Why is this the moment of truth?

Skin colour is part of what makes us beautiful as human beings, and also part of what makes us ugly.

Why is this the moment of truth? Why is the fallout from the most recent accusations against Harvey Weinstein finally what is getting us to talk about our culture of accepting inappropriate sexual behavior from people who are in power against people who are not in power?

What are your thoughts about it? I’d love to know your opinion for why the public reaction to this rape scandal is different than the ones before.

As a woman who has been raped, as a woman who has suffered repeated sexual harassment by people of power in the workplace (this was long ago; it is no implication against my current employer), I am particularly sensitive to this topic. It puts my whole body on edge every time I hear a public accusation of sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment. I understand too much about the unspoken details. I’ve paid attention when it’s in the news – I can’t help it – I remember the cases.

Till now the common undertone that I’ve sensed is that of not believing the victim. As in, “That person is probably exaggerating,” or “That person is probably trying to get attention,” or “The person they accused is famous so maybe they want a settlement.” Me included! I am complicit! It seems like the main social response in the past was *not* instantly that they are telling the truth and that we need to stop everything and listen and believe it. That tends to come along a little later.

It’s different this time. We are believing, and it feels so good – as another victim – it feels so good to know that a victim is being listened to, and believed. We need to be believed or else we’re never going to start telling these stories.

But I keep asking myself why. I mean, what is it this time? I don’t understand what’s different. Why didn’t this happen during the recent accusations surrounding Bill Cosby? The similarities: they’re both famous people, they’re both of Hollywood, they both have a decades-long history of accusations of sexual assault, unfortunately in both of their cases the number of victims is high. So why has a case against Henry Weinstein resulted in an outpouring of “Me Too” stories and social pressure for the accused to take the charges seriously. Suddenly I’m hearing reports of sexual assault by a different famous person every day. Kevin Spacey. Dustin Hoffman. Others can feel the change, too, and have realized that now they can give voice to their trauma.

With the case against Cosby, discourse didn’t happen. We just all …groaned, because it was such an ugly horrible story.

So I’ve been thinking about that for a couple weeks. I’ve been trying, but couldn’t figure out what the trigger was. This morning the news coming out of Washington, D.C. was about people coming forward to talk about sexual harassment in the workplace among politicians. And again this morning I asked myself what is different now. If we’re talking politics, why not when Clarence Thomas was accused publicly? When Anita Hill had to fight so hard to get people to believe her? It was an ugly, high-profile story, but it didn’t change the national conversation. And Thomas was implicitly forgiven for his heinous crimes when he was confirmed to the US Supreme Court, where he continues today. I’m comparing the facts: it’s politics, it’s a man in power abusing a woman with less power in the workplace. If it’s as similar as it seems, then why are people in Washington, D.C. being listened to now but not then? What is going on?

I can’t take credit for the uncomfortable conclusion I came to because I arrived here after talking with someone else and comparing notes. If I continue to compare the general circumstances of today’s accusations against the general circumstances of historic accusations, I might not ever find an answer. But instead, if I ask what those past accusations have in common with each other, I find a potential answer.

What do the cases against Bill Cosby and Clarence Thomas have in common with each other that is not the case with Weinstein? Race.

If it’s true that our public reactions are based on faulty racial assumptions, the implication is brutal. It’s as ugly as the crimes themselves. It means we heard those other stories and at some deep subconscious place concluded to ourselves: well, that’s what they do. And I don’t want to believe this is what happened. I do not want to admit I’m part of this system, that I’m a collaborator in it. By collaborator, I’m not saying I’m out there actively promoting racism. Rather, I’ve been raised in a world where the norm is to make assumptions about people based on skin colour.

I loathe racism. Anyone who knows me personally figures it out pretty damned quickly. I refuse to accept outward signs of prejudice against any group for their lifestyle choice, their differing physical or mental abilities, the colour of their skin, their faith or lack of faith, you name it. But what I’m talking about here is stuff that I’m doing to contribute to the system of intolerance simply because it’s so ingrained in me that I don’t even notice it. It’s not my fault. It’s not your fault. We are a product of our world. And I hhhaaaatttttee knowing that I am probably unintentionally adding insult to injury.

In the beautiful song Stereotypes by Black Violin, Kev Marcus says when people ride with him in an elevator: “Maybe they’re not afraid, but they’re on notice.”

I tried to test my theory by recalling media storms over public figures accused of sexual assault, in order to prove myself wrong. Let’s see, there was Michael Jackson. Who was that guy who assaulted his fiancée? Oh yeah, Ray Rice. There was Mike Tyson. All of them black. I was scaring myself. But then I recalled President Clinton, Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, all white men.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be the case – and it would be hard to prove – that what’s different now is race-based, but I want to resist performing too many contortions in order to argue in favor of another explanation. I want to be open to this one. Maybe what’s different this time *is* the obvious thing.

I believe in life’s subtleties. I do not intend to state that racial prejudice is the sole reason for my country’s slow awakening to the rampant scourge of sexual assault among us. I just want to make sure this one isn’t left out of the discussion.

We are talking about this crime everywhere today because 1) Weinstein was already so famous for rape that it wasn’t a shocker when the latest case was made against him, and thus we were primed to believe the victim. 2) Because of the tireless efforts of activists all over the globe who have been laser-focused on de-criminalizing victims. The people who are making it ok to be a man and admit to being a victim of sexual assault. The people who are saying there is no shame in being an unmarried woman who is raped. 3) Because social consciousness (at least in the country where I live) is getting better at admitting fault even when it’s uncomfortable. 4) Because the perpetrators right now are white.

18 thoughts on “Why is this the moment of truth?

    1. Your declaration is appreciated, Derrick. Thank you. Since I posted this, I have heard from others, and I’d like to add that the gender of the criminal and the victim aren’t specific. My heart aches for the men who are victims, and have an even harder time telling others that they were assaulted.

  1. . I can hear the pain in your words. The only thing I knew to do was to teach my son to be a kind man and treat all women like he treats me and require kind treatment from him. It starts when children are small. I’ve deleted most of my comment. It seemed trite in the weight of your words. There is nothing I can say that will make your pain ease. Sending love and hugs and an ear if you want to bend it.

    1. Your love is appreciated and eases my heart. You’ve raised a wonderful son who would likely be mortified at the idea of taking advantage of any other human purely as an expression of power. I haven’t yet met her, but I’m sure your daughter is equally kind.

      It has taken a couple years of therapy to be able to even say it to others, that I was abused. It feels like admitting that I am weak and stupid. But being able to talk about it actually takes away so much of my abuser’s power that secrecy kept alive. I have good help at the Vet Center in Portland, and every day I’m getting better at recognizing how strong and how smart I am.

  2. I won’t claim to have the answers here, but when I was thinking about Weinstein’s case versus that of Bill Cosby my first thought of why folks might have initially dismissed the Cosby accusations is that most people thought of him as a wholesome person. If your only experiences of Cosby were from Fat Albert, The Cosby Show or Pudding Pop ads, it would be hard to picture him in that way. Weinstein has generally been regarded as an asshole forever in Hollywood. But I don’t think that is the only reason. I think (or at least I hope) the major reason people are finally paying attention is the fact that so many women felt empowered for the first time to speak up about it. I’d feel even more confident about our future as a country if we weren’t being “led” the Sexual-harrasser-in-chief. And before anyone complains about this becoming political, it IS political. Especially when there is such clear-cut evidence of someone bragging about using their celebrity and wealth to sexually abuse people and instead of losing his job (Weinstein) or losing their TV show (Spacey), he got elected to be our president.

    1. This is a very good point, about not being able to get our heads around Cosby as predator instead of the wholesome family man of his public identity. And people don’t like Weinstein, so they are more ready to damn him publicly. Prior to your comment, I had no idea what people think of Weinstein, but negative reaction to his accusation was indeed swift.

      And yes, the Trump angle keeps coming up. So many people are truly disgusted with what he gets away with. I didn’t realize how deep it went. I thought his quips and smirks about harassing women was already forgotten by the people in the light of new tweets, but that is clearly not the case. I am glad people are still angry about it.

  3. I’ve never been able to understand making judgements about someone based on their racial appearance; I do understand why people make judgements based on their perception of a different culture. We need to change a culture that says it’s OK to call out offensive remarks when women walk by; we also need to accept that blokes try it on, but there are lines you do not cross. What I do not understand – and it’s the same over here – is why so many people appeared to go along with behaviour that most people KNOW was not acceptable. It’s disgusting.

    1. I agree that making judgments based on appearance makes even less sense than making judgments based on a perceived culture. In your country and mine, with a tremendous mix of citizens of different heritage, it is impossible to know someone’s culture by looking at their face. Yet, many people feel confident that they should make these assumptions anyway.

      I also think it is wrong to make assumptions about a whole culture, once you find that someone identifies with it. I’ll bet every single human is an example of how – at least in one characteristic or another – they are not just like all the other people of their culture.

      And to your last point, here is the part where I see real social change happening. You are thoughtful enough to hear of this behavior and say most people know it’s unacceptable. Clearly you can’t imagine excusing it. But I’m wondering if most people DO know it’s unacceptable? Are there people who aren’t really sure, and thus are allowing the behavior to thrive? Who is out there saying “boys will be boys?” Or, “with the clothes she wears, she had it coming.” Maybe some are saying, “Things have always been like this, and who am I to try and stir up trouble by speaking up about it?”

      It seems like there are fewer voices taking the cop out this time. That’s the part giving me hope that we may be witnessing cultural change.

  4. A well thought out piece, Crystal. The race card in America plays out in many strange ways. Whatever the reason, the growing awareness that sexual harassment is wrong whether your name is Bill Cosby or Donald Trump, is a step forward. Let’s hope that it continues. –Curt

    1. Thanks, Curt. And I guess that’s kind of the thought that occurred to me: the race card in America plays out in many strange ways. I’m becoming more sensitive to dismissing an idea just because it doesn’t make sense. In other words, racism doesn’t seem to have anything to do with people using sex for power. But sex is tangled up in race issues in American history, so who’s to say it’s not tangling this issue up as well? Your point is exactly right: the main story here is that there is a growing awareness, and it can only be good for all of us.

  5. Not sure about the race impact. The best way to “measure” that would be nonparametric statistics. Two columns. Plus or minus test. A bit dreary but it could be done. What does strike me is the fact that it sexual aggression still goes on. And on. And on. That it still is “okay” to grab ass? I’m sorry, I was probably brought up on another planet. Or a parallel universe. The only thing I know is that it has to stop.
    Thank you for your post Crystal.

    1. Ha! You came at this question just like my analytical mind did, and began imagining a more mathematical or scientific approach. And, just like you I gave it up quickly as an unpleasant task to pursue.

      And on, and on, and on. It’s astonishing. It’s everywhere. Just caught yet another horrifying story of woman harassed on a train in India. And a story about systematic male rape as a Libyan tool of war. Sexual violence continues because it’s effective. That’s why it continues. But there really is no other option but to continue to fight back as a whole human society, to squash it as much as we can, wherever we can.

      1. I said to someone as part of a discussion prompted with this post, that we haven’t evolved enough to remove violence as one of our options. I studied anthropology, and go back to it as a resource often. In the context of very early human history, violence clearly makes sense. I imagine that we were anthropoid for millions of years, using violence as a reasonable option. Then, in the last couple of minutes of evolution, it no longer makes sense. There are many more choices we could make in a given situation that would have a greater benefit than if we chose violence. But the way I see it, we haven’t evolved enough to lose that one terrible choice. We still consider it something worth choosing. Maybe in a million years….

      2. Anthropology? How wonderful. It was one of teen dreams. 🙂 (Went for an MBA instead but never forgot my readings: Ruth benedict, Edward T.Hall amongst others) Now a million years? I don’t think we will last that long. 😉

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