The Problem With Focusing Solely on the Men Who Might Be Falsely Accused

I am aware that the issue of sexual assault and harassment is still being discussed to some degree.

It’s still a hot-button issue within feminist circles, and the Time’s Up movement was still present at the 2018 Oscars (although it’s worth noting that Ava DuVernay, one of the leaders of Time’s Up, told the press that they would be “standing down” on the red carpet so as to not “overshadow the main event”).

And maybe it’s just my personal experience, but from the conversations that I have had lately, between people at work, people in my personal life, people on social media, it really feels as though the general public has decided to drop what was so recently a greatly-discussed issue.

And why? Sexual assault and harassment hasn’t gone away. We haven’t fixed the problem in the few weeks that #metoo was trending. One in four North American women will still be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, including 56 percent of Native American and Alaskan Native women, 44 percent of lesbians, 47 percent of transgender women, and 61 percent of bisexual women. And if you want to ignore statistics, then at the very least, the amount of women who wrote ‘me too’ on social media when the movement first began should be staggering.

So, if we’re abandoning the #metoo movement, then there has to be a good reason, doesn’t there? It can’t simply be because we as a society don’t see sexual assault and harassment as that big of an issue, right?

And before I get too much farther into this, I want to make this clear: men are raped too. In fact, men account for one out of every ten rape survivors. However, I want to focus on women as the survivors and men as the assaulters in this article for two reasons: first of all, it is the most common narrative in our society, and secondly, it is the narrative that many people are speaking to when they dismiss the #metoo movement. Moreover, I will be discussing the role of women’s voices here, which does change the issue a little bit. Cases of male rape often feature very unique issues that differentiate them from cases of female rape, and if you want to learn more about these issues, I recommend checking out this article here. But, for now, let’s move on.

The main reason that I have heard cited, from both men and women, for why #metoo is harmful is a very male-centric reason: it is because we as a society are concerned about the men who might be falsely accused. Which is a possibility: unfortunately, there is always a possibility for error, in everything. That’s just the way the world works. We cannot count on every single person to be totally honest and accountable at every single moment.

Now, that being said, sexual assault and harassment seems to be the only issue wherein this argument is even remotely entertained.

False accusations are possible when it comes to any crime. In fact, they’re just as likely – if not more likely. It is difficult to state the exact statistic of false accusations, because this is not an issue that is always caught in the legal system, but it is estimated that false accusations of sexual assault rests somewhere between 2 and 6 percent, whereas false convictions of all crimes – including murder, burglary, and drug possession – rests somewhere around 4.1 percent. We know this. Heck, roughly three years ago, all of our social media platforms exploded over the Netflix show “Making a Murderer”, wherein we saw how easy it would be for a potentially innocent man to be convicted for murder. And yet, despite this, we do not see hordes of people saying that we should not seek justice for murder cases, because someone might be falsely accused.

Perhaps this is because we know that murder is a serious offence, and that in those cases where innocent people are punished, they are unfortunate side effects of an imperfect system that needs to be in place anyway. We do not have the same beliefs when it comes to sexual assault and harassment.

The fact of the matter is, men are falsely accused much less frequently than women are actually assaulted. The latter is a much more prevalent problem, and it’s the problem that we are not doing anything about.

Because, more than mere numbers – men who are falsely accused are much more protected, even now, than women who are actually assaulted. If a woman reports a rape, then the man has a 57 out of 1000 chance of being arrested. From there, he has an 11 out of 1000 chance of getting referred to a prosecutor, a 7 out of 1000 chance of conviction, and a 6 out of 1000 chance of actually going to jail. Sure, it might change the way that (some) people see him, and it might put a hold on his career, but if Donald Trump, Woody Allen, and Ryan Seacrest have proven anything, it’s that you can still have a long and successful career even despite sexual assault accusations.

In other words, a woman has a much higher chance of being raped, than a rapist has of being prosecuted.

We have effectively normalized sexual assault and harassment, and we have learned methods of shutting women down when they want to talk about it. I think we’re all familiar with the typical methods – the old “well, what were you wearing?” “what were you drinking?” “are you sure you didn’t lead him on or anything?” Telling women to think of the poor men who might be falsely accused feels very similar to me. Because, yes, men might be falsely accused – especially if we someday build up a culture where women are not shamed for speaking out (but, trust me, that day is far from today).

And the thing is, right now, at this very moment, women are being assaulted and harassed. Not might – are. And we have to decide how much that matters to us. We have to decide who is more worthy of protecting – a small handful of men, or every single woman in our society.

Yes, it is a shame that some innocent men might be falsely accused of a crime that they did not commit. But we are currently privileging that shame over the very real experience of women who never receive justice, and are in fact shamed and re-victimized by the legal system and their community. When we tell women to be silent, it is much more likely that the people we are protecting are the actual rapists and predators. And, personally, that is a community that I am tired of protecting.

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Can You Respect the Work of People You Don’t Respect

The other day, I read something that essentially said that modern writers shouldn’t try to emulate H.P. Lovecraft (or, for those who aren’t familiar with his work, the guy who invented Cthulhu), because in real life, the dude was a massive racist.

Now, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Lovecraft, but I respect his work. I find that his greatest writing weakness (from a contemporary standpoint) is also his greatest writing strength, which is that he has inspired so many later writers, such as Stephen King and Robert Bloch. At this point, his work feels a little bit predictable, but that’s only because he created so many of the conventions that we see in modern horror and fantasy. In fact, it’s almost a little difficult to write in those genres without drawing a little bit of influence from Lovecraft.

So perhaps that’s part of the reason why I find this statement interesting (after all, how do you contribute to a genre that has roots that you might have a genuine reason to disagree with). But, more than that, this just seems to be part of a larger discussion that we have been having lately.

In 2017, a librarian at Cambridgeport School refused to accept Melania Trump’s gift of Dr. Seuss books, stating that Dr. Seuss was a racist and that his illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes”. This response drew both support and criticism, the latter coming from people who called Dr. Seuss a “product of his time” and claimed that his racism does not necessarily come across in the texts themselves.

And, personally, I have read countless stories from authors that were incredibly racist. Sometimes this came across in the texts themselves (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” is literally about evil black people) and sometimes they didn’t (if you only read L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”, you might not even know that he wrote anti-Native editorials as well).

Even today, problematic people still produce highly respected works. Orson Scott Card’s “Enders Game” is considered a modern sci-fi classic, even spawning a movie adaption in 2013, and yet his homophobia and political views have been a subject of great debate amongst confused readers for years now.

So, what do we do with this information? Can we continue to respect the works of people who might not necessarily deserve respect themselves?

Now, keep in mind, from hereon out, I am merely going to be stating my personal opinion. This is not a definitive answer; all I am trying to do is facilitate discussion.

And, personally, I believe that it is possible to respect the work, even if you don’t respect the artist.

Now, obviously, there are circumstances that make this issue a little bit more complicated. For example, I will go out and spend money on a work from H.P. Lovecraft, but I won’t do the same for Orson Scott Card, primarily because as a consumer, I do not want my money going toward someone who I know is still alive and still actively spreading a message that I do not agree with. Lovecraft, Poe, Baum, Dr. Seuss – all of these men are dead and of a different time period, which doesn’t excuse their beliefs and doesn’t make it okay, but it does put a little bit of distance between me and their political views.

The works that I have mentioned here are all highly influential, and I don’t necessarily think that that should be ignored. Many of these are artists who changed the genre they were working in – that changed storytelling, to a certain extent. I think that that is something that is worthy of respect, even if their political views weren’t.

But even as I say this, there is another layer that needs to be added – their political views shouldn’t be erased or ignored either.

These writers are not heroes. They did not transcend humanity, and they were not above hatred. We need to remember that. We need to respect the people that they hurt with their hate speech. And if we don’t talk about the ways that they failed, just as much as we talk about the ways that they succeeded, then we run the risk of forgetting it. We privilege the good that they did over the bad that they did.

As a result, I don’t think that this is an all-or-nothing scenario. We can’t forget the impact that these writers had on literature, so I disagree when their books are banned from spaces on principal. But we also can’t forget the impact that these writers on society, so I disagree when people take a very “get over it” attitude to the matter.

End of day, I think that the choice to read these works or emulate these writers should come down to the informed individual. It is possible to respect the writing that they produced, but not the person themselves. But if the writer and their political views turns the reader off too much, then that is totally understandable.

The Problem With “I Don’t Want to Get Political”

“I don’t want to get political.”

I hear this statement every now and again, and under varying types of contexts. Sometimes it’s an attempt to distance oneself from what they’re about to say: “I don’t like to get political, but this really bothers me.” In other words, they’re saying: I’m not a political person. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m not some angry, man-hating SJW or anything like that – it’s just this one particular subject that bothers me enough to make me say something.

Sometimes it’s an attempt to silence people: “I’m tired of hearing about politics all the time”, as though we aren’t all tired of talking about politics all the time. Trust me, if we could stop, if we could feel sufficiently like we’d been heard and the battle was over and things were fine, then you would stop hearing about it. But until then, the conversation continues.

And I get where the “I don’t want to get political” opinion comes from, I do: it’s a desire to not want to get involved, because getting involved is heavy and difficult and undesirable. It’s undesirable for everyone, trust me, I know. I am involved, so I know firsthand how tiring the whole thing can be. And you’d think that my knowing that would make me more forgiving toward people who “don’t want to get political”, and yet every time that I see this statement, it irritates me. It makes me want to say something.

There are two reasons for this.

Reason 1 – saying “I don’t want to get political” comes from a huge place of privilege.

And, I know, I know: a good chunk of my readership just tuned out at the word “privilege”, but please, hear me out.

For many of us, getting political isn’t really something that we can choose. It’s something that follows us around, whether we want it to or not.

A woman is forced to “get political” every time that she speaks out against her sexual assault or harassment.

A person of colour is forced to “get political” every time they get profiled at the mall, or some random person on the bus starts throwing racial slurs at them.

A queer person is forced to “get political” every time they get dressed in the morning, or check out someone cute.

If you don’t quite understand what I mean by this, I think a good example would be the reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, which stars a cast of drag queens and has discussed many political issues, including homophobia, H.I.V., and hate crime violence. When asked if the show was intentionally given overt political messaging, show host RuPaul Charles responded by saying, “It’s inherent in our experience. We don’t have to do much to infuse a consciousness into the show. It is such a part of our story, and we walk with it.”

For many of us, we don’t even have to try to become political. We just… walk with it.

If someone gets to choose whether or not to “get political”, then the only reason they have that choice is because the experience that they live with is so normalized and accepted by society that it isn’t even considered political anymore. It just… is. They aren’t considered a sexual orientation – they’re just the norm. They aren’t considered a race – they’re just the norm. They don’t have to fight for their rights or equality – they’re just accepted and free as they are. They don’t have to worry about “getting political”, because nothing “political” affects them.

Except, everything is political, which brings me to reason 2 for why this statement bothers me.

When a person says, “I don’t want to get political”, they are still making a political statement. They have not excused themselves from the conversation altogether. But rather than taking the opportunity to side with either the bully or the victim, they have decided to take the safer route – they have become the bystander.

“Political” issues continue to happen. They just happen without any involvement from those who “don’t want to get political”. And if the bystanders are doing nothing, just standing back and watching, then the bullies continue to feel validated in what they are doing. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Nobody’s trying to stop them.

And when nobody tries to stop them, then that sends a political message, even if the message was unintentional.

And I’m pretty sure that, the majority of the time, the message is unintentional. I don’t think that the majority of people who “don’t want to get political” are trying to be dismissive of other experiences, I think they just don’t understand. They don’t realize that they are speaking from a place of privilege, that even if something doesn’t directly affect them, it still affects other people in a huge way. But I think that this is a conversation that we need to have. Just because someone “doesn’t want to get political”, that doesn’t mean that they are exempt from the conversation.

An Open Letter to Rose McGowan About Discussion in the #MeToo Movement

I have been a fan of Rose McGowan for a long time. Even before the #metoo movement began.

From Scream to Charmed, I considered her to be an actress who typically played strong characters who weren’t afraid to own their voice and their sexuality. Heck, to this day, I still have a poster of her in Planet Terror on my wall!

And when the #metoo movement began, and McGowan stepped forward to be a leading voice for it, I was proud of her. I was watching someone who I admired become the character that I had always perceived her to be – the strong, outspoken woman who demanded to be heard. I loved it. And I still firmly and unabashedly respect what she is trying to do, so I mean absolutely no offence to her or to her message when I write this.

But, lately, I’ve been noticing a few points worthy of criticism about the way that McGowan is presenting her message.

The first time I noticed this, it was in an interview McGowan did with Nightline, where she describes her sexual assault in great detail (and, yes, consider this a trigger warning: watch the interview at your own discretion). In the interview, the point was raised that some people have been asking why victims of sexual assault didn’t just fight their attacker off, and McGowan was asked what she thought about that. “A lot of people are also stupid. That would be my response,” McGowan said.

As a feminist who writes about feminism on the internet, I… cringed. I mean, I completely and fully understand why McGowan would say this – 100 percent. If you watch the video, you can tell that McGowan is extremely hurt by the sexual assault, and has been for years. And, not only that, she has had to deal with frustrating comments from hundreds of inconsiderate people who are incapable of understanding what happened to her, and as McGowan continues on to say, “it’s not [her] fault you can’t put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s been terrorized repeatedly”. I understand that, and I’m not saying that McGowan should feel any differently than she does.

But this is an emotional response, first and foremost. And she has presented this emotional response in a public forum, in connection to an issue that many people have strong feelings about. And from my personal experience, I know that you need to be downright strategic to do that properly.

You cannot start a discussion with, “yeah, well, you’re stupid”. That closes people with different opinions off from your argument. They won’t care what you say next, because they’ll be so lost in their own insult that they won’t understand the rest. And that’s a problem when your purpose is to try to change the world. People won’t hear what you have to say if they’re so busy being offended by it.

But, like I said, I understood McGowan’s feelings, and I understood why she said what she did. So I was willing to shrug it off.

Until I heard something else that bothered me so much more.

In a recent book event that McGowan did at a Barnes & Noble in New York City, McGowan entered into a screaming match with a transgender woman who didn’t approve of McGowan’s focus when it came to this issue. Specifically, she wanted to know how transgender women fit into McGowan’s take on the #metoo movement.

This is not the first time that McGowan has been criticized for her views on transgender women. In an episode of RuPaul’s podcast “What’s the Tee”, McGowan made a few comments that many perceived to be transphobic, and McGowan has also made several transphobic comments toward Caitlyn Jenner. And this, naturally, concerned the transgender woman at McGowan’s book event – because, as I stated before, McGowan is a leading figure in the #metoo movement right now.

“I have a suggestion. Talk about what you said on RuPaul. Trans women are dying and you said that we, as trans women, are not like regular women. We get raped more often. We go through domestic violence more often. There was a trans woman killed here a few blocks [away],” the woman said.

And this is true. Trans women do get raped at an alarming rate. One in two transgender women are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their life, compared to one in four women in the general population.

So, yes, transgender women do deserve a voice in this movement. McGowan, however, denied this woman her voice. The two women screamed at one another for some time until the transgender woman was forced out of the building by security. McGowan then continued to rage about what happened on stage for a long while, getting her final word in that, “I might have information you want. I might know shit that you don’t. So f*cking shut up. Please systemically. For once. In the world.”

But the problem, Rose McGowan, is that transgender women are forced to ‘shut up’ all the time in our society. That’s part of the problem.

And that’s part of what I’m beginning to take issue with when it comes to Rose McGowan’s approach to the #metoo movement: she isn’t willing to create a discussion. Not when the discussion is difficult and frustrating and seemingly endless, and not when the discussion makes sense either. She’s just too hurt and too defensive to do it.

And I get it – I do, I understand and respect her pain. But cutting off discussion could have massive negative implications for the #metoo movement as a whole.

If you aren’t willing to answer the tedious questions, then those who ask them will never receive the answer, and they’ll never be forced to consider the question. They’ll just stalk off, angry at being called ‘stupid’, and they’ll cut themselves off from the movement altogether. They won’t help. They won’t contribute. That’s a whole demographic that has simply been lost, because a discussion wasn’t allowed.

And if you aren’t willing to consider the possibility that there might be more sides to this issue than the one you have experienced, then you cut out even more people from the movement – people who would be guaranteed allies if you’d just let them. But if you won’t talk to them, or see things from their perspective, then you alienate them. You cast them out. You make this movement smaller than it needs to be, while simultaneously allowing trans women to continue to be abused.

And, Rose McGowan, please hear me when I say: just because transgender women are, statistically, sexually abused more often than cis gendered women are, that doesn’t invalidate what happened to you. What happened to you remains atrocious and unacceptable, and I applaud you for fighting against it. But you can’t just fight for yourself, not when you’ve taken on the mantle of leading the #metoo movement. You need to fight for all women – regardless of the genitalia they were born with. You need to help us create a world where all women are safe from this.

And part of creating that world is through discussion. Tedious, difficult, and sometimes humbling discussion. I understand that you are hurting, and I’m sorry for that, but this can’t be a black-and-white, us-versus-them issue. You can’t just silence and disregard everyone who doesn’t agree with you. You need to hear them out, and if you still stand by what you believe, then you need to explain to them why you believe that.

Imagine how different the Barnes & Noble event would have gone if, instead of screaming at the woman in question, you listened to what she had to say, and then you spoke to her as an equal? You tried to understand her. You tried to be understood. No one right and no one wrong – just two women who had both been hurt by an unfair society that needs to be challenged.

That’s what needs to happen. That’s how the #metoo movement is going to begin doing some real, lasting good in the world. Because I still believe it can. But not if we don’t allow discussion.

Genitalia Does Not Determine Gender

On January 20, 2018, the second women’s march was held.

Strong, beautiful, capable women filled the streets, wearing their cute, pink pussyhats and wielding signs like, “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding” and “pussy power”. And I’m proud of these women. I am. But looking through these pictures online, there is one question that keeps coming to my mind:

Since when is my vagina (or the colour of it, or the fact that it occasionally bleeds) what makes me a woman?

Because there are a lot of women in this world. And amongst these women, a lot of variety. Some women don’t bleed from their vaginas, for one reason or another. Some vaginas aren’t pink. Some women don’t even have vaginas, because some women were born with penises, and some women chose to keep their penises. And yet, despite all of this variety, these are still women, and these women deserve recognition and validation and basic human rights, as much as any of us.

And, I know, I know; there are a lot of women in the world. It’s difficult and, in some cases, impossible to constantly be inclusive to every single one of them, especially when some issues that the women’s march are trying to gain attention to are specific to certain women (like, say, women’s rights to reproductive health). And the vagina is, to a certain extent, an image to be reclaimed by some.

But if we’re going to move forward with this whole equal rights thing that we’re all hoping for, we need to make sure that we’re being inclusive toward all women. And this idea of equating femininity with vaginas and masculinity with penises is a slippery slope.

I often hear it joked about amongst cis-gendered male company. This idea that having a big penis means that you’re somehow a bigger and better man. This idea that, without a penis, you aren’t a man, that even if a cis-gendered man lost his penis for one reason or another, then – poof! suddenly, he’s a woman, just like that.

Heck, another word for penis is literally ‘manhood’.

And part of striving for equal rights should involve spreading this message that, just because you were born with a penis, that doesn’t mean that you’re a man. And just because you don’t have a penis, that doesn’t mean that you aren’t a man. Some feminists are legitimately trying to do this. And some feminists seem to be taking a page from the same book that all of those men bragging about their big dicks are reading.

Which, you know, would be cool if it weren’t for the fact that transgender individuals really should not be ignored right now. Like, they really, really shouldn’t.

Trans people are four times more likely to live in poverty than the general population due to several workplace issues – including violence and discrimination (trans people also experience homelessness at twice the rate of the general population).

41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming individuals have attempted suicide (compared to 4.6 percent of the general population).

One in two transgender people are raped, and some have even speculated that the statistic might be as high as 66 percent.

In 2017, 28 transgender individuals were murdered in the U.S. – meaning that violence against trans people has actually been increasing (in 2016, 23 trans people were murdered). Nearly all of them were women of colour.

This is the reality of living as a transgender person in North America. This is something that feminists should be talking about – and talking about prominently. I understand that we have other concerns to deal with as well, but we need to make space for this at our marches. Because this matters. This is important. We can’t just ignore it, because it doesn’t fit into our pussy-centric narrative.

And I see your little pussyhats, and they’re very cute. I do not for a second believe that they were made with ill intent, or to exclude anybody from the march. But when we put them on and agree that what unites us as women is the vagina, then we aren’t really being fair or true. What unites us as women is that we all call ourselves women, and we all have to deal with the hardships that comes with that. And it’s a different hardship for everybody. Some women only have to deal with sexism. Some women have to deal with sexism as well as racism. Some women have to deal with sexism, racism, and transphobia, all at once. Some women have to deal with more. And I understand if you don’t relate to that experience because it isn’t your own – but that doesn’t mean that those women aren’t your sisters. That doesn’t mean that those women aren’t suffering, and that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn about their experience so that you can help them.

And, really, all you need to do is learn. Learn, and make sure that you are opening up our marches and our movement to every women out there.

If I lost my vagina tomorrow in some sort of awful vagina-losing accident, I’d still be a woman. Because, end of day, my vagina has absolutely nothing to do with my identity. I identify as a woman because I feel like a woman – end of story. Not because of what’s between my legs (or the fact that it bleeds, or the colour of it, etc., etc.). Genitalia does not define us as much as we have allowed society to make it define us. End of day, it is society that tries to make us think that you can’t be a man with a vagina, or a woman with a penis. And if feminism believes in anything, it is that society can be changed.