Please read the op-ed below, written by Dr. Nada Elias-Lambert, WGST affiliate and Assistant Professor of Social Work, about the #MeToo Movement. Thank you, Dr. Elias-Lambert, for your powerful message.
We live in a rape supportive culture. There are so many recent examples of sexual violence, degradation, and objectification of women to support this statement: Weinstein is only one of them. Our rape supportive culture will not change until those (women, men, non-binary individuals) who have experienced these crimes speak openly about them. Examples of courageous voices that have attempted to challenge this rape culture are the Weinstein survivors, the women who challenged Cosby, Ashley Judd, the woman assaulted by Brock Turner, and Taylor Swift just to name a few. I am an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work and a Women and Gender Studies Core faculty member at Texas Christian University and have worked in the violence against women field for over 15 years. My research focuses on bystander interventions to prevent sexual violence. I have the privilege to teach an Intimate Partner Violence course at TCU each Spring and every semester I teach this course, my students share hundreds of examples of rape culture that they experience in their own lives. Rape culture, or a society whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse, exists and it is time that we do something to change it.
Weinstein’s deplorable, alleged crimes have provided a space for survivors of sexual violence to have their voices heard. The #MeToo movement has taken root overnight. With social media at everyone’s fingertips, survivors have many ways to stand in solidarity with one another to raise awareness about the epidemic of violence against women. Most people are aware of the statistics that one in five women say they were raped at some point in their lifetime (CDC, 2010). This statistic does not even consider the number of men or non-binary survivors of sexual violence or the underreporting of sexually violent crimes. Due to the rape supportive culture in our society and in the systems that victims of sexual violence must interact with, many victims do not report the crimes and therefore often do not receive the support they so desperately need.
The #MeToo movement has provided an opportunity for survivors’ voices to be heard. It has also helped those that are unaware of the epidemic proportions of this problem understand just how many people have experienced some form of sexual violence in their life. I am a survivor of sexual violence and have spent a good portion of my adult life using my voice to fight for change. However, not all survivors of sexual violence are as lucky as I am. Not all survivors of sexual violence feel safe to use their voice to share their story and raise awareness about the problem. Due to the rape supportive culture we live in, many survivors of sexual violence may be triggered by the #MeToo movement. They may want to be a part of this movement, but due to our society’s beliefs about violence against women, they are still unsafe to participate and have their voice heard. I am enraged that the rape supportive culture is so deep that survivors still feel unsafe to share their stories or have their voices heard even through social media outlets. It is infuriating to me that the onus is always on the survivors of sexual violence to come forward and make everyone aware of the problem. When will we start holding perpetrators of sexually violent crimes accountable?
I posted on FaceBook last night and joined the #MeToo movement in solidarity. However, I thought more about it overnight and realized that we should be posting something along with #MeToo. We should be asking everyone to do their part to change this rape supportive culture. We should ask everyone to post #IWill on their social media outlets as a promise that they will do their part to change this rape supportive culture. I will stand up when I see sexual violence occurring. I will step in to stop my peer/colleague/friend from sexually harassing or assaulting another human. I will say something when I hear a sexist comment. I will challenge a peer when they make a rape joke. I will believe and support survivors of sexual violence regardless of the situation. We all need to be held accountable to stop the current rape supportive culture we live in.
So, this morning I posted #IWill with the following explanation on my Facebook page. “Let’s take the #MeToo movement a step further. Copy, paste, and post #IWill if you agree. Let’s ALL agree to step up if we see sexual harassment/assault happening. This is one way to stop the problem and don’t we ALL have a role to play in attempting to change our rape supportive culture?” I challenge each of you to post something similar on your social media outlets. But, actions speak louder than words. So, if you post #IWill, then do it. Act when you see any form of sexual violence occurring. Step in to use your privilege or power to stop the situation. I have always believed that those with the most privilege and power are heard the loudest. It will take EVERYONE working together to change the rape supportive culture we live in. It is not acceptable any longer to stand by because you believe that sexual violence has not directly impacted you or your loved ones. This is a societal problem. It will take ALL of us working together to stop the continued sexual violence, degradation, and objectification of women in our society.