Title

To Be Believed

The Harvey Weinstein verdict.

March 5, 2020
 
 

Harvey Weinstein was found guilty. This is old news now, but it is no less impactful, shocking and important. A powerful, rich man in a business that typically enables, facilitates and even celebrates sexual harassment and assault was found guilty and will have to pay for (some) of his crimes. It is a victory. It is a victory because individual women spoke up, were heard and they were believed.

I don’t think I can put enough emphasis on that last part. They were believed. Not "I acknowledge that that’s how you remember/experienced the event." They were believed, and as a result the rapist has to face justice.

I have been voraciously reading sexual assault, rape and abuse survivor memoirs. Know My Name. Not That Bad. Believe Me. The list goes on, and by each one I am enraged, furious, empowered, hopeful, moved. I read them to bear witness to their words and their experiences, to their truths. Through my actions, buying the book, reading the book, sharing the book, I am affirming that I believe them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about these issues, particularly in our educational systems. I wrote about #yesallwomen, and about my own experience of being blamed for boys’ poor behavior in class. I’ve written about The Hunting Ground. I’ve written here on "University of Venus" about violence against women. To write in these public spaces about these issues is to be questioned, to be disbelieved, to be dismissed, to be belittled. Every single woman who has ever written publicly about these issues knows it. There are many more who believe, but those who disbelieve are by far the more vocal parties.

To be believed is a powerful thing.

But to find a relatively safe space to tell one’s story is something that is relatively rare, a place where the default is I believe you. But it isn’t just that you are believed, but seen as more than just a victim, or even a survivor. I was struck by something that Katherine Cross wrote in her contribution to Believe Me, “Listening Will Never Be Enough”: “It is too pat and condescending, as some have suggested, that these women ‘turned their trauma into their life’s work,’ but they showed they were capable of situating it in a larger context and being unafraid to do so.” There are not enough opportunities to do just that.

So, to have had an essay of mine accepted and included in the new collection Me Too, Feminist Theory, and Surviving Sexual Violence in the Academy, edited by Laura A. Gray-Rosendale, was both an honor and a revelation once I got to read the entire collection together. Gray-Rosendale is the author of the memoir College Girl (among other things), and she gathered together an impressive group of authors and shepherded us in our writing of the possibly the most difficult and personal thing we’ve ever written for publication (or at least that I have ever written so far). But most importantly, it pushed us (or, again, at least me) to “[situate] it in a larger context.”

I hope that you pick up the book, or at least ask your library to order it. It is a beautiful, powerful, inspiring, critical and engaging read. I connect issues of consent and trust with my own teaching philosophy, myself, but I also tell a story about how social media works to keep the past ever present, for better or worse.

I hope you pick up the book for the same reason I keep buying and reading books on this admittedly difficult topic: to let the writers know you believe them, and to let them know that they are seen, heard and understood as their entire selves.

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