There is no clearer sign that, as a society, we don’t understand how pervasive violence against women has been throughout history than men claiming that the threat of being accused of sexual assault is a modern day witch hunt.
Throughout the 16th-18th centuries, millions of women were murdered for rejecting demands of their husbands, practicing contraception, and performing abortions. Witch hunts became the act of systemically identifying women who’s only crime was wanting body autonomy and equality.
On the surface level, it could appear that both situations have the same tenants in that those who are accused do not have the proof that they did not commit the crime and are still crucified for it. But the irony lies in the oppressor stealing language from the oppressed to apply to a situation where they are still the oppressor.
Sexual assault and rape are not about sex, they are about power. In nearly every instance of sexual assault and rape there is a power dynamic at play. This couldn’t be more apparent in the recent string of sexual assault stories surfacing in the media over the past few months. So when men like Woody Allen, who has been accused of rape and sexual assault himself, start claiming that the accusations are like a modern-day witch hunt, I can’t help but cringe.
This is not a witch hunt, this is holding men accountable for their shitty behaviour whether they recognize it or not. I recently read an article where accused Jeremy Piven, who has been accused by three separate women of sexual assault, took a lie detector test to “prove his innocence”. That test was as reliable as the one I would take to prove that green olives are the best snack food in the world – if you believe it to be true, then of course you wouldn’t be identified as lying. This is where rape culture exists.
We are all socialized to become the humans we are. No one is free from socialization, though it differs from person to person. One thing I can confidently say is that if you grew up in North America, it is likely that you were socialized to believe that women are inherently sexual objects and that flirting, staring, stalking, whistling, and being aggressive are all normal behaviours to display towards women. If you normalize these behaviours, it’s likely that you don’t see them as wrong, and thus wouldn’t fail a polygraph test.
Gender roles for men and women have failed all of us. It has forced women to shrug off unwanted attention and affection while telling men that this is how you treat women. In is this cycle of cognitive dissonance, women have internalized these acts just as much as men have, which is one reason why so many women didn’t and don’t speak up when they are harassed. If we were to actually respond to every single act of unwanted contact from men, we would live in a constant state of anger and frustration. Though, perhaps that’s what is needed in order to create any viable change.
With all of these accusations surfacing, it’s understandable why men would feel threatened, as if there is no way to protect themselves. In the comments section of most of the articles I read, there are dozens of men calling women liars and suggesting that the accusations are connected to the desire for money and fame (sidenote: still waiting for my money and fame). Men are defensive and turn to the tired ass excuses they have for centuries. But it’s not going to work this time.
This time, men need to change. No longer can they continue to act under the guise of not knowing what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Each and every one must draw a clear line in the sand and pick a side even though it may alienate themselves from their friends and family. Plain and simply, it’s time to start treating women with decency, respect, equality, and frankly, like human beings. We are not receptacles or robots that you put kind words into and sex falls out. Until you can hear the stories and emotions of a woman and not dismiss them or question their reliability, you have work to do. That’s really what it comes down to, acknowledging and respecting the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of women as being equal to their male counterparts.