Well, we almost made it a whole week without me writing about Brock Turner. Mainly because I didn’t know what to write. I mean, where do I begin? Do I start by saying that as a human woman who is alive but also who reads the news and writes about things for a living, that I’m exhausted? That I can’t count on both hands (and all of your hands) how many stories exist of privileged white guys getting a slap on the wrist for raping a woman? That while I was disgusted by Turner and his dad and the judge and his shitty friend I was also not entirely surprised? Where do you go from there?
How many times do we need to have this conversation? How many times do we bury our heads in our hands and say, “Yep of course this happened again,” while thinking of our friends and family members and friends of friends and cousins and selves who’ve been harassed/assaulted/raped and how so few of them/us get to bring the men responsible to justice? How many times do we look at Brock Turner’s image and feel numb? I’m genuinely asking, because while Brock Turner is undoubtedly a bad person, he also represents a larger, all-encompassing problem. The same one that tells us “boys will be boys” and describes rape as “20 minutes of action” and sees men mourn over his lost swimming career as opposed to his victim’s PTSD-free past.
Because unlike the judicial system that has now ensured Turner will receive about three months of his six month sentence, USA Swimming has banned him for life. Which at least feels like something. Mainly because Turner was so distraught over being good at swimming in the letter he wrote that he said outright, “I wish I was never good at swimming.” Well, now you never have to worry about that, Brock. So enjoy three months in county.
But that’s not enough, and we know that’s not enough. It’d be such a nice thing to just dust our hands off and think, “There! All better!” but it isn’t. His victim now gets to live with the memories she so eloquently mapped out for us in her beautiful letter. And so do the millions of other victims who’ve suffered not just at the hands of rapists/abusers/predators, but at the hands of a society that champions men who are boys who will be boys who will be boys.
So then we sit there and think of that and then what? We wait for the next Brock Turner to strike? (Because I can assure you he’s out there and already has. I’m sorry.) We wait for another celebrity abuse case to come along in hopes of painting the victim as someone who isn’t giving us a chance to hear “the other side”? We witness Ghomeshi 2.0 and poke holes in victims’ arguments in hopes of maintaining the pedestal we’ve placed a chosen one on? Because we don’t get to put a check next to the Turner case and declare it as over just because he’s in prison now. It’s not over. It’s so not over I want to scream.
This week we learned about the power of words. We learned about the power of rich, privileged white men, but we also learned that if you stand up and sound off and actually fucking speak, you can turn the heat up on garbage people and help spark some kind of change. (Even if that change is getting a swimmer expelled from the world he loves so much.) Is it enough to give back to the victim what’s been taken from her? Absolutely not. But it saw us take our eyes out of the realm of pop culture just long enough to question what type of society we’re raising people in, and what we can do to make it better. And some idiots has idiotic things to say, but we also saw a fuck-ton of other people stand up and praise the victim’s bravery and the bravery of all other victims, and then ask: So now what?
It’s uncomfortable to speak up sometimes. We don’t want to publicly shame and we don’t want to crusade and life is messy and it is complicated and two sides and we all want to be cool, man and blah blah blah excuses, excuses, and it is scary. Bottom line, it is scary to say “this is wrong” or “this is rape culture,” so it’s easier to say nothing at all and hope somebody else does. But guess what: rape is scarier. Abuse is scarier. Being a woman, 99.9% of the time, is scarier than the act of standing up against rape culture”whether by you calling bullshit on a letter dismissing 20 minutes of action or by telling someone to shut the fuck up when they’re telling a shitty rape joke or even by stopping a fucking sexual assault. All of those things can feel scary, but they pale in comparison to being a woman at a party or a woman walking home at night or even a woman just being alive. It is scary to be a woman, you guys. It is scary because when it comes to sexual assault, very, very few people are on our side.
And it takes words to change that. It takes awareness and conversations and discussions and dialogue. And that seems even more exhausting than reading about another terrible case, I know. Especially since we shouldn’t have to educate someone whose parents and support system have obviously failed them. But education doesn’t have to be a Danny Tanner teachable moment. (In fact, let’s avoid those.) Sometimes it’s about gauging a social situation and asking, “Why do you think that?” and waiting for an answer. Other times it’s about looking someone in the eyes and saying, “That’s disappointing.” Once, my friend was onstage and asked the crowd who was a feminist — a man booed and instead of getting angry, she asked why he thought that way, and the had a conversation about feminism which led to him saying he’d misunderstood the term. Considering we’re in the wild west of rape culture currently, there’s no wrong way to dismantle the patriarchy which is hurting men as much as it’s hurting women. I mean, hi: “Boys will be boys” is a terrible mantra to abide by. Mainly because it means that all men rape. And that’s not true.
I once asked someone at my university how I could help with a massive systemic problem and she said, “Use your gifts.” And I hated that answer because I wanted to know concretely what I could and should be doing. But then I spent time with it, and it began to make more sense: help in your way. If you’re political, get political. If you’re artistic, use art. If you’re a musician, use music. If you’re a public figure, use that platform please, I beg you. If this still makes you uncomfortable, okay, but maybe at least RT the victim’s letter. Help give somebody else a platform, then. Use what you have to spark change because otherwise change will never happen. This shouldn’t have to be our mess to clean up especially since we’re the ones suffering at the hands of a systemic problem. But what choice do we have? To sit back and watch it keep happening? No. So here we are, trying to find and take control where we can. Using our gifts. Trying our best.
And if you’re a man reading this, we get it: #NotAllMen. (For the last time, we get it”we understand.) But prove it. Speak up. Act the part. You can sing the praises of feminism until the end of time, but if you’re not living that equality (read: you don’t get to be a male feminist and then act like a predator or misogynist), then it’s useless. You also can’t sing the praises of feminism while watching your friends callously treat women like garbage. That’s not how it works. We either need you on our side (hey!) or out of our way (bye!) Because all of us are smart enough here to know that men like Brock Turner don’t get to where they are without the foundation made up of a system of people who’ve championed him.