Section: Opinion

Reposting #metoo won’t fix institutionalized sexual assault

This piece is directed at “allies” of sexual abuse survivors. Imagine that instead of #metoo being a way to identify survivors, it was a way to identify rapists. More shocking, isn’t it?

We already know that survivors exist. We know from statistics, mothers’ warnings, friends’ stories, newspaper articles — rape culture has traumatized every woman in some way. This is not to say that sexual harassment and violence only happen to women, but to emphasize that every woman, as a fact of her sex, has experienced this.

But we seem to ignore that rapists exist too, in the same spaces as you and me. If men were to publicly acknowledge the sexual harassment and violence that they perpetrate, that would be something radical. The scope of these predators goes way beyond the people we expect. It’s not just powerful men, macho boys, people we easily identify as cruel or problematic. (It’s also not just men.)  A “quirky” Kenyon student can be a rapist as much as a Kenyon athlete can. A boy who writes Facebook statuses about social justice can be a rapist. A boy who considers himself “woke” because he took a women’s and gender studies class can still be a rapist.

I don’t know what’s worse: that most of the perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence will never see themselves as perpetrators, or that the people in their lives will never acknowledge them as such. It is disorienting, disturbing and terrifying to find out that someone you trusted has committed sexual crimes. But if you shake it off, pretend not to hear these unsavory truths about your close friends, you become a proponent of rape culture.

I have seen men and women alike welcome known predators into their homes, make small talk with people they know have assaulted their friends, and watch too-drunk girls stumble home with Title IX offenders. If you are a bystander to these problematic behaviors, you are complicit in sexual harassment and assault. No matter your gender, no matter how staunchly you condemn sexual violence, no matter how many “Me Too” statuses you “like.” Rape culture is an institutional problem, but institutional authorities have failed to deliver consequences. In this gross absence of punishment, we must take it upon ourselves as peers to make it clear that this behavior is unacceptable. There have to be social consequences. You can’t keep these offenders in your frats, your clubs, your bands, your teams, your inner circles — not if you want to be an ally. 

This year I have drawn a line in the sand. If you are cool with perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault, I am not cool with you. Originally, I wrote this piece as a Facebook post. I was curious about how many people would read it and throw it a like, without realizing that they are the very people I am trying to implicate. And many people did. Multiple people came up to me in person to thank me for stating what I consider to be obvious, only to turn around and continue their conversations with friends they know are complicit in sexual assault. While I appreciate that you read what I have to say, if you read it and didn’t feel a twinge of recognition, then you have entirely missed the point. I don’t want you to thank me; I want you to change your behavior so that your actions match your purported ideology.

Finally, the “Me Too” campaign was created by a black woman and didn’t gain recognition until it was co-opted by a white actress. Tarana Burke started the “Me Too” campaign 10 years ago to unite people of color who have been affected by sexual violence. She did this specifically for marginalized people who did not have access to legal, medical and psychological support. “Me Too” is more than a trending hashtag to Burke — it’s her life’s work. Solidarity among survivors is good, but not if it obscures the crucial work done by people of color. Find out more about Burke’s campaign at metoo.support, and be aware of the courageous people who have afforded you this opportunity for discussion.

Cleo Mirza ’18 is an English major from Connecticut. You can contact her at mirzac@kenyon.edu.

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