Raise your hand if you are a victim of some kind of sexual assault, if you have had to mentally police your clothing, your actions, your location, and your company because of the unending fear of assault. Keep your hand raised if in many instances you’ve chosen to look the other way, to pretend that you didn’t hear the lewd comment or didn’t feel the hand that lingered too long. It is not lost on me that many of you reading this will find your hands raised.
In 2018 more than ever, womyn are taking back their power, loudly and proudly. Everywhere you turn, there seems to be some sort of radical feminist approach to issues. People are learning, womyn are refusing to cower and demanding that they be treated like full human beings. Things are so different, and yet, in many ways, still the same.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles we are yet to overcome is the culture of silence, particularly in relation to sexual assault and harassment. While we are still basking in the light of the #MeToo movement and the trickle down effect that has rekindled the righteous outrage in most of our hearts, the reality is still different for many. While it looks like speaking out about harassment is breaking the Internet, we are yet to fully begin to unwrap the different silences that surrounds this topic, especially when it comes to having honest conversations about womyn’s personal experiences. Countless womyn sit with different traumas inflicted onto them by those that they have loved, by those that we know, by those protected and deemed untouchable by the legal and societal institutions that have made seeking for justice not an option. More than ever before, we must embrace the radicalness that is dedicated to shuttering the norms that have caused so many of us to sit in silence and shame with our pain, while watching our systems and our people protect our abusers.
The truth is that the rot is deeper than has been exposed on social media. One of the biggest tools that has allowed patriarchy and its gatekeepers to flourish as long as they have is the socialization and conditioning that surrounds the oppressed on what they can and can not speak about. And so now, that we can begin to visualize what I would like to imagine is a full feminist takeover, we must begin the hard work of exploring the channel of communication that is cut off by the desire to protect reputations more than we do victims, hold onto family names more than we hold onto children’s innocence, speak in hushed tones and not risk rocking the boat. Why is it that we shame victims of assault more than the vile assaulters? Of course the answers to all these are rooted in patriarchy and perhaps the biggest feminist revolutionary act of all, is rejecting the culture of silence and embracing the loudness of truth.
It is the deafening silence that makes for the prevalent culture of rape and everyday sexism. It is the same silence that has been imposed on survivors through the normalization of assault catalyzed by our cultures, legal systems and reactions. It is the same silence that forces womyn to deal with assault through whisper networks and hushed warnings to each other instead of loudly confronting their abusers. And so we must all begin to reflect on our role as enablers of abuse both actively and passively. Realizing that your silence has played a huge role in turning the wheel of sexual assault for centuries, and that choosing to look the other way, is not any better. Only by owing up to the roles we have all played can we begin to unpack the casual sexism around us, question the problematic-ness of bro-codes, religious and cultural institutions and the idea that “keeping the peace” is more important than truth and justice. All these shield and perpetuate rape culture and must therefore be dismantled if we intend to create a world in which womyn can participate as equals.