Jessica Valenti says why it matters how we treat claims about sexual abuse.
I’ve never watched a Woody Allen movie. My parents refused to rent them after he began a “relationship” with Soon-Yi Previn and their explanation stuck with me through adulthood. I was around 13 years old at the time, and always looking to pick a fight—I asked why it mattered since Previn wasn’t his “real” daughter. My parents sat me down and talked about the responsibility adults have to children, and certain boundaries that parents and parental figures must respect.
It’s more than a little sickening how that got normalized over the past couple of decades. The guy married someone he’d been in a semi-paternal relation to, no matter how much he says he didn’t interact with Mia’s children. She was on a tiny list of women who were simply off limits to him.
As I grew older—as I had teachers come on to me as a teen, as I experienced the way grown men get away with sexualizing girls—I understood the significance of what my parents told me. Today, as an adult, I know that when we make excuses for particular, powerful men who hurt women, we make the world more comfortable for all abusers. And that this cultural cognitive dissonance around sexual assault and abuse is building a safety net for perpetrators that we should all be ashamed of.
There’s another thing we do when we make excuses for particular, powerful men who hurt women, besides making things nicer for the powerful men. We also make the world less comfortable for women. We tell women – all women – that women just don’t matter as much as powerful men. We tell women that we’ll throw them overboard in order to hang on to the favors of the powerful men. Mr Big groped you? Well that’s sad for you, but shut up, because we want him to speak at our next event, and frankly we don’t give a fuck about you.
We know that abusers are manipulative, often charismatic, and that they hide their crimes well.
Well yes, and we also know that that’s why they’re powerful, that’s why they make good speakers for our events, that’s why they pull in the start-struck crowds, and that’s why we’re not going to hold them accountable. We like them and we don’t like you, their victims, so just shut up and go away, or we’ll trash you in every newspaper and blog in the land.