This week, we're in a brave new world where sexual harassment and assault allegations are suddenly met with business consequences, from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Louis C.K. to Matthew Weiner. It's amazing. And yet, unpack it the tiniest bit, and you realize that the real consequences begin when primarily white, super famous women with huge social capital and financial capital are the victims.
But I guess we have to start somewhere when it comes to finally—FINALLY—taking sexual assault and harassment seriously. After last year’s election, I became convinced more than ever that it just might never happen.
Because when you write about issues frequently sidelined as “women’s”—from the way women’s health care is siloed from all other health care, to the national rape kit backlog, to the daily chore of being a woman in public, and thus perceived as sexually available when really you’re just EXISTING—it’s easy to start feeling like an exhausted Cassandra, all raspy-voiced from shouting into an uncompassionate void.
This is happening! you say. This has always been happening! This is a problem and it is real.
Are you sure? asks the void. Is it really that bad? I don’t think this concerns me, as it does not happen to me personally.
Just kidding. The void doesn’t answer back. It’s a void.
It can be extremely lonely to be the person constantly on the receiving end of so many stories of women being hurt and ignored and denied basic equity and dignity, but when you cover this stuff, that’s who you become. It’s as hard as it sounds. It’s as rewarding as it sounds. But it gets tiresome to be the person in the room constantly saying no, we can’t listen to R. Kelly anymore, and yes, masturbating in front of someone without their consent is a crime, and yes, it has probably happened to someone you know.
This is what the past couple weeks have been like for me. Maybe this is what they’ve been like for you. But last week, I started to feel less alone. I was reminded that Cassandras are everywhere, and sooner or later, you won’t be able to ignore our screaming anymore.
Things that seemed unfathomable weeks ago are happening now: The deep-seated hubris of Louis C.K.’s “Woody Allen cosplay,” as our own Bobby Roberts dubbed it, is under the scrutiny it deserves. The dam is breaking. It’s about fucking time.
And if you’re a man with good intentions and you’re just now discovering the extent of sexual harassment and abuse? Please be kind to the women around you right now. Please ask them if they are okay. Please do not feel entitled to the details of their experiences of abuse and assault. Please just listen. And please understand that what Louis C.K. and his ilk have been accused of doing is something that happens to women on subways and at bus stops and on sidewalks and in workplaces all the time. It is vile and it is shocking, and we are socialized to accept it as a condition of being in the world.
Not anymore. The Cassandras around you are screaming. Unblock your ears.