It took some time. I didn’t want to offer a knee-jerk reaction. Plus, I’m entrenched in the movement on such a daily basis that sexual violence incidents that involve celebrities appear as all the other items on my To Do List. Sharing my thoughts here is no more pressing than preparing for the workshop I facilitated yesterday. Or working on our Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming for next year. In some ways, I refuse to give this case more attention than I give the incidents at my institution. Still, given the attention the Harvey Weinstein episode has garnered, I recognize how it is impacting us all. Even those, like me, who barely paid attention.
Yes, I have barely paid attention to the Harvey Weinstein episode. I know the basics, enough to hold a conversation. But I am not immersed in the daily updates of it all. I don’t know the exact number of victims. I don’t even think I know who HAVEY WEINSTEIN is. I only know that women were affected. Because I don’t know the intricacies, I guess that makes me a bad feminist. A baseless prevention educator. Or an insincere advocate.
Funny. There was a quote I used to have in my office. I don’t remember the author, or where I first heard the saying. But the message stayed with me years later: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
It was my senior year of college, and Nelly was dominating the hip hop charts. Dudes from the block, swearing they had family in St. Louis, were spitting over thurrr, instead of over there. All of the college parties were playing “Hot in Herre”. Nelly was the man.
Fast forward several years later. Nelly had a single, “Tip Drill”, where, for the music video, he took a credit card and slid is down a woman’s butt. Mimicking the action that he was paying for her, or her ass, or her ass shakes. Whatever he intentions, I didn’t take it well. I threw away my Country Grammar CD. It was one thing to spit racy, sexually-charged lyrics. Ludacris talking about hoes in different area codes was one thing for me. “Tip Drill” was something else altogether. Not that I agreed with Luda’s lyrical content. Rather, having a critical conversation about the lyrics in Luda’s “Area Codes” (and similar songs) was a debate I was (and am!) willing to have. For me, though, there was no debating Nelly’s “Tip Drill”. It’s one thing to boast that you can get the best looking women or that you can have sex with the best looking women. It’s another thing altogether to literally, physically objectify women. For me, there was no debating “Tip Drill”. So I moved on.
So for me, this Harvey Weinstein episode is not just about the man at the epicenter of it all. It’s also about Nelly, and Chris Brown, and Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby, and countless other entertainers, athletes, and political figures who commit, or endorse, sexual violence.
My beef is this: We (I use that term in the collective sense) stand against sexual violence when it feels convenient. By that I mean, when the victims feel worthy – the child abused by a parent. Or the single mother, working two jobs trying to make ends meet, who is harassed by her boss. But, WHEN the victim is less sympathetic in our eyes, we stand against sexual assault much LESS. Hell, we practically stand for it. Like the woman who wears a tank top and skirt to work – business casual, and professionally acceptable – and is sexually harassed by her boss. She barely gets our outrage (notice how this example has one qualifier different than the previous and feels like a different case, altogether). Or, the college student, who knowingly went to that party, and knowingly had several drinks, only to find herself blacked out – damn, if I have not heard too many of us utter, Why did she put herself in that situation.
So when the perpetrator fits the persona of being a monster — maybe he is Black and victim is White, for instance — we stand firm against sexual assault.
But, when the perpetrator feels more like someone with whom we can identity or the survivor does not feel like a sympathetic figure, our stance shifts. There seem to be check boxes of who gets our collective support and when we will collectively stand against sexual violence.
All this to say, I am outraged by Harvey Weinstein. Not because I know the intricacies of this episode — see above, I admit that I do not! But because men who abuse women (and other men) infuriate me. What I am asking is this: let’s not stop at Harvey Weinstein. Let’s divest from Chris Brown concerts, because, after all, his abuse towards Rhianna still feels fresh for so many of us; better yet, for so many survivors. Let’s stop voting for politicians like Donald Trump because he promises to fix out country. Let’s stop giving abusers a pass because they have some other talent or ability.
We got it twisted. We should be able to have it all: We should be able to find a singer who dances well, puts out dope music AND does not commit sexual violence. Is it too much to ask that we support the politician who can move our country forward AND has not admitted sexual violence. We should not accept sexual violence, simply because the perpetrator moves us in some other way.
I won’t lie — I probably will not read the entirety of the Harvey Weinstein episode. From what I have read, his actions were deplorable and his victims are plentiful, and in some ways, that’s about all I need to know. Being an advocate doesn’t mean playing investigator and finding out what happened, and when, and where. Instead – and this is the part that shapes my work — it is about believing and supporting survivors. Knowing that you will not know the entirety of their pain, and believing them anyhow. And that is good enough for me.
I’m pissed at the Harvey Weinstein case. But we can’t have selective outrage. That is, upset and willing to stand against sexual violence when the survivors fit a certain aesthetic. But, unwilling to stand against sexual violence when the person who committed the harm is our favorite TV dad or when he promises to make America great again. The phrase – you can’t have your cake and eat it to – doesn’t apply here. We should be vying to have it all! Entertained by actors and singers and inspired by politicians and athletes who DO NOT COMMIT SEXUAL VIOLENCE. We don’t have to choose one (entertainer, politician) or the other (sexual violence). But, in order to end sexual violence, we do have to choose to actively stand against sexual violence more consistently, and not just when survivors, and even the perpetrators, fit a certain aesthetic.
Outraged and Paying Attention