Last week, I logged into Facebook as Waylon Lewis, the founder of Elephant Journal, was addressing breaking news regarding a woman who came forth with allegations she was sexually assaulted by Russell Simmons at age 17, while Brett Ratner watched.
I could barely read the article attached to his live feed. When I say I forced myself to, that is not an understatement. It was painful to read but this woman deserved to be heard, no matter how painful it was for me to take in.
It’s an odd feeling to be simultaneously heartbroken, angry, and inspired. I’m proud of these women. I’m grateful for their courage. I’m hopeful this wave of truth-telling is indicative of a cultural shift. I’m also disgusted by the atrocities committed by people in power. The stories keep surfacing—and more likely than not, there will be even more. I’m left wondering if we’re barely scratching the surface of our culturally corrupt views regarding wealth, masculinity, and power.
And if we’re being honest, beneath the tangled web of my emotions, I’m scared.
I’m scared because it feels like each allegation has become like each mass shooting. In some ways, we’re beginning to normalize these occurrences.
We cannot let this happen.
We must be proactive and have a sense of urgency in addressing rape culture. We’re painfully aware of the problem, and now it’s time to do something about it.
I’m well aware this cannot be healed overnight. Change is a gradual process that must begin within each of us. We can’t change others and force those who committed these wrongdoings to feel and express remorse. We can, however, change how we respond.
That said, here are five ways we can help elicit change and ensure these brave victims’ powerful testimonies can serve a higher purpose:
1. Remember humor has no place in this movement.
There is nothing funny about rape, sexual misconduct, or people in positions of power using their status to objectify and victimize another. In our easily offended, meme-loving culture, there is often a fine line between funny and too far on touchy subjects. This is not one of them. The line is clear, and these crimes are nothing to joke about. By making light of one of the worst acts imaginable, and mocking or shaming the women who’ve found the courage to come forth, we suppress impending change and subconsciously tell these victims their voices don’t have power.
2. Put an end to victim blaming.
Victim blaming is when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them. We don’t blame people robbed at gunpoint; we blame the accusers. This is no different. When we shame victims, we make it more difficult and intimating for them to forward.
Sadly we live in a world that teaches women how to prevent being raped, a mentality that keeps us separated from each other by placing responsibility on women, who are typically the victims in these cases, from the start. This just allows us to emotionally remove ourselves from uncomfortable situations.
Both men and women are guilty of this: “Did you see what she was wearing though?” or “I don’t dress like that, so it won’t happen to me.” Regardless of drugs, alcohol, clothing, or age, there is no excuse for rape or sexual assault. I wore a Raider’s jersey to bartend last Sunday—that doesn’t mean I want to get tackled and have a football thrown at me.
3. Be part of the solution through mindful engagement and critical thinking.
It’s frustrating to see a cute kitten meme with 500 comments and shares, while an article dealing with sexual assault is met with the sound of crickets. I get that it’s a tough subject to tackle, but we owe it to ourselves, and the victims, to start conversations that matter.
It’s time to think critically about the messages we’re being sent through advertisements and media regarding women, men, objectification, and relationships. Pay attention to the way women are objectified and their bodies are compartmentalized to sell products. We’ve normalized these behaviors—and by being an active bystander, and engaging on social media and in real life, we can make a difference.
4. Stand up to those who want to minimize these allegations or dehumanize women.
Between the Facebook videos and memes that devalue women, to the everyday demeaning occurrences I experience as a female, I can pinpoint one major factor that stops these unnecessary comments and insulting beliefs before they have ground to breed: men calling out other men.
I once had a customer who was harassing me. It took a male employee to call him out and let him know his actions were not acceptable before he agreed to leave.
When we see these types of objectifying, degrading comments in our newsfeed—or in real life—we need to take a stand. Speak up if you hear someone victim shaming, minimizing rape, or making sexually offensive comments. Let the abusers know it won’t be tolerated. The more we defend each other, the more socially unacceptable these hurtful behaviors become.
The people making these belittling comments should be the ones afraid to speak them, not the other way around.
5. It’s time to redefine our roles and bridge the gap.
The other day, I was working a shift at the casino I own. A man came in and wanted to talk to the owner. I believe his words were, “I was wondering if I could speak to the owner. Is he here?” When I reached my hand out to shake his, he laughed and said, “No way in hell you’re the owner, dollface.” I spent the next few minutes convincing him I really was the owner.
He was incredulous; his mind was blown.
This example of ignorance showed me how far we still have to go in terms of viewing women as equally capable humans. Recognizing the small, seemingly insignificant ways we place women below men in our culture is the first step in reversing this so that we can empower females to feel safe, valued, heard, and capable.
It’s important to understand that by empowering women, we’re empowering humanity. Sure, we have different strengths, but we’re all equally capable of cleaning a house, running for office, or I don’t know, owning our own business.
As for men, aggressive, competitive, and dominating characteristics are not what our world needs right now. We need men to soften, speak up, and redefine what masculine strength looks like. Men and women have historically played very different roles in society, but this is one area we have to come together as one. The “us versus them” mentality won’t get us where we need to go in terms of ending rape and sexual abuse.
As one of the commenters in Waylon’s live video feed said, “It shouldn’t be a scary time to be a man if you’re a good man.” This is the truth. It should be a time of inspiration, knowing your voice can make a difference and your masculinity holds more power than ever. I’m convinced that through the mindful, proactive use of words and actions, we—men and women—will change the course of history.
I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded (although virtually) by men in the Elephant Journal community who are active participants in speaking up for victims, while openly voicing their disgust for the unsettling amount of sexual abuse claims coming to light about powerful men. They realize it’s not only their right, but their duty.
And to me, this is true masculine strength.
Author: Rachel Dehler
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis