In the aftermath of the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, Americans are realizing that they live in a nation that still has much work left to do to achieve gender equality.
The viral campaign #MeToo has propelled the conversation around sexual harassment and assault much further than a few breaking news stories could have. For many years it has been the prevailing myth that rampant misogyny was a uniquely foreign issue that only plagued other countries. After all, we could express shock at the horrifying gang rapes in India, the honor killings in Pakistan, the systematic assault of fleeing Rohingya refugees in Myanmar, the genital mutilations in Congo and so on.
But rape and sexual assault are as American as apple pie. Systemic sexism is rampant here, and at the intersections of class, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, women face conditions that the world’s self-proclaimed superpower and beacon of freedom ought to be ashamed of.
About 17 percent of all American women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which is the United States’ largest anti-sexual violence organization. The group also has found that nearly three-quarters of all rape victims are assaulted by someone they know, and that more than 1 in 10 women are raped on college campuses each year, with sexual violence leading other types of crimes on campuses.
Women of color are particularly vulnerable, with a whopping 34 percent of Native American women being raped in their lifetimes. For black women it’s 18.8 percent, with white women following closely behind at 17.9 percent. Transgender women and men are assaulted in staggeringly high numbers: 64 percent, according to one study.
The violence doesn’t stop at rape. Thousands of women are murdered by men each year, according to the latest Violence Policy Institute report, “When Men Murder Women.” Ninety-three percent of those killed were murdered by a man they knew. Yes, women are sometimes perpetrators of sexual violence, but the problem is overwhelmingly one of male violence aimed at women.
It is useful to define the problems that women face. On one end of the spectrum is everyday sexism: leering sales clerks, men propositioning women at bars, male friends making casually sexist jokes, not-so-subtle once-overs by male bosses, and the like. On the other end of the spectrum are rape, bodily harm and murder. Spanning the space between is a gamut of offenses so varied that a simple hashtag simply cannot begin to capture it.
That is why when the campaign (started by Tarana Burke more than 10 years ago) took off recently after actress Alyssa Milano promoted it on her Twitter feed, many women jumped at the chance to say out loud and within a political framework that they too have been victimized. But many others, including myself, remained silent for a time. We struggled with the expectations that were suddenly placed on us to share the pain of something we have lived with all our lives. We wondered: Isn’t rampant male abuse of women obvious to all?
Some of us kept quiet because in comparison with the awful assaults and rapes allegedly experienced by Weinstein’s accusers and other rape victims, our lives were not upended as horribly: Labeling both a rape and a sexist comment with the same hashtag seemed to wrongly equate the two vastly different experiences..
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Why Some of Us Hesitated to Say #MeToo’