I have been waiting for this day to come. For the day when we no longer have to contain or suppress our outrage at the misogyny and sexism that is STILL too ubiquitous world-wide. Don’t get me wrong. That Elliot Rodger murdered 6 innocent people, that this brutal act was motivated by a hatred of women, is a human TRAGEDY. A disaster that should never have happened. And more recently, reports of two Indian teenage sisters who were raped and hung on a mango tree, is a story too frightening for human imagination. That, I was not waiting for.
What I mean to say is that finally the seal has been lifted (however tragic the catalyst was) and women all over the world are bravely and confidently speaking out against misogyny. It’s like a Renaissance of the female voice.
What I’m about to write may be shocking to some, but know that my experience is the experience of so many women I know. I speak for women (and men) all over the world in general. And let it be known too – I LOVE MEN! I love my dad, I love my brother, my uncles, my cousins and all of my male friends and boyfriends (past and present). I should also add that I played a somewhat sexualised character on the Starz series Spartacus, and yet the predominant message I continue to get from fans is one of respect. For the most part, the men in my life have treated me with respect, love and dignity.
And yet this is also true…
I’ve been raped by 2 men at the same time. I woke up to it happening. I’ve been followed home from a university party, drunk, by a guy from my class who proceeded to force his way into my house and then undress me. I’ve been passively aggressively shut down for being “pretty opinionated for a blonde actress.” And when my instance of rape went to court in Western Australia in 2006 (thankfully I had the strength and support around me to speak out and report it to my family and the police), one of the defence lawyers also ridiculed me for being “an actress.” The implications were:
- I was a good liar, and
- I was a bimbo or a slut (the term “actress” has an historical association with “whore”, hence the Australian/British colloquialism – “said the actress to the Bishop”).
I speak out about these experiences not because I need further therapy (although there’d be no shame in it if I did), but because finally I feel I can. And because when I was raped and I would tell other women about it, I was amazed at how many of them would then come out and tell me about their “secret” too. About an instance of sexual assault or physical abuse that they had endured, but, in most cases, had kept quiet about. My hope is that now that we will no longer feel like we have to stay quiet. And I hope too that the strength and volume of our united voice will send a message to any remaining creeps, predators and misguided people, and to that whole misogynistic culture that clouds human decency and ruins lives. The message being: It is their shame to hate women, to see us as objects to be used as they see fit, to wish to inflict pain on women and to view us as “other” or “less”. It’s shame on them, not us women.
Perhaps if more of us speak out then the more shamed the perpetrators will feel and the less “taboo” and secretive this stuff will become for women. Maybe then the balance will flip.
This should not be confused with: I am or women are speaking out against men. Unfortunately the “not all men” response to the #YesAllWomen narrative offered only a frustrating misunderstanding, further misogynistic implications and a distraction from the point at hand.
Jessica Valenti wrote a powerful piece in The Guardian on Wednesday where she highlighted:
For every incredible person sharing his or her story on #YesAllWomen, there seemed to be an-other person doubting its necessity: angry men insisted that Rodger’s violence couldn’t have been about sexism because four of the six people killed were men. But those men were as much victims of Rodger’s misogyny as the women he hurt and killed – women aren’t the only ones hurt by hateful ideology. Arguing anything else is willful ignorance.
For years I have felt like I’ve been treading on egg shells when I’ve expressed my views and beliefs on gender. It feels like the reaction I often get is: “women have it good now, stop complaining!”, or “you’re not a feminist, are you??” (like that would be a bad thing?), or “don’t get all heavy on me… let’s keep things light and fun”, or “I’ve never raped a woman or been sexist, I love and respect my mom… So why are you telling me?”.
It’s felt like the feminist discussion in popular culture had ended. That in this day and age, for my generation, it was no longer appropriate to get opinionated about gender inequality (even though it was everywhere in my life). And that if I was to broach the subject, it had to be handled in an offhanded, level headed, humorous or “light” manner.
In my industry alone, the fact that most films are still made by men is enough justify the discussion. I saw Linda Woolverton (writer of Maleficent, The Lion King and Alice In Wonderland) speak at the Newport Beach Film Festival, and as a woman who has risen to a rare level of accomplishment in the studio process, she repeatedly recalled the many years of pitching to intimidating rooms of men in suits. She also explained her “tactics” of subtly sneaking in “feminist messages” into classic Disney narratives. Women “haven’t got it all yet”, we’re still journeying “there.”
FINALLY we’re allowed to speak.
Valenti also goes on to assert that the defensiveness of men displayed all over social media of late expresses “a need to protect the privileges of sexism.” She continues:
Some men want to believe that they can continue to call women “sluts” and make rape jokes without being part of a broader cultural impact. But they can’t: sexism, from everyday harassment to inequality enshrined in policy, pollutes our society as a whole and limits our ability to create real justice for women…
No doubt “raunch culture” that continues to mark its stamp all over regular life, isn’t helping. Nor are the mythical representations and standards of female beauty and sexuality in the media, which are, for the most part, both designed for the male gaze and generated by men respectively. But these are issues for another article.
Thank you to all of the brave and loving women and men who have embraced this discussion and to anyone who has taken the time to read this post.
With love and light,