There are a few major stories on the media circuit these last few weeks that have a common and disturbing thread running through them. I’m referring to the Josh Duggar child sexual abuse allegations, the vulgar taunts some female reporters are being subjected to, and the sexual harassment female stand-up comedians face during performances. That thread is the pervasiveness of social attitudes that are rooted in sexism.
On the positive side, it’s great that these all-too-common stories are getting mainstream media coverage. It’s encouraging to see these troubling topics being discussed outside of feminist social circles, and perpetrators getting called out and in some cases punished for their gross behaviour.
On the other hand, the mansplaining, excuses and justifications being made for the men involved in these situations are so rampant it makes me want to give up on humanity and live alone on a remote island.
We keep hearing things like “it’s just a joke,” “he made a mistake” or “he didn’t know any better.” Each of these utterances absolves the men of their responsibility for their own actions, and the argument is turned against the women who were victims of those actions or women in general for being such humorless bores. The narrative gets flipped and somehow it becomes the woman’s fault that she got harassed, assaulted or dared to complain about it. Cue the #NotAllMen crowd.
This is part of a broader cultural problem. It’s no secret people like the Duggars view the female body as the source of all temptation and sin in the world. But even those of us with more moderate beliefs face similar attitudes on a daily basis. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman who hasn’t faced inappropriate touching or comments at a workplace. When it happens, we’re scared to speak up for fear of being told to “relax, it was just a joke” or even worse, retaliated against. Not to mention all those times we get harassed on the street and start to blame ourselves for what we’re wearing. Many women have internalized these attitudes to the point that they blame themselves in these situations.
I get that we all deserve a shot at redemption, and amends can and should be made. But instead of making the conversation all about what these men intended, how they justify it, how their lives have been negatively affected and why they deserve forgiveness, let’s talk more about the perpetrators’ responsibility for their behaviour, the effect of their actions on the victims, how it makes victims feel, and women’s right to be respected and present in public spaces without harassment.
Let’s stop hijacking the conversation and listen for a change.