Disclaimer: I don’t know how this will turn out, I’m not expecting much. I could wake up tomorrow and think what the fuck did I write? I don’t know. I just can’t not write something.
The Ghomeshi verdict was released today and the not guilty verdict landed with a resounding thud. There’s an emotional drainage going about that’s all too severe. I’m not a particularly informed or knowledgeable person on matters of sexual assault and trauma. It’s a reality that, on the basis of my gender, I haven’t had to deal with on a personal level. However, the stories my female friends have shared are nearly endless. As a guy whose daily life doesn’t feature an endless barrage of threatening behaviour including (but not limited to) assumptions of ignorance, ineptitude or weakness, expectations of emotional labour, unwanted sexual advances, physical, verbal or emotional assault, I figure my options are to believe one of two things:
- There is a global conspiracy involving women crying wolf in a ploy for attention, sympathy, exposure and power.
- Or that these “stories” happen frequently, day in and day out. That the portion I hear about is an infinitesimally small percentage of these occurrences. That by virtue of gender, women have to deal with things that men would never think of because it’s so far out of their experiences. That spaces we men consider to be benign or safe could hold very real threats to women for no more than their “crime” of existing.
I can understand (which is not the same as agreeing) how so many men could not believe the second option. If something doesn’t fit into your lived experiences or world view, it’s hard to empathise with it. Most people don’t believe in mythical creatures like dragons because we haven’t seen dragons before us. It’s easy to dismiss them as works of fiction. If you’d met a dragon that would change your outlook, right? If a dragon had swooped down, lunged or breathed fire in your direction, that’d be terrifying. Just because you didn’t suffer physical injury, a narrow escape would still leave you pretty shaky I’m sure. I could see it being all the more terrifying because you didn’t think it was something that even could’ve happened to you.
Then what if you tried to tell people, but their response was “that’s silly, dragons don’t exist”? You had no marks or physical scars from the encounter, no proof beyond your word that it’d happened. They’d never seen a dragon, they had no evidence that they loomed among us, but their lack of evidence didn’t suddenly make your life threatening experience any less real. You were legitimately fearful for your life and nobody would listen to your fears in a judgement free capacity. What if every time you told people, they chided you and told you that you were crazy? You’d suffered through the terror of slavering jaws and searing hot flame, but because it didn’t fit into their life’s experiences they didn’t have enough trust or faith in you to give your trauma the benefit of belief. If you kept hearing that you were crazy, would you keep coming forward with your admissions? Or keep it to yourself out of fear of your personal credibility being reduced to zero? If being honest and forthcoming about your experiences would equate to nothing more than opening yourself to slander, insult and lowering yourself in the eyes of the public? I’m sure that’d make you feel alone, vulnerable, frightened and insignificant.
The dragon thing seems glib, but living in a culture that consistently undermines the experiences of victims is anything but. I’m not the most observant fellow out there, but even I’ve witnessed instances of women being made to feel uncomfortable in public spaces. Encroaching of personal space, vulgar, sexual and undesired advances. Men prioritising their desires over respect for women’s autonomy. Treating them like objects and a means to an end instead of free willed people. It happens constantly and so often the male response is apathetic or dismissive. Because we don’t have to deal with these issues, clearly they’re not issues at all. “Bitches be crazy”, ad infinitum. Emotional outbursts are criticised as unreasonable, an unmeasured reaction. Of course these reactions are judged as illogical. The male logic often follows that these things don’t happen, therefore a visceral reaction doesn’t adhere to the laws of logic. Fuck this. An unwillingness or inability to look beyond things within your world view does not mean your view is always right, it just makes you smug.
You may not be able to see the world as they do, but that’s because they navigate life with their own series of rules for survival. In 2016 we still live in a society that tells women they need to mitigate their behaviour in order to curb the impulses of the men around them. What if I told you that you constantly had to be prepared in case someone felt like stabbing you? If they decided they wanted their knife in your belly, it was your own fault for being there when that impulse overtook them. How would that make any sense?
I already feel like emotional weight stopped me from making sense a while back. For fear of invoking some “bitches be crazy” parallel, I’m gonna bring this train into the station with a simple suggestion:
If you’re a man who believes the “crying wolf” option, try finding an important woman in your life, someone you trust implicitly. With their explicit consent (and it’s understandable if they wouldn’t want to talk about it), try asking them if they’ve ever experienced situations that’ve made them feel threatened or unsafe. Try to listen (the word “listen” should be triple underlined) in a judgement free capacity to what they felt, why they felt that way. If this is a person you trust on most matters, why should this be any different?
Why is it so hard for men to just believe women? Is it possibly because deep down you fear what their truth says about the world we live in?