Women can’t fight sex assault alone
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/10/2016 (2301 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I went to go see retired Ontario Superior Court judge Marie Corbett speak at Manitoba Working in Support of Equality Inc.’s annual breakfast Friday. I was interested in the subject of her talk, Law & Justice: A Woman Judge’s Insight. In her 30 years, she’s seen first-hand how sexual assault victims are let down by the justice system.
There were many quotable moments in her speech, the kind you’d see shared on social media endorsed with a one-word “this.” Whenever she made a salient point about the way myths about rape culture infect the justice system or about her concerns the process of cross-examination might deter women from coming forward, everyone in attendance nodded in vigorous agreement. What struck me most was her call to action for men: changing cultural norms can’t be up to women alone. “The real culprit is not so much the criminal justice system as the lack of respect for women.”
Her words felt like a salve in a rough week. It began with a U.S. presidential nominee bragging about sexual assault and then dismissing it as “locker-room banter.” It ended with mounting sexual assault allegations against him.
The headlines are inescapable; this is the story the world is talking about. It was certainly what my table at the WISE breakfast was talking about. But while many of the people in attendance were fired up by Corbett’s inspiring speech, all I felt was fatigue. As she was listing examples of the horrible things judges have said over the past couple of years — including Justice Robin Camp (“why couldn’t you just keep your knees together”) — I felt bone-deep exhaustion. Not because I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of it happening. (When she signed a copy of her memoir for me, she wrote, “For Jen, in appreciation of your energy and commitment,” I felt instantly bad. I have no energy.)
After all, I’ve made many of the same arguments Corbett made. So have many other women. And this week, women are writing op-ed upon op-ed explaining why, exactly, this hurts so much. How they see themselves in Trump’s accusers. Why they don’t come forward. And sometimes this work feels downright Sisyphean. Because there’s always a Trump or a Bill Cosby or a Jian Ghomeshi.
So, yeah. We’re tired, and we’re angry. Anger isn’t generally a respected emotion in women; I don’t think there’s a woman on Earth who hasn’t been told to calm down or that her outrage is faux.
But on a different stage this week, another woman shared some powerful words. Michelle Obama addressed a New Hampshire crowd on Thursday, and her anger and sorrow were laid strikingly plain. She, too, feels that fatigue; you could hear it in her voice. “So many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect,” she said. “But here we are, in 2016, and we’re hearing these exact same things every day on the campaign trail. We are drowning in it. And all of us are doing what women have always done: we’re trying to keep our heads above water.”
What we need is support — and we need support from men. We need them to listen to our experiences without getting defensive. Put another way: we need men to acknowledge that even if that kind of talk doesn’t happen in their locker rooms, it does happen in some locker rooms. We need them to call out sexist behaviour, in their workplaces, in their schools. We need men to have our backs. We need men to fight alongside us.
If there’s a silver lining to be found in the garbage avalanche that has been this week, it’s that many men are doing just that. And I’m not talking about the Republicans who are just now feigning outrage about their boy; you dudes let this happen. I’m talking about the men who are supporting women — by respecting us, but also by respecting our anger.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.
Updated on Saturday, October 15, 2016 9:30 AM CDT: Photo added.