By Cheryl Lopez
Last week, former Olympic doctor, Larry Nassar, was convicted of molesting dozens of young female athletes, and has now been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. Before sentencing, victim impact statements were read by over 100 of his victims who shared vividly the sexual violence they experienced at the hands of Nassar.
To many this case was surprising. But consider the statistics. One in 6 women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, 9 out of every 10 rape victims are women, and nearly 1 in 2 women have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime, including sexual assault and harassment.
It’s appalling that with statistics like these and movements like #MeToo, we still encounter men like Matt Damon, who patronize us with predictable lectures on the “spectrum” of sexual violence. And while Aziz Ansari’s actions weren’t the same as Harvey Weinstein’s, the sexual narratives told about these men are rooted in the same exact principles that reinforce and pave the way for acts of sexual violence, particularly against women. The discussions surrounding these incidents are typical examples of society’s tendency to create ambiguity around sexual violence which is systematically part of the problem.
A few months ago, after Alyssa Milano posted a tweet, asking women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write “#metoo” in effort to show the magnitude of the problem, social media became flooded with #MeToo stories. Earning more than 12 million posts and reactions within the first 24 hours, the #MeToo movement succeeded in demonstrating the power of allying with others in effort to raise awareness of an issue that disproportionately affects women.
Movements like #MeToo help amplify the voices of survivors who seek safe spaces to finally tell their narratives of sexual violence. Like Roxane Gay states in her powerful memoir, Hunger, we hope that by sharing our stories, “more people can become appropriately horrified by how much suffering is born of out of sexual violence, [and] how far-reaching the repercussions can be”. While the #MeToo resurgence received the massive attention it deserved, we wouldn’t be doing this significant movement justice if we didn’t talk about the many women, like myself, who didn’t say #MeToo.
It’s important to recognize that navigating the dialogue of sexual violence is difficult, no matter how delicately we try to approach it. For many, #MeToo requires survivors to open up about experiences that will once again put them in a position of vulnerability. It requires them to open wounds caused by trauma along with the shame they have carried in silence for years, if not a lifetime. Some women cope with their sexual violence experiences by talking about them, but everyone heals differently. To be clear, the #MeToo movement is profoundly necessary, but part of voicing solidarity includes recognizing that many women chose not to share their stories, and that’s okay.
Feminist writer, and senior producer and correspondent at Vox, Liz Plank, made this point when she posted on social media, “Just because women didn’t post #MeToo does not mean they weren’t sexually assaulted or harassed. Survivors don’t owe us their stories. I’m proud of women for sharing their stories on #MeToo but we need a shift about how we talk about sexual assault so I’m starting #HimThough.”
I agree. This is men’s shame, not women’s. #HimThough places the burden where it belongs and relieves women from the responsibility of having to expose themselves and relive moments that are often some of the most dehumanizing moments of their lives; moments that have caused great pain and suffering. Women don’t owe you their stories. I don’t owe you my story.
To no one’s surprise, very few men participated in the #HimThough or #IDidThat movement. Men’s silence places women in the all-too-familiar position of being burdened with the task of talking about sexual violence and raising awareness. As powerful as the #MeToo movement is, women’s stories will remain ineffective as long as men are allowed to remain on the sidelines while women cope with their trauma and relentlessly push for change in effort to get survivors the justice we deserve.
How many women is it going to take to say #MeToo before men talk about #HimThough? Even when men like Aziz Ansari, publically express their regret for the situation they find themselves in (not because they are actually sorry), they fail to take responsibility for their harmful acts against women. They justify their actions instead of apologizing for their utter lack of regard and social understanding of the unequal power dynamics that exist between men and women, especially when it comes to sex. I hope the #MeToo movement remains as forceful as it’s been the last few months and continues to hold men accountable for refusing to treat women’s bodies with basic human decency and consideration. It’s about time we place the burdensome shame on the perpetrators of sexual violence.