This Is Rape Culture

[Content Note: Discussions of rape culture; descriptions of sexual harassment.]

Two things I've seen this morning are perfect, terrible illustrations of how the rape culture works.

First, there was the news that Twitter has suspended Rose McGowan for publicly stating that Ben Affleck had lied about what he knew regarding Harvey Weinstein.

Yesterday, Ben Affleck has to apologize for actually sexually assaulting someone, which trended on Twitter all day, but he isn't suspended. Who is suspended is Rose McGowan, who merely contradicted Affleck's claim not to have known about Weinstein's sexual abuse, which she knows because she's the one who told him.

This, as I shouldn't have to point out, couldn't be a clearer case of the way institutions work to protect abusers and their abettors, while silencing survivors.

Secondly, Scott Madin forwarded me Doree Shafrir's piece about "Shitty Media Men," highlighting a particular paragraph as having jumped out at him:
I've never been assaulted or harassed by someone I worked with, and it's only been lately that I've realized how messed up it is that I feel fortunate that's the case. There have been a few uncomfortable incidents for me personally, like the editor who Gchatted me late at night, seemingly drunk, and propositioned me, or the art director who was way too interested in my intern experience and put his hand on my thigh at a party. But people whispered about the guys who were really bad, the ones who coerced young women into sex, the ones who were physically abusive. The ones to stay away from.
Shafrir begins by saying she's "never been assaulted or harassed," only to then describe two instances of harassment. To be clear, I'm not auditing the way she feels about or identifies those experiences, but simply noting they meet the definition of workplace harassment.

The instinct to mitigate manifests in different ways: Here, Shafrir straightforwardly discounts her own experiences as harassment. My go-to strategy as a younger woman was always to turn incidents of sexual harassment and/or assault into "humorous" anecdotes, which allowed me to talk about what happened without really talking about what happened.

This instinct is the result of, in part, policing women's lived experiences, a central piece of which is inevitably abuse ranking.

It goes like this: Your harassment wasn't as bad as being hit and your being hit wasn't as bad as being raped and being raped by a boyfriend isn't as bad as being raped by a relative and being raped by a relative isn't as bad as genital cutting...

Until many of us feel as though we aren't allowed to say anything, unless it's in the context of saying "I didn't have it that bad" — to express our "good luck" if our suffering hasn't passed some arbitrary threshold past which survivors will allegedly be allowed to express that we were affected by abuse.

In a piece from September 2013 I wrote:
The auditing and ranking of survivors of sexual violence and/or the auditing and ranking of various acts of sexual violence itself is rape apologia. The intent of the person engaging in it is irrelevant: Auditing and ranking survivors and acts of sexual violence functions to suggest that some acts of sexual violence are tolerable, and, further, that if a survivor of the "not as bad" sort of sexual violence has lasting psychic injury from that trauma, they are "overreacting." Accusing survivors of abuse of being attention-seeking, melodramatic, lying is a centerpiece of silencing victims.

...Sexual violence does not exist as a series of unrelated abuses that act in competition with one another for attention and concern, but as a spectrum of abuse on which exists both women being creeped on in elevators by strangers and rapes so brutal their victims do not survive.

The implication that there are survivors of sexual violence who have no reason or right to "complain" as long as there are survivors who have experienced something "worse" somewhere in the world not only elides that post-abuse support profoundly affects trauma prognoses, but also creates a justification for ignoring all but only the "worst" manifestations of sexual violence, which necessarily means neglecting survivors in a way that makes them vulnerable to further trauma.

"Rape ranking" is not a neutral position: It is active rape apologia that harms survivors and abets predators.
Which is precisely why women are entrained to do it.

There are people who insist that the rape culture isn't real; who demand that I provide "proof" of its existence. Frankly, I cannot imagine a more compelling piece of evidence than the fact that women say things like "I feel fortunate that I haven't been sexually harassed or assaulted," as though being sexually harassed or assaulted is the default expectation, which only the very lucky avoid.

Well, maybe there's one piece of evidence even more compelling than that: The fact that many women who say they are fortunate to have avoided sexual abuse actually haven't.

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