Something that I find particularly difficult to process is the sad fact that one of the only realms in which we have a kind of ‘herstory’, is sexual violence. The dialogue is finally becoming that of female survivors and the impacts that rape and abuse have on us, rather than focusing on the attackers.
This is wonderful, we are finally talking about victims as survivors, making active attempts to point the finger where it must be pointed – at both the attackers and the patriarchy itself. Recently, however, a different take on the survivor has come to light.
Terry Crews, renowned football player come actor come all-round muscle-man, made a speech about his own personal experience with sexual assault. When I first saw him talking about it, I was shocked, as I’m sure everyone would be upon discovering that such a physically powerful man had been overpowered in such a way. I was shocked until he began to talk about race. In the acting industry, directors will literally make or break you, and if you are someone with characteristics that make you vulnerable, it is so much easier for them to break you.
Cases like this demonstrate the vital importance of intersectionality. When you think of sexual violence, you (predominantly) think of men preying on women. We ought to think of it as the powerful praying on the powerless. Crews is a physically powerful man. But, as he argued, as a black man in America, had he used said strength to protect himself then his situation would’ve been flipped on its head. He would have stopped himself from being sexually assaulted, but the focus would have been on the physical ‘assault’ of self-defence. His accusations against his predator would have been disregarded and his career would be non-existent.
Rape is all about power. People are raped by people who hold particular powers against them as individuals; their careers, their health, their families, their honour, anything you can find. Crews was brave to not fight back, but he was even braver to speak about it now, opening up a discourse in which rape can be discussed without the survivor feeling shame. Being sexually assaulted is not something that you should be ashamed of; it is abhorrent, but the guilt does not lie with you. It’s the culture of toxic masculinity that causes people to feel this sense of shame, of embarrassment, a loss of honour in your own violation. It equates rape to being beaten in a fight, and in this we see that the patriarchy sees power as a kind of domination men should strive for, as opposed to something we should be teaching young boys to see as wrong.
When someone tries to do something so exceptionally violating and invasive, you already feel powerless enough. Not being able to do all you can to prevent said thing from occurring, because of something that already puts you a step down the societal ladder in comparison to other possible victims (disability, race, sexuality, economics), that’s something exceptionally damaging. These factors spurs on the aggressor; to rape someone and know that they can’t fight back, and that in not fighting back they’re causing equal damage to themselves – for them, that’s power. And if that’s power, I’d rather be weak.