By Hannah Brandt
Three years ago, the hashtag #YesAllWomen went viral on social media as women confronted the world with their stories of sexual abuse and assault. The aim was to make people listen to and take seriously women’s lived experiences, which have for so long been dismissed, mocked and even turned on the women themselves to blame the victim. It was also to make clear that all women have faced sexual assault in one form or another, that we all live with a backdrop of fear that moves to the foreground all too often.
It was eye-opening primarily for women who realized that they were not alone even though most of us had suffered in silence for years, even decades. The response by too many men was to say that #NotAllMen are guilty of sexual assault and claim reverse sexism.
Here we are three years later in a similar moment. The revelations of those harmed by Harvey Weinstein have led to another widespread discussion of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault against women in Hollywood and every other industry where there are men. This time, the hashtag was #MeToo, a campaign that actually began 10 years ago by an activist named Tarana Burke.
Again, women from around the globe told their stories on social media with the hope that men would finally listen and believe their horrific experiences and that women would come together in solidarity to support one another. That the stigma on women would be lifted and shame would no longer be ours.
Those ambitions have been successful in some ways. Weinstein has finally been exposed for the social pariah he always has been. A handful of extremely powerful men have been brought down at least a few pegs. But what of the ultimate impact we have been seeking, to wipe out sexual assault from all facets of American life? There is still a long way to go. For one thing, it is not only men who must be self-reflective.
One of the most troubling aspects of sexual assault is the fact that women too often fail to believe other women. It is not generally with malicious intent; we are socialized to do so. When women are confronted by the accounts of acquaintances, friends, family members and strangers, it is often our first instinct to be skeptical. That is because of the culture we are raised in that refuses to believe women and undermines our voices at every turn. This also leads women to doubt their own accounts, their own memories. To be doubted by other women is one of the most isolating experiences.
In addition, there is the myth of the reliable versus the unreliable victim. Women who are not considered pure enough are not to be trusted. A woman who consensually slept with a man who at another point assaults her is suspect. A woman who is considered promiscuous by some arbitrary standard is suspect. A woman who stays with an abusive man is suspect. A woman who is not viewed as an upright citizen, women who are not White enough, straight enough or middle- to upper-class enough. That includes women who experience poverty and homelessness, women with addictions, women who are incarcerated, women of color, women who are non-CIS gender.
What this means is that sexual assault against women brings up a lot of other forms of abuse for which society is guilty. How women are mistreated reflects racism, discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and economic inequality. Women who are sex workers or are homeless or have addictions are often treated like trash, by other women as well as men. I see it every day. This has all got to stop. We must find our humanity in our actions and the words we use.
This month, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. It is about time we finally see drug addiction as a public health issue and not an individual moral failing or criminal behavior. Of course, this presidential proclamation had no money for treatment behind it and Trump has no credibility in anything humanitarian. But as always, we must all be self-reflective in how we think, talk and act toward other human beings.