“This is disgraceful. This is intolerable.”
"All of us women are trying to do what we have always done...we are just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn't really bother us. Maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us, we women, look weak. Maybe we've grown accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet because we've seen that people often won't take our word over his." - Michelle Obama, New Hampshire, October 13th 2016
His recent words from the leaked audiotape have startled and shook me as Michelle Obama describes the way his comments shook her. I will not call him by name because this is not new, nor is this simply about a very powerful man saying very dangerous things. What we heard was not locker room talk; it is in fact insulting to decent men everywhere. We have seen articles and allegations circling the internet for quite some time, yet somehow it was not until the man himself details sexual predatory behavior that we believe it. Still, community outrage and discussion can provide us with some comfort. This is because I, like many others, felt that speaking up would do nothing if others were justifying toxic language. In some ways, this would hurt even more. The fear of being called too sensitive and of expressing vulnerabilities has censored us for far too long.
It was orientation weekend of my freshman year in college when I heard the first rape joke made by someone I called a friend. He laughed it off, and his roommates told me to calm down. I pulled myself together. It was this past summer when a coworker made a rape joke, she said she was sorry. I told her it was OK. It wasn’t. The problem is: the rape joke isn’t just a joke. By framing the nature of the content as funny, it minimizes the implied threat.
I have tried to swallow my sadness, to contain my anger, and to believe that people may have been right when they said I was being too sensitive. It was easier to become numb to the noise than to risk drowning in it. But my silence came across as acceptance and left no room for me to speak up for the people who could not. For those unwilling to hear the individuals left emotionally vulnerable to recent comments and everyday rape jokes, I urge you to listen for it is the perpetrators who see your silence as a normalization of abuse. When you joke and dismiss the severity of sexual violence, actual and potential assailants hear you. Whether coming from a loved one or a presidential candidate, we must do better.
The rape joke shouldn’t terrify you because of the few who will get offended. It should terrify you because of the ones who don’t, or worse aren’t truly joking about a reality but acting it. The rape joke is what allows perpetrators to distance themselves so much from their crime that when they rape someone, they devalue it by calling it ‘20 minutes of action.’ It separates predators so far from their attack to the point where they do not break because of a victim’s inner turmoil but because they were caught. It is the callous rage that a rapist exhibits towards his or her accusers rather than at themselves for shame.
We must hold assailants accountable and recognize the absolute atrocity of their actions. Letting in the weight of their words may overwhelm us; its heaviness can feel burdensome if we face a horrific reality. But the truth is, words are never just words. We have to care and speak up. We need to feel and face our sensitivities. We must confront the truth with vulnerability because if we do not then neither can a perpetrator. The complete dismissal of the comments that have been made recently is disgraceful. They are intolerable, and so we must stop tolerating it.
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