It's time to rethink how we view women after sexual assault cases
In the U.S., we are frequently exposed to stories about powerful men taking advantage of their places in their respective industries. From clothing CEOs like Dov Charney to conservative television hosts like Bill O’Reilly, every once in a while, the public is rocked by news of lawsuits and sexual harassment claims, which are sometimes followed by celebrities and colleagues of the accused publicly condemning their actions.
The recent Harvey Weinstein scandal has been no different, with celebrities coming out of the woodwork to declare his actions indecent and atrocious.
A line we hear nearly every time one of these situations makes its way to the headlines—from male celebrities in particular—is "I have a daughter/sister/mother/wife/(insert other female relative)." This time is no different. One such comment came from Ben Affleck, and it nicely sums up the generic line said by men when these types of allegations push them to disavow the accused: "We need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, coworkers and daughters."
The issue with this statement is the reluctance to see all women as people we should protect and view as exactly that: people. Saying "I have daughters, so that makes these actions inexcusable" is another way of saying "before I had daughters, women weren’t real people to me," and that’s quite possibly why we don’t hear women saying that "having sons taught me that harassing men is wrong." It’s a silly statement because we see men as their own persons from the start, not until we have relationships with them. Women’s worth is not directly correlated with how many men care about them, and whether you know them or not, all women deserve to be treated with the respect and integrity that we expect our mothers and sisters to be treated with.
Another issue that has come up is our jump to use "The Rock Test" and similar scenarios. Created with good intention by writer Anne Victoria Clark at Medium, the idea behind the test is for men to avoid sexual harassment accusations by imagining all women they interact with as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and to treat them thusly.
An issue with this test, besides that it needs to exist in the first place, is that it implies that in order for men to respect women in a way that keeps them from asking their coworker about how her legs look in that pencil skirt, they have to picture the women they interact with as a 6-foot-5-inch wrestling champion. It implies that men cannot naturally treat women as they would men without the threat of violence, and that’s a whole other issue in itself. It’s like the rape culture argument that "men just can’t control themselves when women dress like that. It assumes that men are just uncontrollable animals, which is as hurtful to them as it is to women.
There will be another Weinstein, another O’Reilly, another Charney, and most likely, we will hear these comments over again. It is our job to let the commenters know that these comments, even though they stem from good intentions, are not the kind of thing we want or need to hear. We need to hear the actions of these predators shut down when they happen and to be told they’re not okay. We need you to stand up for us when we’re cornered by a male coworker who keeps getting a bit too friendly and to not harbor these people as "friends" and "good people." We need you to see us as people from the start, not just when you have a relationship with us. We need you to stand with us, and not just after the fact.