Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Holding The Men We Love Accountable

[Content note: rape, harassment, and mild spoilers for Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings]

So I've been reading a really good book, Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings. It's great...and dense. I can't say I've fully processed all the messages and themes, and I still have 3/22 chapters to read, but it really got me thinking about one thing in particular and I just need to write about it.

The story follows a group of friends from their time at an artistic summer camp for teens in the mid seventies to the present day. Two of the main characters are bother and sister, Ash and Goodman. Ash is a budding feminist as a girl and throughout the novel she digs deeper into feminism and feminist theater. However, in their late teens, Goodman is accused of raping one of their common friends, Cathy.

Ash sides 100% with her beloved brother, Goodman, and deeply believes that Cathy is such a bad person for "saying this" about her brother and "ruining his life." Ash and Cathy's friendship immediately ends and up to the point that I'm reading now, 30+ years later, Ash still deeply believes that Goodman was wronged by the whole situation.

At first, I was bothered by this story line because we were initially only privy to the perspective of Ash, and her best friend Jules, (who is the story's main protagonist.) But the further I read, the more it became clear, through Jules' growth, realizations, and an emotional conversation with Cathy, that Goodman did raped her, as Cathy had withdrawn her consent in the moment but he didn't stop.

I was really bothered that Cathy was demonized by Ash. I was really bothered that feminist Ash couldn't see past her own love for her brother to understand what he had done. I was really bothered that the one outspoken feminist in the book was siding with a rapist. Then I realized, as I probably should have done sooner, that Wolitzer's creation of Ash in this way is actually much more accurate than I'd like to admit.

I've seen it myself so many times. Feminist friends look the other way when one of their male friends is harassing a woman at a party. Or later say things like, "Oh, he didn't mean it like that" or "Were you flirting with him?" When I reblog posts about the extremely low rates of false rape accusations, women will frequently write, "I'm a feminist, but someone once accused my brother/boyfriend/friend/family member of rape and I know he could never do that."

And what runs through my mind every time is: How can you know someone would never do can hope it or feel it or have faith in it, but can you know? Can you ever really see what's in someone else's heart and mind? And what they're capable of? It's a simple fact that how you are treated by a man doesn't reflect how that man treats or views all women. I know all of this is incredibly scary extremely difficult to confront, but it is the truth. You just don't "know."

The situation of my life is such that I never had an opportunity to build childlike hero-worship of a male role model who I felt would protect me, could do no wrong, etc. so it's a little hard for me to wrap my mind around this mentality. But I do see it in others all the time and I absolutely think it is dangerous.

We, as feminists, need to be willing to examine the rape culture and misogyny in everyone, and that includes the men closest to us. If we cannot start with our immediate surroundings, what's the point? If every man out there has a feminist friend/family member who loves them and therefore excuses or tolerates dangerous attitudes/behaviors in them, how can systemic change ever occur? We must confront misogyny in our own homes and hearts first. In case it needs to be said (SIGH) of course I'm not saying all men are rapists or misogynists or horrible people and that we should trust no one, but it is undeniable that our society is a rape culture and it teaches all kinds of misogynistic attitudes. Without people who actively confront these messages, especially in the people they love, it will be very hard to make any progress.

Basically, we've got to strive for accountability of all oppressors, accept that even people we love are at least capable of heinous acts, and therefore teach and expect better.

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