CW: sexual abuse, sexual violence, #MeToo
During my freshman year in college I started seeing a guy who I knew through on-campus progressive activism. Though he was a self-proclaimed feminist, throughout our brief relationship I noticed that he would treat me like I was disposable and less accomplished, often demeaning me for my lack of “professional” experience. Yet I kept telling myself to ignore it, because someone who claimed to be a feminist would never be abusive, right?
I was wrong. Later in the semester, he sexually assaulted me. I spent months in therapy, not understanding what happened or how someone called himself a feminist could abuse a woman – just one of many thoughts and questions I had in the months following my assault.
Throughout the past year and a half, I’ve noticed an ever-present phenomenon in which men feel permitted to mask their crimes in the name of feminism, thereby appropriating the movement that empowers women to speak about their experiences. Men have utilized feminism to hide their abusive and manipulative actions, all while remaining powerful public figures.
Take, for instance, Eric Schneiderman, the former Attorney General of New York who was referred to as a “champion of women’s rights,” or prominent progressive Senator Al Franken; both were accused of sexual “misconduct” (a.k.a., harassment and abuse). Or Joel Davis, a former advocate against child sexual abuse who was arrested for the same crime he spoke out against. Or University of Texas at Austin professor Robert Reece, who had taught and written about consent and power and was accused of rape. Kevin Spacey, a known supporter of liberal politics, came out as gay following Anthony Rapp’s allegations of abuse in an attempt to mitigate the backlash against him. President Bill Clinton recently stated that he would never apologize to Monica Lewinsky. While he attempted to walk back his comment, he failed to admit that he would have handled the situation differently, and only apologized after facing widespread criticism. In the same week, he defended Al Franken. No matter their level of fame or supposed “progressiveness,” abusers will protect abusers.
Harvey Weinstein donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to various liberal causes and campaigns over the years and has been accused of rape, assault, and harassment from a multitude of women. While his abuses were an open secret in Hollywood, Weinstein’s facade of feminism protected him: to the rest of the world, he was a prominent liberal donor and huge supporter of women’s rights. And in 2017, then-Attorney General of New York Schneiderman even sued Weinstein for the allegations of sexual abuse against him, as well as his companies for their egregious handling of sexual harassment – all while hiding his own history of sexual abuse.
Abuse is abuse, regardless of sexuality, donor history, or political ideology. The feminist movement must be there to help survivors – like myself – find confidence in themselves, not provide an escape from punishment for abusers. Feminism must always center survivors.