Being born a woman means being born into a legacy of fighting for equality. We have made huge strides within the last few centuries garnering things like the right to vote, the right to education and equal pay legislation. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this equality is more of a facade than a fact. Even in the 21st century, women are plagued by sexual harassment and assault, as shown by the recent Harvey Weinstein allegations.
The myriad of accusations against Weinstein have started a much-needed dialogue and even a hashtag campaign titled “#MeToo” aimed at raising awareness for the many victims of sexual harassment or assault. I’ve seen that very hashtag far too many times within the last few days, meaning that victims are far too common. It makes me wonder why it took so long for people to start talking about this.
Weinstein is not the first example of an affluent and influential man abusing his power, so why was he the first to have his career and character annihilated by accusations? Unfortunately, I believe the importance of this particular case comes not from the atrocity of his actions but instead from the power of his accusers, who now total more than 40 women, according to CNN. These women are significant because unlike many other victims, they are believed to be strong and honorable.
This idea creates a paradox. Why does the type of woman matter? If RAINN reports that one in six women are the victims of either an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, then why is it that 99 percent of those rapists also go free? Why it is that only 310 out of every 1,000 rape cases even get reported to the police? The answer is simple: power.
Many of these women are not in the position to challenge their abusers because oftentimes people choose not to believe them. Women are told that they are asking for it, that they’re dramatic or even that their abuse wasn’t as bad as they think it was. Instead, the perpetrators of these assaults are given the benefit of the doubt. Take for example other powerful men who have received similar accusations, like Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Larry Nassar and, perhaps most notably, our own president, Donald Trump.
Our country actually elected a man who was accused of various counts of sexual assault and harassment. Why? Because, of course, Trump has vehemently denied all of these accusations, so they must not be true, or at least that’s what people choose to believe.
This fact is shocking, seeing as there is concrete video proof of Trump not only objectifying women but also speaking about assaulting them. There are also more than enough claims that share the same sentiment. His ex-wife Ivana Trump even implied that he had raped her during the course of their marriage. So why hasn’t Trump’s career been ruined like Weinstein’s?
The answer lies in why the country is so willing to accept a man’s truth over a woman’s. Why does Trump’s dismissal of claims equate to more than his victims’ accusations? If we can trust Trump’s word, then we should be able to trust these women, too, right?
This idea circles back to the Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo campaign. The victims of Weinstein hold a footing that most other women have never held. They are thought of as strong and successful, capable and trustworthy. As women of the entertainment industry, they have finally received the empathy that all other women have been looking for.
In Lynn Hunt’s book, “Inventing Human Rights,” she examines this very idea. People only care about other people when they can imagine themselves in others’ shoes. Hunt explains this idea of empathy as “depending on the recognition that others think and feel as we do.” This matters because now we can imagine anyone becoming a victim. No longer are the victims of sexual assault viewed as weak. Instead, they are seen as strong, just like we all view ourselves to be. Now we support them.
There is no way to avoid acknowledging that it should not have taken society this long to empathize with women. Though #MeToo was a huge eye opener for many people, it is hardly the first example of women fighting against sexual assault. Though Weinstein is a heinous example of a sexual predator, he is not the first. This is not a new occurrence. This is a pattern.
Moving forward, it is important to remember that #MeToo reaches far beyond Hollywood, and for that reason, a victim’s validity does not rest in a simple zip code.