Recently I’ve started to wonder if there’s a downside to the #metoo movement.
When I was growing up, people used to talk about rape and sexual assault in hushed tones, whispering to each other that something unfathomably monstrous had happened.
There was an understanding that this horrific thing sometimes happened, at the hands of evil, vile people, and that it was absolutely devastating. We couldn’t imagine anything worse.
I remember distinctly feeling like being raped was worse than being murdered. I also remember feeling like it happened very, very rarely, at the hands of psychopathic monsters who were completely outside normal society.
Over the last decade, my view of rape and sexual assault has changed dramatically, in part because I came to understand that what happened to me as a child was sexual abuse, and what happened to me as a teenager was date rape.
But also, I came to understand how common these stories were. At first it was just because when I started opening up about my stories, female friends, clients, and strangers on the internet started confiding their stories in me.
I came to understand that everyone I knew had been touched by rape or sexual assault, but often didn’t realize it, both because of the hush-hush nature of the topic, and because we often didn’t categorize certain experiences as rape or sexual assault because they didn’t seem “bad enough,” or because we didn’t try to fight, or because we knew the perpetrator.
Our stories didn’t fit the gruesome “rape” narrative we had all heard, of a psychotic man jumping a woman in a dark alley, threatening her at gunpoint, and raping her violently while she screamed and fought him off.
Some of us went into a freeze response instead of fighting or running. Some of us said no but then when it became clear he wasn’t going to let up, gave in and pretended to enjoy it. Some of us experienced pleasure or even orgasmed. Most of us assumed that our details made it not quite “rape rape.”
In the last few years, the cultural conversation has caught up to what I understood to be true then:
While there may be a broad spectrum of violations, nearly all women have been affected by sexual harassment and coercion, sexual assault and rape happen far more than anyone realized previously, and most of it is committed by people we know, like, and respect.
Far from being the evil monsters holding a woman at gunpoint, the #metoo movement showed us exactly how many normal, successful, charming, and otherwise upstanding male citizens abuse their power and feel entitled to women’s bodies.
These stories have become so popular it’s no longer shocking. Videos of college kids raping the body of a passed out girl and laughing. Dozens of women telling the same stories about men at the top of their industry. Everyone has a story.
And while I am so glad we’re talking about it now, and no longer need to use hushed tones, I’ve noticed something interesting happen.
The assumption when I was younger was that rape was horrific. Horrific, but rare. And nowadays we understand that it’s not rare at all, and I think we’ve also come to see it as… not really all that bad.
I find this to be upsetting in an entirely new way.
At least when everything was hush-hush, I felt like if someone had been sexually violated it was understood to be a big deal, equally understood that the perpetrator was a bad person who had done an unforgivable thing and would be punished.
But I don’t think we see it that way anymore.
At best I think the long list of stories has made sexual harassment, coercion, assault, or rape feel more akin to “just the way things are” for anyone growing up female. At worst, the lack of outrage and horror teaches women that their bodies are more or less public property, that men can do whatever they want to them without consequences, and that if they don’t like it, they should try harder to keep people from wanting to do it, by changing the way they dress, act, or live.
Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman and was sentenced to just six months in prison, for which he only served three. The outrage for this injustice was short and minimal, and I saw almost none by white men, in part because stories like this have become so common, so predictable, so unremarkable.
He shouldn’t have done it of course, but I mean… this is just how stuff goes now. And honestly isn’t she overreacting a bit? There’s no need to ruin his life.
They’re not monsters anymore. They’re not even bad guys. Often now they’re even framed as the victims, what they did trivialized to something childish and silly. He wasn’t a sexual terrorist, he was just a bit impulsive.
Politicians have really driven this normalization home, with comments like the one by Clayton Williams while running for governor or Texas: ““Rape is kinda like the weather. If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”
Or “Rape victims should make the best of a bad situation,” which was said by Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.
Or Lawrence Lockman, a Republican member of the Maine House of Representatives, who said: “If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”
I’m afraid we’ve gone completely numb. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’m glad men, especially white men in positions of power, are being held accountable more than ever for their sexual exploitation and violence, but I can’t say it’s all that much better for women now than it was before.
I suppose it’s just different.
Because while there is no longer the same “shameful secret” feeling to these stories of violation and violence, there is something equally terrible in its place: the understanding that men are harassing, assaulting, and raping people (including men, women, and children) all the damn time, and in every single industry and system imaginable.
And our society just honestly doesn’t care.
Open to your thoughts,