Let me begin by saying I’m a 2 on the enneagram with a rock-solid 9 wing. For those of you who have no clue what that means, let me enlighten you. In no uncertain terms, I am a flaming co-dependent who can’t tolerate anyone fighting, ever. In more PC terms, I’m a caretaker and a peacemaker. So when it comes to Facebook fighting, I’m a novice. If I am brave enough to scroll through a fight, I do so with a rapidly beating heart trying to determine how I can restore peace to all parties involved as quickly as possible. I mean, how can I go to sleep at night when my co-workers’ cousin twice removed from Indiana (who I’ve never met) is upset about a topic I didn’t know existed five minutes prior? The answer is: I can’t.
Imagine my surprise when I found myself unable to remain silent after reading a post from my very own family member. He was posting a story about a woman who accused a prominent public figure of sexual assault only to admit being paid to make the false accusation. I was struck with a flurry of feelings. I expect this type of woman shaming from conservative strangers living in the bible belt, not from my liberal, gay family member who’s been a feminist longer than I have. I paused before I posted, gathering my thoughts. What did I want to express and how could I do so without causing a colossal division between us?
I have always been an advocate for the underdog. In recent years as the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements have gained momentum, I’ve been both profoundly pleased and ridiculously humbled. Pleased because morals I have abided by for decades, such as valuing the strength of women or honoring the heritage of dark-skinned individuals are being brought to the attention of the masses. Humbled because despite my most fervent efforts, I continue to inadvertently promote racism and sexism through internalized and normalized compliance. As a white, middle-class woman I have come to understand the only way to unlearn these isms is by practice. While I can recognize the most subtle hints toward the dismissal of women, I participate in sexism by remaining silent when I see dismissing taking place. Throw into the mix the topic of sexual assault, and it makes speaking up that much more challenging as a Me Too survivor.
The offending post was an article titled, “Woman Who Accused Doctor of Sexual Assault was Paid to Lie”. My family member added, “An example illustrating the dangers of indiscriminately believing every accusation…” Upon reading these words I felt the all too familiar feeling of being silenced, as a woman and as a Me Too survivor. When there are millions of women who have survived sexual assault why is he choosing to focus on someone who faked it? Doesn’t he see that promoting the rare occurrence of false accusation fuels the culture in disbelieving all women? It felt personal, even though the people in the article were completely unknown to me. I realized I had a choice at this moment. I could scroll right on by, ignore my insight, and remain complacent with sexism, or I could speak up and do my part to unlearn this behavior. Using my voice to point out sexism would feel uncomfortable at best. I determined my family member was safe enough to practice calling out the culture I so fervently want to change. I took a leap of faith and responded to the post with this comment:
I believe it’s posts like this that perpetuate rape culture. Yes, it’s true there are false allegations, yet for every one person falsely accused, there are a hundred more who are guilty that walk free. I cringe seeing posts like this the same way I do when I see white folks chanting, “White lives matter.”
I knew I was opening a can of worms. A Facebook fight was likely to break out. Even so, I was proud of myself for choosing to actively participate in unlearning sexism.
By the time I logged on to Facebook the following morning, there were 18 more comments. Only one was directed at me, wherein my family member was questioning my method in distinguishing between true and false rape allegations. It took me several minutes of deep presence to not have a knee jerk reaction. I could have so easily been derailed into a fruitless word war playing out the same tired story of the woman believing the rape survivor while the man dismisses her. In scrolling through the other 17 comments, that tired story is exactly what I saw. Rather than perpetuate that narrative, I brought myself back to my original sentiments, which were much more personal. I wrote:
My comment wasn’t about the details of this particular story, but rather your choice to promote it. As I said above, yes, there are false allegations. The choice to spotlight a false accuser when there are millions of individuals who have been sexually assaulted who’s predators will never be held accountable is a curious choice to me. It’s not what I would expect of you, being the fair, loving, feminist person I know you to be. We ALL (myself included) blindly contribute to creating a culture where the majority of predators of sexual assault are not held accountable. Similar to having to unlearn racism, we need to unlearn the ways we promote rape culture. My comment was in the spirit of dismantling this oppressive culture.
At this point, a close friend piped in earnestly defending him. He stated my family member was not promoting rape culture and suggested my stance was reckless and dogmatic. Once again I had to pause. Choosing to unlearn isms is an agonizing road. I have to make a concentrated choice to push back against my blind spots, denial, and fear. It is wildly uncomfortable. As soon as I have a handle on my defenses, then I am bumping up against another’s. The other person may or may not want to learn their edges. In fact, most folks don’t. It is safer to stay in the comfort of what we know then to explore an unfamiliar world.
I took a few deep breaths. The edges I was walking here were with individuals who I truly love and respect. I responded with the following:
I believe we ALL contribute to this culture we live in that tolerates the vast majority of sexual predators walking free, myself included. I am finding it to be a complex process. Of course, I don’t believe you, my family member, or I intend to promote rape culture. However, I do believe we all have blind spots that result in its promotion. I am actively trying to unlearn rape culture the way that I’m actively trying to unlearn racism.
My friend clicked the thumbs up icon to this comment while my family member remained silent. That was the end of the discussion.
I felt a mixture of feelings. Sad, mostly. Sad that communication is so tedious. Sad that so many women aren’t safe to express their truth. Sad that these liberal, gay men appear to have as much to unpack around sexism as their straight, conservative brothers.
Then, as an act of an angel, some man I’ve never seen or heard of decided to pipe into our conversation. He posted:
I want to thank all of you for this comment thread. Civil, informative, and very earnest. I learned a little something here and I’m a better person for it.
Wow! This stranger’s reflection was exactly what I hoped for in calling out my family member’s post to begin with. I intended to plant a seed of consciousness-raising. I am grateful to know my seed took root. It gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, it’s worth pushing the edges after all.