After the media fallout stemming from the accusations of sexual harassment, abuse, rape, and coercion by Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood personalities, social media began to see the #MeToo movement. Women who have been sexually oppressed in any manner have been posting the hashtag “#MeToo” on the internet. Some followed it up with a brief explanation of its purpose to spread awareness, some went into detail on their personal experiences, and some simply typed and posted those two words.
The #MeToo movement itself is credited as being started in 2006 by social activist Tarana Burke, encouraging MySpace users to post. Eleven years later, the movement received a rebirth from actress Alyssa Milano, on more updated social media platforms. I gathered with a small group of colleagues to sit down and discuss their thoughts and experiences with sexual oppression, as a means of getting a better understanding and spreading awareness on the topic. This series chronicles that discussion.
VOLUME III :
The Blaming Game
In many cases of sexual oppression, there is the phenomenon of victims downplaying the severity of the event. This is done in a number of ways:
- Denying that the event occurred at all;
- Diminishing the quality or impact of the event, either by comparing it to other forms of harassment or abuse that are “worse” (harassment or fondling, in comparison to rape), or stating that they don’t feel that it was “that big of a deal;”
- Defending their attackers, putting the cause or blame of the situation on themselves, their clothing choice, their state of mind, the environment they were in, or any other number of factors surrounding the event.
Why Do People Downplay?
The human psyche is vast. People use downplaying and other defense mechanisms for a number of reasons. Once again, we touch on the interpretation made by the person who experienced the abusive event, their past experiences, awareness, and ability to cope with their sexual oppression.
One interpretation is that people don’t want to admit that someone else had taken their control away from them. That is where any form of denial might come into play. Once one admits that they are a survivor of sexual oppression, they can never not be a survivor after that. It is a “club” that has a life-long membership, and that sort of commitment to owning such a negative moment in your life can be difficult to accept.
Often times, one may be in denial to the point where they don’t even call what happened to them by name. Some people will describe these moments as “a bad thing that happened to me” without calling it “harassment,” “abuse,” or “rape." Some may even downplay the event to the point where they temporarily block it out of their memory.
Personally, I feel that this is where discussion and open communication becomes so important. Coping with sexual harassment or abuse can send someone down a scary and lonely path of denial and confusion. The more people that talk about their experiences, the more they are broadcasting to the world of survivors that they are not alone.
Please know that there are plenty of survivors (not to mention therapists) out there who are ready and willing to listen to the stories of fellow survivors, and help them name the events as a means of coping. “That wasn’t a ‘bad thing,’ you were raped,” are powerful words that send chills down my spine; as someone who has never survived sexual oppression, I can’t imagine how hard it must be for someone who has to hear words like that. The potential benefit is that once someone can accurately name the event properly, they can hopefully then own it and begin the healing process.
The process isn’t easy— as I mentioned, it can feel lonely and scary— but survivors are not alone, and they don’t have to feel that way either. For those afraid to speak with a friend or family member on the topic, a simple search for "sexual assault hotline" will find a variety of resources where one can talk to others who have dealt with sexual oppression, and/or are trained to talk to its survivors.
What is the Yardstick for Severity?
“Severity" should never be assessed, no matter the nature of the offense, whether it's harassment, groping, or rape. One victim might move on with their lives afterward with little support, and another victim might take years, or even a lifetime of support and make little progress. The personal experiences, personality, and mentality of each person all factor into how they cope with an attack because it is interpreted differently by each person who has experienced it.
We are all human, and we perceive and handle trauma in different ways. By assigning a level of severity to someone’s situation and survival of sexual oppression, we may essentially be telling them that the emotions they are feeling are wrong. Human beings cannot control emotions. We can learn to control how we handle emotions, but we cannot stop ourselves from feeling them. Drawing comparisons can lead to mentalities of guilt and shame or the downplaying of their attack that can worsen damage already done. Never compare one person’s experience to another.
“What Did I Do To Provoke This?"
Some survivors will put the blame on themselves. They focus on details like the clothes they were wearing, or the fact that they were flirting with their attacker prior to the attack, or that they had been drinking or that they didn’t say “no” early enough. I attribute this kind of selfless sleuth-work to two different reasons which I believe show trends in guilt and victim mentality that has spread over time.
The first reason is that over the history of publicizing sexual oppression, victims who speak out have often been accused of “bringing it on themselves.” Humans can be very cruel in what we say and do, and criminals skew the scenarios of crimes to take guilt off of themselves. Much akin to the social mentality that “women have to work twice as hard to seem like they are working as much as a man,” survivors (of all genders) have been forced over history to think that they have to work twice as hard to prove that their attacker was actually to blame. To many, this concept may seem ludicrous, but psychology is a fickle thing, and there are plenty of oppressors out there who use it to their own selfish advantage, scarring someone else for life just so they can get away with their misdeeds.
This brings me to my second theory, post-perception. The French have a term, L'esprit de l'escalier, which literally translates into “the spirit/ghost of the staircase.” This term is usually used to describe when someone realizes the perfect thing that they should have said during an argument or debate that has already ended.
In a similar fashion, albeit twisted on its head, a survivor can look at all the various details of their own scenario and find a myriad of factors that can cause them to see why an attacker did what they did, taking the blame off of their attacker. This can often lead to blaming fate, which implies that the survivor never had control in the first place and can leave them feeling helpless. This can also lead to the survivor putting the blame on themselves, leaving them with not only the shame of being attacked but also the guilt of thinking that they brought it upon themselves.
Both scenarios are dark paths, but they are means of “justifying” a situation, which is our human nature. However, the one aspect of human nature that is being ignored is that the attackers made the conscious choice to do what they did. Perhaps it was the attacker’s first time and wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Perhaps they were triggered by the clothes the survivor was wearing. Perhaps alcohol was involved. Perhaps the survivor left their friends early to be alone. Perhaps two or more people met during vulnerable moments. Perhaps the attacker is a repeat offender. Regardless, the attacker decided to do what they did.
Are there things that can be done to prevent sexual oppression from happening? Of course, there are. It is wise to be cautious, to not be out at night by yourself, to be drinking too much, or to be too trusting of strangers. These precautions do help prevent many acts of oppression, but an attacker will do what they plan on doing no matter what the scenarios are. In all cases, the attacker is to blame for sexual oppression, no matter the factors.
For more resources about Sexual Assault, Violence, Victim Assistance, and other forms of Sexual Oppression visit www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones or call (800) 656-HOPE (4673)
“The #MeToo Movement” series continues Wednesday, December 20th, 2017.
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