sexual assault

Dear Men

Hey guys.

I know things have been tough lately.

Weinstein. Franken. Levine. Batali. Rose. Thrush. Simmons. Tambor. Zimmerman. Kreisberg. Lauer. Louis C.K. Piven. Halperin.

And on and on and on. The list seems endless.

Probably because it is.

In the past month, I’ve had many men in my life who I care for and respect, many of them frequent allies, express horror at the seeming deluge of sexual misconduct and assault cases bubbling to the surface lately. How, they wonder, could this possibly be so common?

Welcome to our world, fellas.

It’s one where we walk to our cars with keys carefully gripped between our knuckles, just in case.

It’s one where we stay vigilant as we make that walk, or any other, picking up the pace when it seems like a man is following too closely for too long, crossing the street when need be.

It’s one where we remind each other to text when we get home so we know everyone is safe.

It’s one where we watch each other carefully at the bar, knowing full well that one moment without full awareness could mean something slipped in a drink.

It’s one where bathrooms become confessionals, places to plot escape routes from scenarios primed to go very wrong, where women exchange code words with strangers designed to elicit help.

It’s one where we know that even the men we trust can’t necessarily be trusted, because it’s the men we know who are most likely to try to hurt us.

It’s one where we know the word “no” to be dangerous to our careers, relationships, and very lives, and that wielding it is no guarantee of respect should that danger be outed.

Think we’re paranoid? If the news lately has rattled you, consider this: it is highly likely there is not a single adult woman in your life that has not had to walk another woman through the fallout of an assault, if she isn’t a survivor herself.

And yes, before you go there, this is personal.

Because I have lost count of how many times I’ve had those conversations, consoling traumatized women and reassuring them they did nothing wrong, were still whole and worthy.

Because strangers still think they’re entitled to grope me regularly, and it rattles me even now.

Because I’ve taken business meetings where the shape of my body was clearly of greater interest than the shape of my analysis, underscored by attempts to close a very different kind of deal by the end.

Because I haven’t left the house without being catcalled since I was 14, hearing in vivid, scatological terms the commodification of my own body, even while holding my small, confused daughter’s hand.

Because when my 9 year old asks me each morning why she has to wear a training bra, I choke, unable to find the words to explain to my child that there are men who sexualize such otherwise carefree little lives.

Damn straight it’s personal.

For some of you, the horror you’re experiencing is genuine. The fact that it’s taken you this long to get to this point after centuries of women screaming at the top of their lungs is frustrating as hell, but if it means you reflect and adjust and start calling out unacceptable behavior in your day to day life – including when women aren’t present to hand you a cookie for it – I am willing to take a deep breath and say thank you. Better late than never.

But if your focus right now is on saying “not me though,” you’re missing the point. I’ll give you a second to consider that. If you’re too busy defending yourself, you’re centering yourself in the conversation again instead of actually listening.

See, what’s hard to get past in all this is that there are others for whom this horror is something else entirely. The acts are heinous. Maybe they admit that. Maybe they don’t. But the real fear stems from the fact that those committing these acts are FINALLY facing a tidal wave of consequences. Not enough in some cases, frankly, but consequences nonetheless.

Hell, even Roy Moore couldn’t carry a blood red state.

The problem is that there is an unspoken question behind some of their reactions. They don’t support the behavior, they’ll say. But did he have to lose his job? But did he really have to resign if he apologized? But why did these women wait so long? But how do we know they’re telling the truth?

But but but NOTHING.

These reactions are as old as time, but our patience for them is waning. It is particularly hard to stomach within circles which pride themselves on intellectual vigor. I get it. Questioning claims is how we’re wired. At some point, though, as claims and corroboration of assault and misconduct mount, your need for a scientific proof doesn’t make you a skeptic. It makes you an asshole who might just be asking questions rooted in thousands of years of patriarchal oppression so you don’t have to wonder if you might be accused next.

If you find yourself thinking such things, then maybe you should wonder. And ask yourself why you’ve made choices that would make your wonder in the first place. Then do something about it. Make amends. Stop making choices that make women feel unsafe or objectified.

Because making an allegation of sexual assault is not a small or easy thing. There are significant consequences in the personal and professional lives of survivors for speaking up, often compounding the original trauma. There are good reasons false allegations are statistically exceedingly rare, even relative to other major crimes.

Add into the mix having to deal with jerks more concerned about asking these sorts of questions to shield their own ego and yeah, coming forward takes a whole lotta guts.

And gents, if you think YOU feel uncomfortable right now, imagine how we’ve felt for basically all our lives.

Right now is different though. It’s a moment. After we watched a country (including an embarrassing amount of white women with some major internalized misogyny issues apparently) elect a pussy grabbing traffic cone with no actual qualifications for the job rather than a woman, we took to the streets. Looking around Chicago during the Women’s March, feeling the rage and determined energy in the air, I knew, without a doubt, that things were going to start changing.

Ladies reading know what I mean. It feels important, like a potential shift in the tide to a life possibly a little more empowered and a little less dangerous.

I see you. I hear you. I stand with you. There’s this sense of responsibility, like we HAVE to get things right, have to be measured as we raise our voices on a subject that makes us want to scream and cry all at once. It is exhausting.

And yes, to some end, there is a responsibility to every woman who has survived assault and endured harassment to be deliberate and careful in our advocacy. Misappropriation of language surrounding these experiences, directly or implicitly, makes it so much harder to recruit potential allies in this quest for progress and justice, who then in turn make it much harder for survivors to come forward and advocate for themselves. 

I feel it too. I lost count of how many drafts of this I went through. I am still not sure I’m getting it right, but I know that trying to get it right is worth every single moment of effort.

Above all, now is the time to listen. Listen to the stories in the news, yes, but also the other women speaking out without such bright spotlights. Talk to women in your life about experiences they’ve had.

Then think, hard, about whether some of your behavior might be part of the problem in the past or now. Commit to being better. Commit to pushing those around you to be better. Do not allow the onus for propelling change to rest on the shoulders of women who have been abused by people like Cosby and Weinstein and Moore, shoulders that have been carrying far too much for far too long as it is.

And do this, not because there’s a woman or girl in your life you care about, but because we owe it to each other, and to ourselves, to, I don’t know, treat each other as human beings?




White Women: Come Get Your People

It’s no secret that white women fucked up this election. Not to say they don’t fuck up regularly, but 2016 was an especially disturbing case, with 53% of white women voting for an egomaniacal cheeto who’s now busy maligning a civil rights hero because governing is overrated.

Today, though, the New York Times published an article about said women. And I do mean white women when I say that, because those highlighted were all white women. Probably because 81% of non-white women voted for Clinton.

She wasn’t perfect, of course. She wasn’t a flaming orange human dumpster fire, either.

But I digress.

The contents of the article are not surprising. We’d heard these justifications long before a single ballot had been cast. Intense distrust of Clinton. A willingness to overlook racism and sexism because of the deranged traffic cone’s supposed business prowess. Actual agreement with racist drivel. And before the New York Times even thought about writing this piece, we learned there were even women who voted for this man-baby because they liked his daughter.

None of these arguments are ok. And on the first read of the article, I thought my head was going to explode.


“If I turned down every candidate who objectified women, I’d vote for no one.”

He didn’t just objectify women. He bragged about sexually assaulting them.


“Do I think Trump’s trying to send women back to the kitchen? No, his daughter is a great example.”

You do realize he said he’d want to have sex with her if she wasn’t his daughter, right?


“Hold on, you don’t know me. Doesn’t that make you a racist by calling me a racist when you don’t know me?”

You keep using this word “racist.” I do not think it means what you think it means.


“He says what everyone’s thinking and is afraid to say. That doesn’t make anyone bigoted.”

Actually, denigrating entire portions of the population based on race, gender, and religion makes you precisely that.


“He wants to bring America back to what it was before. I don’t think it’s taking us back to women have no rights or slavery days.”

Um, that’s exactly what it was before. One could argue we haven’t come that far, actually.


“Obama was out for himself. I think it was more about him being a celebrity than a president.”



“And it’s like Hillary has the right to talk about Trump when she stayed with a guy who was in the White House and took advantage of a young intern? Why would you stay with him?”

You are quite literally blaming a woman for a man’s misdeeds while simultaneously voting for a sex offender. I cannot.


“I looked at that more as bravado, his audience needed that to get the applause.”

So, you’re super concerned that she might have lied but voted for a man that you know to be lying?


“You don’t pay more money out than you have.”

He is literally BILLIONS of dollars in debt.


“He’s not getting large amounts from donors based on what you’ll do for me later.”

You are correct on that point. He just traded appointments for campaign support. Wait a minute…


“I felt like once you got past the bluster, he really was interested in helping everyone.”

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou


The whole article was stomach turning and enraging. But there were two quotes that really bothered me.

“Trump’s not a perfect man, by any means. He kind of reminds me of my ex-husband. I think he’s a really good man, deep down.”

“You get through the bad and you focus on the good.”

At first, I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me. And then I remembered a TED Talk I’d seen from Leslie Morgan Steiner. In it she explained:

I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on earth who could help [him] face his demons.


In so many of the testimonials you read from women who voted for Trump, you’ll find justifications which make little sense, forgiveness of the unforgivable, discriminatory perspectives expressed as lessons from the men in their lives. The same sort of rhetoric you hear from victims of domestic abuse, whether it’s acknowledged as abuse or not. In many cases where the individual is being abused but is in denial, they internalize feelings that they’re unworthy of support or security, and defensively posture when it’s implied their experiences constitute abuse.

Do I think that means that the 53% of white women who voted for Trump were all victims of domestic abuse? Absolutely not. Do I think their words, vote, or perspectives are somehow justifiable? Nope. No get out of jail free card here. That’s not what I’m trying to say.

What I’m trying to say is that in a world where misogyny and institutional racism are a thing, at least some white women are bound to make decisions that run counter to their self-interests. Think about it. On the one hand, they perpetually encounter misogyny. On the other hand, they benefit from their white privilege.

Put in a different context: A woman in an abusive relationship is subjected to physical, emotional, and psychological torment. But damn, the good moments are good, right?

(Whoa, whoa, whoa, you might say. Women of color got it right, though. This is no excuse.

Yeah, they did. And if you ever wanted more proof that women of color are strong as hell and utter badasses (there’s already so much out there), here ya go. They experience both racial and gender discrimination on the regular, but faced with a spray-on tan obsessed bully, they said fuck no. There’s a reason they’re the most fearless leaders on the frontlines of any fight against oppression you could imagine.)

Yeah, it’s no excuse. Again, this analogy is not about absolving white women of their crimes against humanity in the voting booth. And dear god, it is not my intent to shame victims of abuse who stay with their abusers.

It is, however, another way of considering the impacts of white privilege. It is individuals of color who suffer most, but white women, in particular, are doing themselves no favors when they squeeze their eyes shut and put their fingers in their ears. They’re not helping themselves by nodding along with ideologies that advance a white supremacist agenda and shrugging off misogyny. But that’s what they’re doing.

Like Steiner once did, they don’t see themselves as battered or abused. They take the hits and believe, in their heart of hearts, that they’re loved because a different attribute of themselves is put on a pedestal.

Steiner got out of her abusive relationship when she finally accepted that her husband’s behavior was abusive. To this end, maybe the key to getting white women to recognize the toxicity of today’s conservative politics is to get them to understand the impact of misogyny. If they can understand one form of oppression, it gets harder to ignore other forms of oppression.

In fairness, that’s not always the case. White feminism is a thing (I know I’ve fucked up on this note on occasion), and that shit needs to get burnt to the ground. But understanding the necessity of feminism and what it means can be a starting point in terms of understanding intersectionality. When it comes to the female Trump voter, we’re going to have a hard time starting the conversation at white privilege because acknowledging that leaves them with zilch.

As Steiner points out, leaving an abusive relationship is scary. Why? Because it can be dangerous. Statistics indicate that women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after they leave an abusive partner than they were at any point in their relationship.

I’m not saying white women leaving conservatism and acknowledging the oppression in the world around them are 70 times more likely to be killed than those who stay with their backwards political partner. But as women in general have left the Republican party, what’s happened? A surge in extremist laws attacking reproductive rights. An uptick in the shaming and blaming of survivors of sexual assault. Boiling outrage over “P.C.” culture. I could go on. And all of these developments, frankly, put women’s lives at risk.

But there’s power in numbers. A strong support network makes all the difference for someone trying to leave an abusive relationship, right? The sooner white women figure that out, the better. There is a massive support group comprised of women who have turned their backs on the oppressive rhetoric and policies of the GOP. And just as leaving an abusive relationship can help someone grow to their full potential, white women turning their back on misogyny can grow to better understand the intersectional nature of oppression, and join in the good fight.

I fully acknowledge that the fact that they need to be handled with kid gloves to stop being assholes is fucked up. To that end, it’s important that the folks doing that work — moving these women towards the right conclusions — has got to be done by white folks. Asking people of color, and especially women of color, to take on that emotional labor is unacceptable and the height of privilege. They’ve been fighting. It is us who need to step up to the plate.

So white women who give a shit: this is your call. Come get your people.

We Did It For The Likes

“She got caught up in the likes,” he said.

We all know that sentiment in some capacity or another: the ego boost of a well received profile picture, the righteousness of an applauded political sentiment, the satisfaction derived from giggles surrounding a clever meme.

But that’s not how Marina Lonina got her social high back in February. No, she got that buzz from broadcasting the rape of her friend on the social platform Periscope. As the New York Times reports:

The teenager, Marina Lonina, 18, faces a spate of charges as severe as those facing the accused attacker, Raymond Gates, 29. Both have been charged with kidnapping, rape, sexual battery and pandering sexual matter involving a minor.


On the evening of Feb. 27, all three were gathered at a residence in Columbus where Mr. Gates pinned the 17-year-old down and raped her as Ms. Lonina used Periscope, an app owned by Twitter, to live-stream the attack, the authorities said.

A friend of Ms. Lonina’s in another state saw the video and contacted the authorities.

Both defendants pleaded not guilty on Friday.

The defense is arguing that Marina is just as much a victim as her friend. She’s only 18 years old, after all. He was ten years their senior, after all. He had plied them with vodka, after all. And as she told the police, she was simply trying to preserve evidence.


Was Marina herself being exploited by an older man? Arguably yes. But was she an innocent bystander as her boyfriend raped someone she called a friend? Not remotely.

You don’t live stream an assault to stop it. You have a phone that’s capable of live streaming in your possession? Good. Then you’re probably also in possession of a phone capable of calling 911 or texting someone in search of immediate help. You don’t broadcast the assault to an audience in no position to intervene. It took the actions of someone in another state for the authorities to become involved. That the police were eventually contacted doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter to the young girl being raped at that moment. It didn’t stop a thing.

Is the recording now being used as evidence against the assailant? Yes. And in a world where rapists are rarely convicted, that’s a potential silver lining here. But if you have a phone that’s capable of live streaming, you also have a phone that’s capable of collecting such evidence without broadcasting it for public consumption. It is, believe it or not, entirely possible to record something without sharing it with the world. To be fair, her SD card could have been full from all the nude photos she’d snapped of her vulnerable friend the night before. Was that about evidence, too?

Marina wasn’t trying to stop the rape. She wasn’t trying to collect evidence. She did it for the likes.

There is no denying that social media has become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, shrinking the world through connection and information dissemination. It can educate and inspire and entertain. It can provide support and solace. When used by a collective, it has the power to do a lot of good, as evidenced by associated movements like #BlackLivesMatter.

But in the never ending quest for attention, it can also be a dangerous drug. Marina is just one very obvious cautionary tale.

Too often, we become obsessed with projecting the “right” image, losing ourselves in the process, losing sight of our self-worth along the way. We do it for the likes.

So frequently, we bypass meaningful conversation on important topics, leaning on one liners and gifs and emoji, losing an opportunity for understanding, losing hope that things can improve. We do it for the likes.

More and more, we collectively shrug at the offensive and ignorant and vile, clicking hide and unfollow instead of calling it out, losing our shot at making the world a better place, losing our chance to do our part. We just can’t sacrifice those likes.

I get it. I’m guilty of it too. It’s a one-click affirmation world. We’re just living in it. And we’re not like Marina, so it’s all good. Right?

But listen: even if you believe Marina was trying to stop the assault, even if you applaud her attempt to gather proof of the attack for an eventual prosecution, you cannot ignore the power of the almighty like in this story. You cannot look past the views and the hearts and the chats that frame this crime. So even if you’re uninterested in discussing Marina’s culpability, let’s talk for a minute about our own, because maybe, just maybe, we’ve been doing it for the likes for so long that we’re missing the forest for the trees.

Face facts. A young woman’s assault was turned into a social experience with an eager audience. A video of a young girl begging the man on top of her to stop and crying out in pain still might not be enough to convict her rapist. It’s an ugly reality, an ugly world. But none of this should surprise you.

After all, it’s a world where our fond memories of a television character outweigh the voices of dozens of women.

It’s a world where our admiration of an athlete’s performance has us dismissing the pain they inflicted.

It’s a world where our love of a man’s musical contributions has us propping up conspiracy theories so we don’t have to face the suffering they’ve created.

It’s a world where our religious institutions are fighting legal reform that would offer justice to traumatized victims because they know it will hurt the Church.

It’s a world where our partisan priorities have given way to a leading presidential candidate who can openly degrade women and still soar in the polls.

It’s a world where our cultural icons advance the idea that young women should be taught to assume their attire, their bodies, and their existence is to blame for the criminal behavior of helpless men.

It’s a world where our media uses sex and rape interchangeably while discussing allegations of assault.

It’s a world where any attempt to discuss these problems, to really expose the depth and breadth of rape culture in our society, is met with derision and laments of political correctness run amok.

Though the headlines might be fresh, none of this is really new. It is, however, made more dangerous by the connective power of modern technology and how we use it. In this sense, Marina was inevitable: the product of a digital era desperate for validation and comfortable with the normalization of sexual violence.

It’s our world. We created it. We live in it. We consume and deflect and accept and tolerate and laugh and promote and share and retweet and reblog and like and like and like and then act surprised when Marina is more interested in entertaining a perverse audience than the safety of her friend.

She did it for the likes. But from where I’m sitting, there’s not much likable about the world in which she did.