We Have a Long Way to Go
CW: Discrimination, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women
When it came out that Harvey Weinstein had been assaulting women for decades I was reminded of an event that took place on my college campus several years
ago. A girl had been raped on Halloween and classmate after classmate, even a few faculty members, seemed to imply that it was her fault. Look at how these girls dress? What do they think is going to happen? We didn’t know what she had been wearing; it wasn’t discussed or revealed in any of the news reports. She could have been dressed up as a nun but it
didn’t seem to matter, she got raped so she must have done something to deserve it.
A few months before the one rape, out of I’m sure hundreds of rapes that occurred on campus, became public knowledge, I was sitting in a rhetoric class. A guy in class said, but why do we need feminism? Women are equal. I protested that this was untrue, fully anticipating all the other women in the class to support me. Another women started to speak after me and I relaxed back into my seat, ready to be seconded. Instead she said I’ve never felt discriminated against as a woman.
I was completely confused and caught off guard as the guy turned to me and said Have you ever been discriminated against as a woman? He asked in the same tone I’d become all too familiar with since coming out as a feminist. This was before Dove commercials, soccer players, and marches all over the country, made feminism cool. His words were asking a question but his tone was saying, you’re just a woman doing what women do best: complain.
What do you say to someone who asks you to prove the obvious? The conversation itself felt like discrimination. Anyone who is discriminated against knows what it feels like to have a crime committed against them and instead of people listening, they say prove it. I replay this moment over and over again. In my mind, I stand before the class articulating the intersectionality of feminism, patriarchy, poverty, war, and capitalism with such vigor and passion that all my peers vow to be bold feminists. Instead, I choked and said nothing because I didn’t know what to say and, more than that, I felt that no one wanted to hear what I had to say.
Now, years later, I am glad that I can watch Oprah give a speech that struck fear in the hearts of all abusers still hiding under the radar and all the people who enable them. I am glad that Ally Raisman looked at her abuser in court and told him he was nothing. I am glad that Salma Hayek was able to tell her tremendous story of survival and strength while getting the movie “Frida” produced. I am also disgusted that the Netflix movie “To The Bone” has a star studded cast and can get rave reviews all while making light of molestation, diminishing a woman’s right to say no whenever she wants without having to offer a reason, portraying women as subtext, and showing lesbians as selfish and irrational. I am also saddened that trans women are being excluded not just from discussions but public spaces, things as basic as bathrooms, and non binary people are being left out of this dialogue altogether.
Media generates most of what we in society deem as normal and, unfortunately, our writing rooms, news anchors, best selling authors, late night television, government and almost everything else is cis male dominated. Of course a woman’s experience and narrative is lacking or one dimensional, of course trans people are given small roles if any at all. Of course gender non-conforming people seem to be missing from the picture entirely. We have very little representation in the rooms where decisions are being made.
I recently watched an interview with Kirsten Dunst and other actresses. In the interview Dunst said that she works predominantly with female directors. The other actresses in the interview said that they wished they could work with more female directors and Kirsten said, I work with a lot of female directors because I give them a chance. Dunst seeks women out and she chooses to work with them even if it means a lower budget and working with a first time director. It shifted the interview and this statement gave back power to the women sitting at the table. Of course we’re not Kirsten Dunst and we don’t all have that type of platform to work with but we do all have choices and we can shift the power back to us.
I was once looking for a queer dance class that my partner and I at the time could go to. This was in Brooklyn and I assumed that there would be several options. I was wrong, there was only one. When I reached out they informed me that due to lack of participation and funds they couldn’t continue. I was disappointed in myself and my community in that moment. Certainly dancing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I’m not saying that you need to participate and financially back every woman or queer owned event, space, or business. There aren’t enough hours in the day and, honey, if you’re rolling in that kind of dough, let’s be friends. However, I could have shared a post on social media. I could have told all my friends about this new space. I could have done my part to spread some awareness about the business. If my friends told their friends and so on, who knows, maybe they wouldn’t have had to close. Don’t underestimate the power of your support in whatever form you can provide.
So What Can We Do?
Become more aware of your role as a consumer. Often times we consume mindlessly because we’re conditioned and encouraged to do so. This is problematic for many reasons but especially in regards to marginalized groups. Many of the stereotypes that hurt us are perpetuated in the things we consume. We can change this by starting to question the things we see and hear. When we see an ad for a new movie who do we see? Who is being shown and who isn’t being shown? I’m appalled at how many new movies are coming out that have a completely white cast. These things don’t have to be the norm; as we’ve seen with “Black Panther,” your dollar does matter. Sometimes things are the way they are simply because no one ever questioned it and so it remained the way it’s always been. If we as consumers show up for marginalized people, we can swing the pendulum.
Showing up at public forums and discussions to make sure our voices and concerns are being taken into account is another important step to make as individuals. It’s not fair that so many of us have to navigate the psychological struggles of abuse, attack, isolation, public shame and ridicule, and then have to navigate a public sphere where we may be subjected to even more psychologically damaging experiences. Certainly I’m not suggested someone risk their own mental health, but when you’re ready to show up it can be a very empowering experience. Being able to share your story and also partake in defending and holding space for others can be a wonderful way to heal.
Find people to connect with, share your experiences and listen to the experiences of others. Use each other as a resources to build yourself up and build others up with you. Support one another in any way you can and show up on the days that you’re strong enough. Make sure your voice is counted and make sure the voices of the people in your community are counted as well.
Jessica Perez is a 27 year old queer freelance writer. She believes all people have unique gifts and talents and the purpose of all her writing is to inspire and nourish the creativity of her reader, whoever they may be. Currently she lives in Mexico City. She is searching for her father’s family and exploring the effects of diaspora in her life and in the lives of other immigrant children.
This is a personal essay. All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author.
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