Rape culture is everywhere.
It is in every industry, it has been experienced or witnessed by everyone, and it thrives on abuse of power, on the stigma attached to being targeted, and the subsequent shame and silence. It looks like Harvey Weinstein being accused of sexual harassment by dozens of women, like Ben Affleck accosting a TRL host on national television, Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women by the pussy, your boss who keeps touching your waist and your professor suggesting you trade sexual favours for good grades. It doesn’t discriminate based on gender, orientation or notoriety. It is one of our true constants, and so ingrained in our society that we still ask survivors what they were wearing, what they said, why they didn’t speak up, and act surprised when men like James Van Der Beek and Terry Crews telling us it’s happened to them, too. It’s taught us to stop trusting anyone, and to adapt our behaviour in an attempt to ward off the misconception that we could ever be “asking” for it. It’s made us angry by default, at least as a defence mechanism.
I don’t remember the first time I was sexually harassed, but by the time I was a teenager, I’d realized it was practically a rite of passage for young women. I measured my worth by catcalls, by gropes and by the number of boys at school who commented on the way I looked and what they’d like to do with me. When a man flashed my friends and I at an all-ages club when we were barely 16, we laughed and chalked it up to boys being boys. We learned to push our objections down as far as we could, and told ourselves to lighten up when a men went too far. I responded to inappropriate comments and sexual propositions with a smile, fearing I’d be labelled a tease or a prude or any number of descriptors I feared would lessen my worth. I tried to do everything “right,” despite knowing—yes, even then—that it was a losing game.
Shortly after tweeting about my own Harvey Weinstein (one of many, but one nonetheless), I followed up with a tweet about how my default setting has became one of anger. At some point in my twenties, I became exhausted by playing a part I’d never signed up for. I got tired of pretending being yelled at from passing cars didn’t scare me, that I was cool with the occasional comment about the way I looked and of trying to be accessible and friendly. I got tired of being quiet, of being polite, of being nice (the empty alternative to “kind”). I didn’t want anybody to think I wouldn’t tell them to fuck off. Anger became easier to channel, to compartmentalize and to fuel work I needed to do. Plus, anger has become a universal language that anybody speaking about rape culture is fluent in.
This week, we saw the merits of anger. We saw women and men step up to share their experiences of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and saw how our collective anger spurred conversations that became tidal waves. With every revelation, testimony or tweet, we got angrier. And we used that anger to fuel bigger conversations, build bigger spaces in which to share and stage bigger conversations, ones we should’ve been having long before rape culture had such prominent names attached to it. We learned that this is only the beginning, that strangers we thought we knew because we saw them in movies would disappoint us, or that those we’d ignorantly assumed had been immune to unwanted sexual advances have suffered, too. Our worst fears and assumptions and things we knew all along are in the process of being confirmed and spoken about, which is a lot to process. So how do we do it?
We stay angry, and we continue to use that anger.
I’ve written a lot about anger as a coping mechanism. I am my worst when I am sad, when I am unsure or when I force myself to think positively about a situation that isn’t. But I’m at my best when I decide to act, instead. Anger, particularly in this situation, is powerful. It holds you in place when you want to back down, challenges you to keep conversations alive and gives you the push to clap back at anyone’s inappropriate behaviour. It is also necessary: after thousands of people shared their stories of harassment, assault, and abuse with me (and thousands more carrying on conversations and building platforms elsewhere), anger is the only feeling I have left. Niceties and approachability have no place here. Instead, we now get to parlay our frustration and rage into even more protest and discourse and plans to dismantle a system that’s been thriving for generations.
And that makes anger more than just a coping tool; it’s a survival mechanism. While the realities of rape culture have always affected us, the past week has forced us to confront just how prevalent it is, and how it has found its way into almost every life, where it manipulates, hurts and silences us. Being angry is the only way we can stop it. And if you’re anything like me at this point, you have anger to spare.