Social Media & Third-Wave Feminism: When Unity Creates Division
Written by Baby Baudelaire for AliumCult.co.uk (17·10·17)
WARNING: The following article contains a real and blunt discussion of rape, sexual assault, and gender identity. Caution is advised for those who find these subjects sensitive.
On Sunday actress Alyssa Milano, encouraged by a friend, asked any woman who had been a victim of sexual harassment or assault to respond to her tweet with the hashtag #MeToo. It has since gone viral, with news outlets picking it up and women sharing their stories across many media platforms, but it has (inevitably) given rise to some backlash. As a victim of sexual assault, I wish I didn't agree with any of it. But, as a perpetrator, I have to.
One of the biggest movements in third-wave feminism is against the patriarchy and fighting toxic gender stereotypes that are damaging to just about everyone. So how is it that, in the posts I've seen written and shared by women calling themselves feminists, men are always the perpetrator and women always the victim? I've even seen multiple encouragements directing men to hashtag #ItWasMe to publicly identify themselves as abusers, and expressing that women don't have to share in order to have been abused. This is unacceptable - and highly problematic to feminism's aim of gender equality - because it completely excludes any victim of a female abuser and all male victims, and excuses women who have perpetrated abuse from recognising their responsibility. In our digital age, women who have been assaulted by men are increasingly able to speak up and be supported by an ever-growing online community, but that same community often seems to be supportive by denying any other victim of exactly the same crime - based on the feminist view of the individual's gender identity and what resides between their legs (which is problematic in itself, but is a separate discussion I won't start here).
There will be people who read this and say "But men are the most common perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment, why shouldn't I generalise? The men who don't do it won't feel upset by it!" They may not feel upset by the insinuation that men are by default more likely to be abusers, but could that be because by law women can't be rapists so aren't able to be prosecuted and punished for it, or maybe because society continually tells men that a woman desperate to have sex with them is something to be happy about and validates their existence as a man. Arguably it's because porn sites sell the idea that any woman (but especially one with power like a mother or a doctor) sexually molesting an unsuspecting man is a desirable thing, or maybe it's because a girl groping a guy's crotch is still seen as anything other than an assault. In short, there are actually so few situations in which a man can strongly identify himself as a victim of abuse (or a woman as an abuser) and receive support that it appears an almost non-existent possibility. I've seen the arguments for how societal constructs skew societal views a million times, but it seems that whenever the victim - even an actual victim of a real crime - could potentially be a white straight cis male no one wants to know, not even a hashtag on the Internet.
At 17 I was a victim of gang rape. At 18 I made someone else a victim of rape – although I didn't realise that's what I had done until I was 23, thanks to what society had taught me about men. When I contacted my victim and apologised for my reprehensible actions, he couldn't even remember the incident. Society had taught him that, because he was a man, repeatedly refusing sexual consent to a woman then having to physically remove her from his body was not a big deal. For any woman experiencing that same thing from a man, it would be undeniably (and understandably) a traumatic sexual experience; one that she would be able to voice to other women and receive support for. It seems that a feminist analysis on society's role of women has changed from coerced participants to empowered survivors, a position that provokes as much anger as it does support, but still evokes positivity; its view of men however has stayed stagnant, painting them as disgraced but still active aggressors. There is no room for them to identify as victims, just as there is no room for women to be identified as perpetrators, because society has not allowed it.
The intention of this article is not to distract from the real issue here: sexual assault and harassment is epidemic and needs to be stopped, now. It's becoming increasingly clear that this behaviour is rife in our society; the notion that only a handful of twisted monsters do these things is becoming blatantly untrue, which makes the challenge ever more pressing. However, reducing serious issues to a battle of the sexes makes it even harder, as it silences and excludes allies (potential or otherwise) to the cause. Personally, I can't be part of a movement that only supports people when they fall in line with arguably biased values, especially when doing so means individuals in need being silenced. I don't hold men, women, or anyone in-between responsible for the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in our society, because I don't believe that labelling a huge group of individuals connected by nothing but their genitals/gender identity as potential rapists is fair or helpful. What I do believe is that continuing to educate myself and others on consent, bodily autonomy, the right for all victims to be supported, and the need to hold abusers of any identity accountable for their actions, will eventually begin to eradicate any shred of rape culture – inclusive of and for everyone.