As revelations of sexual harassment, lewd workplace behavior, and sexual assault continue to come to light, I’ve been seeing the question again and again, “Who’s next?” Some people ask it in fear. Some people use the question to imply that a lot of the accusations are false. Others are just genuinely wondered when the next allegation is coming. Last week I shared a link to an amusingly written op-ed that advised people who have been sexual harassers in the past to save themselves some trouble and pain and come forward on their own. I’ve seen a number of amusing memes and cleverly phrases variations on the notion that it’s easy not to be a harasser—just don’t harass.
It’s always a bit fraught to write about certain topics when you, the author, are an old white guy. The topic of sexual assault and harassment is fraught no matter who you are, make no mistake, but… For me the topic is difficult for a few reasons. When I was closeted (especially when I was very young and didn’t understand what was different about me from the other boys), I was under constant pressure to act like the other boys. This meant, at times, parroting the verbal bullying (or at least acting like I agreed with it) which was aimed at gals around us and at any guy who wasn’t coming up to the impossible masculine ideal. So, I am keenly aware of many times when I perpetuated misogyny. I’ve teased people, or laughed along while others teased people, or looked the other way, rolled my eyes, and generally didn’t help (or even recognize sometimes) the victim of many types of harassment.
Guys are socialized to unashamedly express their interest and demand the attention of the people we are attracted to. And we’re socialized to never take “no” for an answer. All humans are socialized to allow men to get away with never accepting that “no”—just look at the millions of movies, novels, et cetera where the hero keeps pursuing the girl that can’t stand him until she finally realizes that he’s the one for her. So we’re socialized to think that certain types of harassment are cute and romantic.
As an out queer guy, I’ve found myself the target of various kinds of harassment/micro aggressions (in the workplace or elsewhere) from straight males that is a strange mix of anti-gay and anti-feminine. And I’ve also had my own experience of being date raped (including spending many days blaming myself for letting them take advantage of me, until a friend told me to stop thinking of it that way). So the topic also pushes some of my own buttons.
As I said, we’re all socialized to accept harassing behavior, which is part of the reason assault victims are seldom believed. On the rare occasions that we believe assault might have happened, we’re socialized to blame the victim: Did you lead him on? What were you wearing? What did you think would happen if you agreed to be alone with him? Et cetera and ad nauseam. So it is actually amazing that in the last couple of weeks we’ve starting believing people when these allegations came forward.
Not everyone, unfortunately. I’m not surprised at all, for instance, that a single guy coming forward and talk about an attempted sexual assault another man committed against him years ago was instantly believed, whereas many women have come forward to talk about the many times a senate candidate did similar things to them and there is emphatic doubt. But we’re at least tipping a little bit in the direction of believing assault victims.
…at least once a month a woman will reach out to me to let me know that a man I’ve worked with, socialized with, or even considered a friend, is an abuser. These aren’t tales of one incident, it’s almost always a pattern of abuse quietly shared by multiple women who are scared of being publicly known. Occasionally these are stories from women who made their accusations VERY publicly known—but they were quickly and violently shouted down by their own community and, almost immediately, the accusations were forgotten by everyone except for the women who had been abused and cast out.
These aren’t famous people.
If you have sexually assaulted anyone; If you have shown someone your dick who did not want to see your dick; If you have sexually harassed anyone; If you have casting couched anyone… you have to know right now that your time is coming. You know who you are. You are probably sitting there right now, worrying about when that will be, when those you hurt will find the strength to come forward. Because the question is no longer if, but when.
When a woman says she’s been brutally raped by seven men at a public party on a bed of broken glass, as the UVA accuser did, and when that woman has a history of strange lies, as the UVA accuser also did, there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. But if a woman without any history of dramatic falsehoods says she went home with a man and, after they’d kissed a while consensually, he held her down and forced her into sex—in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, you can just assume it’s true. This is not because of any political dictum like “Believe women.” It’s because this story looks exactly like tens of thousands of date rapes that happen every year, and nothing at all like a false rape accusation.