Believe the women

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metoo was trending globally on Monday.

It did not begin with the film producer, though the revelations about him triggered what is beginning to feel like a flood or an avalanche. Women speaking out, men in the public eye being referred to when not named. 

The more optimistic among us want to read this as a pivotal moment when things may change. The more pessimistic among us recall moments from recent history when women also spoke up and out, and there were portents of change. But the first sentence of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) always comes to mind: then the men closed ranks. Remember Anita Hill in the United States. Remember Fezeka Kuzwayo in South Africa. Think of the millions of women in between, before, and after those moments.

MeToo, women are telling us. Some men are also telling their stories. The world, we are reminded by their stories, remains one long vowel of horror, to invoke Margaret Atwood. The survivors of predatory sexual assaults and harassment are not just the actresses we are all asked to worship on our screens, women who are objectified by the entertainment industrial complex for our collective enjoyment and individual pleasure, though. Some of us have known this for a long time.

We have been listening to women’s stories, hearing their testimony of the world we live in on such unequal terms. Family parties, classrooms, school sports events, university seminar rooms, professors’ offices, hospital corridors, taxis and taxi ranks, long haul and municipal buses. Miriam Tlali wrote about such events on overland and suburban trains. This assault on the humanity of more than half the human population is not limited to those spaces where they are objectified, in creepy beauty contests or in those entertainment spaces where they are reduced to their sexual utility, their value to titillate and be little more than the grounds for the pleasure of strangers.

Athletes have faced this, whether they were supposedly learning to play tennis with Bob Hewitt, or whether they were at the top of their sport as Olympic gold medallists in gymnastics. School sports coaches and scholar patrol guards, teachers and politicians, elected and appointed public officials. The list is endless. Men at taxis ranks, in places of worship, in locker rooms, at gyms, in offices, at police stations, in hospitals: no location is beyond the reach of men who behave in ways no different from Harvey Weinstein has.

The MeToo campaign is not the first time women have spoken up and out. It provides all of us with yet another opportunity to hear them, to listen to them, and to change our behaviour in the world. Habits of thought lead to habits of being. Looking away, keeping silent, not intervening: these have always been unacceptable responses, and now they have become more unacceptable. We can no longer claim not to know. Now we must be judged for doing nothing.

Professions of regret for not speaking out are cold comfort. In times of crisis, silence is akin to complicity. We have collectively and individually protected these men, because we chose to believe they didn’t mean it, or didn’t mean it that way, or were drunk, or made a mistake. They knew what they were doing, and they knew they would get away with it, because they could count on our silence, collective and individual. One way to end this scourge is to end the impunity, the certainty perpetrators have that they will get away with it, because we will indulge them, understand them, because they are our brothers, fathers, friends, sons, nephews, uncles, grandfathers. We suggest their talent as musicians or their importance as politicians outweigh the horror to which they subject other people.

Monsters hide in plain sight. Monsters are enabled, protected, forgiven, and allowed to continue to be monstrous. They must be stopped. And not because we are fathers to daughters, husbands to wives, brothers to sisters, sons to mothers, nephews to aunts, grandsons to grandmothers, or friends of those they prey on. They must be stopped because they are monsters, and we must protect people from their predation because women are people. It is as simple as that.

Also, we must believe the women. After all, they have been telling us for millennia, and our own choice to look away, to tune out, and to pretend it is not happening stains us, individually and collectively. Men do not have to be monsters, but those men who are monstrous must be stopped. And we can choose not to be monstrous, we can raise boys to be men, not monsters, and we can hold them to account when they turn into monsters.

Rape. We should name it. And we should stop protecting men just because they are powerful, or because we love them, or they tell us they love us. Because long before they raped, they learned to dehumanise in thought and speech, and no one stopped them. They learned what was possible, what was acceptable, and what would be explained away, because &39;boys will be boys&39;. It is time to stop them, and stop ourselves from aiding and abetting their heinous crimes against other human beings, allowing our silence to enable them, and to protect them. 

Believe the women, here and now.