻsurvivor,’ is that it seems to imply that once you’ve attained that status, it’s all done and dusted, it’s all safely in the past. And for a huge number of people, it isn’t and it won’t be, it won’t ever be.” It is imperative to note, however, that many other people prefer the term survivor.

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Aziz Ansari, #MeToo and the Problem of Empathy

21 Jan

(Public Domain image used under CC0 1.0 via)

 

Over this past week, articles about the allegations against Aziz Ansari by a woman known by the pseudonym “Grace” were the most read articles at The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, New York magazine, and pretty much every feminist website from Jezebel to Bustle. Everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Samantha Bee to Dr. James Hamblin participated in the discussion at some level, myself included.

Do you want to know what I think? I think feminist Jill Filipovic has summed it up best. But I also think it’s far more important to note that not one of these sites picked up National Public Radio’s week-long report on the epidemic of rape and sexual assault against developmentally disabled people, who are seven times more likely to be sexually abused than the general population, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. NPR kicked off the story by calling it “The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About.” Mainstream feminism proceeded to not talk about it, proving the point fantastically well.

Why has this excellent, in-depth report gone unnoticed while Ansari and Grace could only have garnered more attention if they were running against each other for president? You don’t have to be The Huffington Post to know that readers will pretty much always prefer a story involving a celebrity than a story about ordinary people, social groups and statistics. I knew too well that just putting Ansari’s name in the title of this article would up its chances of survival. Barbara Ehrenreich has been complaining since day two of the #MeToo movement that “there are far too many think pieces about high-level actresses and far too few about the waitress at your local diner.” Readers are also more likely to click on stories involving young adults and/or sex than stories about older people and/or anything bereft of sex. Ginia Bellafante complained this weekend about the endless analyses of Grace’s night with Ansari in contrast to the relative silence about the life and legacy of Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Dr. Mathilde Krim.

Anna North, who covers gender issues at Vox, argued for the relevance of the Ansari story, saying, “I mean, honestly, my first reaction was just sort of recognition. This is a situation that I’ve heard from my friends. This is – the behavior she describes through Ansari is behavior that I’ve heard men confess to in their own lives. So I thought, like, yep, this feels real familiar.” While this does validate discussions about dates like the one Grace had, it also explains the sad truth as to why it managed to bury NPR’s story about a sexual abuse epidemic. It is safe to say the majority of young adults writing and reading stories about social progress do not react to stories about developmentally disabled people with a “Yep, this feels real familiar.” Nor do they encourage each other to.

In my experience, most young adult feminists and social justice activists limit their discussions about developmental disability to stories about volunteering in a special ed class and debates about the word “retarded.” The issue of whether or not to screen for Down Syndrome in utero is an increasingly common discussion among pregnant women and their partners, but the opinions of people with Down Syndrome rarely take center stage in that debate.

Disinterest is not the only factor to blame. Accessibility, the issue most likely to leave disabled people marginalized in mainstream society, is what also leaves them isolated from the places where most social justice activists convene. People with developmental disabilities are the minority least likely to live on college campuses, and they are more likely to be socially integrated in small towns than in metropolitan areas. Few feminist and progressive publications offer versions of their articles in Simple Language

But while such barriers help us understand the marginalization of developmentally disabled people, there is little reason why we should accept them. Human rights means everybody. Feminism rightly declares the personal is the political, but this serves as a wall instead of a bridge when the personal experiences shared by the most people dominate the discussion at the expense of others. Empathy is rightly considered the best facilitator of communication in the fight for minority rights, but minorities will suffer when empathy is expected to come instantly, without the effort of learning about experiences other than our own.

There’s no reason why the #MeToo movement can’t talk about the issues exemplified by the Ansari story and the abuse epidemic endured by developmentally disabled people. There is, in fact, plenty of cross-over. During a week when the second Women’s March has pledged to be as inclusive as ever, it would be great to start a discussion asking the women who clicked on the Ansari story why they didn’t react to headlines about the epidemic. In the multiple arguments that #MeToo should teach women to show more agency and take self-defense classes, it would be great to recognize that disabled women are one group for whom self-defense classes are rarely helpful. In the same way social justice activists are helping the long marginalized experiences of LGBTQIA+ people to broaden society’s ideas about sex and gender, they could help the experiences of disabled people to broaden our ideas about what it means to be independent, strong, accomplished and attractive.

Justice will be done when reports like NPR’s about the abuse of developmentally disabled people shock the world and in doing so make it to the The New York Times’ Most Read list. And when the online March for those with disabilities who could not join an outdoor protest actually gets mentioned in the national reports about this weekend’s Women’s March. Until that day, mainstream feminism reveals its empathy to still have its limits.