I can’t begin to imagine the pain that the last couple weeks has caused to the survivors of abuse in our midst – as a male in this society, I learn more and more every day how many of the women around us have suffered abuse at the hands of men, and I am ashamed that our culture has come to this point. I only hope that the increased shining of light by the #MeToo movement, and the courage of women who have stood up and told their stories, can bring some positive change.
I was moved last week by a Twitter thread I was reading, where the original poster had posited this question to women: “If all men in the world had a 9pm curfew, how would that change your life?”. The responses from women – “I would go for walks at night in my neighborhood”, “I would answer the door after dark”, “I would do my grocery shopping in peace” – went on and on. The striking thing about it (of course), is that most of them were things that I (or most other men) wouldn’t think twice about doing. Our society has built a culture of fear for women, and that fear has become so ingrained over the decades that it has become invisible, or at least accepted as status quo – but is instantly thrown into the light by a simple question like this.
I don’t presume to speak for women, or to understand how it feels to be on the hard side of this terrible equation.
I will say, I don’t understand how – when a woman comes forward (against all the fear of retribution, guilt, shame, etc. that they have been programmed for) with a story of abuse, and the man on the other side of the equation denies it – how anyone can just dismiss that woman’s story out-of-hand. History (and especially recent history) has proven over and over and over, that men in positions of power will exercise that power to get what they want from people they consider “below” them – and when that person is a woman, what they want from that woman more often than not, results in sexual abuse.
How often do we hear this story, and the gender roles are reversed? How many times do we hear that a woman has used her position to abuse a man? Simple logic shows, that all things being equal – if a woman says she was abused by a man, and the man denies it – the odds are overwhelming that it is the woman who is telling the truth.
The person who denies this, the person who pushes back and maintains that this is some kind of conspiracy, or that they are being “set up”, or whatever – the odds are also overwhelming that that person is somebody who is just grasping at their power, afraid that it will be taken away.
It’s important for us to remember that, even though there has been an overwhelming number of these stories in the media – of CEOs, movie producers, politicians, judges, celebrities – for every one of those stories, there are thousands (millions, really) more that are unreported. A position of power doesn’t have to be a big enough to make headlines, for it to be a position of power that gives one person abusive leverage over another. The same politics of power applies to the manager at the local coffee shop, as it does to the CEO of a major corporation. Abuse happens at all economic levels, and in all communities – it is only a tiny, tiny fraction that we hear about.
No one person, and I mean no-one, is in the position where they can judge why a woman may not have told her story before. I find it incredible that any person (and especially any man) could presume that he could put himself in the place of a woman who has been abused, and say “why didn’t she do this” or “why didn’t she do that”. The depths of how that abuse have woven itself into the survivor’s life can only be known to the person who suffered the abuse.
As I’ve said many times, this is one of the key tenets that Open Diary was built on – we never know the story that is happening in another person’s head. It is impossible for any of us to assume we know the reasons why a survivor may or may not have told her story before – but those reasons are hers alone, and they are valid and true, simply by being part of her experience. She deserves respect first, regardless of how or when (or if) she tells her story.
If I have learned anything in the past couple weeks from the many courageous women who have stood up and told their stories – it is that there is an unseen rot of sexual abuse in our society, and that abuse has overwhelmingly been perpetrated by men against women.
It can only be abolished through awareness. Men in power who are tempted to abuse women will never stop, unless they are invested with a legitimate fear that their spouses, neighbors, friends, and community members will find out – and if they know that a simple denial is not enough to clear their names.
It has taken generations to get to where we are now, I can only hope it won’t take generations to recover from. Shining light on this problem, and believing women first, is a good first step.