Last week, the Internet exploded. It exploded with women’s (mostly) testimony and witness to sexual assault and harassment, a response to Harvey Weinstein and every sexual predator that ever took what was not his by force or coercion and without consent–verbal or emotional.
I hesitated to jump in. And still I’m trying to understand the fullness of why.
Of course, “Me, too.” I’ve been groped, grabbed, and pinched both in and out of the country; at nine, a middle-aged white guy exposed himself to me in broad daylight, asking me to touch his limp penis; then there was an adult event where the lines of consent were so blurred that it’s a by-someone’s-definition claim—a rape light brand of abuse.
Bottom line is this: not one of those events alone amounted to any more damage than all the social expectations of pink ribbons and Barbie dolls and 108 pounds of obsequious pandering to the male gaze. Not that that’s not damage enough, but who am I, when others HAVE suffered the unthinkable stuff—the violence of rape, suicide attempts, victim blame—who am I to claim space aside them with this list of comparatively trivial infractions? I ask myself, Am I not diminishing the meaning of their suffering by stepping in? To which my self answers back, Maybe. But the point is the continuum, right?
Right. The continuum… a long one that cannot be captured in its entirety by the mind and body of a woman. It is a patriarchal line of entitlement that offers men the rights of acquisition by force and without consent. It is the continuum on which a social hierarchy of power is established and maintained, the continuum of abuse that is as much about war and genocide and police brutality as it is about rape culture. It is a continuum on which the oppressed become oppressors, lining up for some tiny piece of the pie offered the beggars who play by the rules of the Patriarch, rules of domination and control.
And we the mainstream, men and women alike, are the very beggars who applaud the success of the players. We applaud their status-laden titles, their successful investments (often successful on the backs of laborers and impoverished renters), their foundations and galas, their houses, cars, and clothes. We applaud it all and we hope it for ourselves. We aspire to the status that says we, too, are important, if only a little, an attribute reserved for the “winners” of the title and acquisition contest. And because we are active and willing participants in the culture of the Patriarch, we hardly recognize the roots of our own pain and its relationship to global suffering. We storm on the surface for a day or two before the rage evaporates into the atmosphere where it will collect in clouds of confusion for another surface run, another day.
And the whole world plays.
I’m tempted here to look at other atrocities in the world, each one a reflection of the patriarchal values implicit in “Me, Too.” I want to speak of acid burn victims, mutilated clitorises, poverty, sex trafficking, child brides, child soldiers, child labor, environmental rape… because each one of those abuses is a product of the patriarchal standards of entitled acquisition and control and much of it perpetuated by consumers and rapists in this country and other developed nations. But I keep having to re-learn the fact that mostly people don’t give a shit until the abuse taps on the door of those a little higher up the ladder. Don’t misunderstand… I’m grateful for the women who finally blew the whistle on Harvey Weinstein, but black women were the beginnings of the “Me Too” movement some ten years ago and virtually ignored by all but themselves until white women of celebrity reached the limits of their use for the likes of Weinstein. Black women weren’t quite the sensation, and our willingness to ignore that which we now rail against is itself a symptom of the Patriarch and its power structures.
And there are levels of power between white women as well.
In the spring of my older son’s 5th grade year, I considered opting him out of the state standardized test (Yes, standardized testing is another symptom of the patriarch—acquisition, dominance, control, all of it). I was watching as DPS began dismantling schools based upon test scores, each of the school closures serving students of color. I’m not a big fan of standardized tests in the first place, but to use them as an excuse to disrupt communities, rendering them absent the resources to help children thrive, then shutting the doors of the very institutions that should be the hub and heart of a community seemed unforgivably immoral to me. (School-to-prison pipeline, anyone?) How could I allow my son to be a pawn in that game?
As murmurings of my intentions reached the community of more privileged white mothers, the talk began: “She’s going to hurt our school,” and “What about the teachers? They sacrifice so much. She could hurt their potential for a raise,” and this one was direct, “You’re doing this alone. No one’s going with you, so what’s the point?” And on an afternoon when I was talking to my then husband about my frustrations and what to do, he said, “Jan, we’re not the movers and shakers of the world. It’s not our place.”
“Then what are we supposed to do? Plant our gardens, install granite countertops, and look the other way?”
And I don’t fault him. He spoke the absolute truth of the system that rules us.
My son took the test. He scored “Advanced” in both reading and math, “Proficient” in writing, and he took his place on an academic hierarchy that simultaneously relegated others to places above and below him. And I took my place as a silent bystander of white middle-class privilege; it is the law of the Patriarch.
We can keep medicating symptoms with aspirin. After all, pain relief is, well… relief. But it is temporary, and in one form or another, the disease of the Patriarch will keep coming back. Until we say that we would rather create than acquire, we would rather connect than control, we would rather share than dominate, nothing will change.
So perhaps we should stop rewarding the beneficiaries of the Patriarch. Screw the NFL and Hollywood and granite and shopping malls. Turn off the TV and all the rest of the noise and make something—a donation, a friendship, a poem, a conversation. Risk saying something for which you will get not one “like” or “share.” Consider opting OUT of the system that is killing us all.