The evening after I heard the verdict in Kesha’s lawsuit against Dr, Luke, I found myself traversing some familiar mental territory. How many women did I know who had been abused, assaulted, or raped? The number is staggeringly high. Even as high as that number is, it can only really come from accounts of those closest to me. After all, abuse is for many people a private matter, something they share with only a few close friends and family members. How many more would I discover if my casual friends and acquaintances were to share their experiences with me? It’s nauseating to think about. And how many men did I know who had been convicted or punished or even reprimanded — suffered any form of consequence for sexual abuse? Zero. That’s more nauseating.
Granted I am only one person, and my experience is just my experience. I do not count myself with those who think that we should do politics by way of the personal anecdote. But speaking just about the women I know, I’m reminded of how few of them even understood what they were going through as abuse until after the fact. Abusive behaviors cause defense mechanisms to kick in, and sometimes we narrate events in ways that are less painful to us. “Why didn’t she report it right away?” Well, for starters, it may have taken her quite some time to realize that what happened wasn’t her fault. I can say this even as someone who has been in emotionally abusive relationships — abuse creates a fog. That is how it sustains itself. It creates oceans of self-doubt and self-hatred for the person who is on the receiving end. If that’s the case for harsh words and controlling behavior, I can’t even begin to imagine how many billions of times worse it is when physical and sexual assault come into the picture.
Every time I have listened to a friend or loved one’s account of their abuse, I have been overwhelmed with the desire for their attacker to be brought to justice. And yet, every time I am also struck by an overwhelming and depressing knowledge that their stories match stories like Kesha’s. There’s no evidence. It’s been months or years. Decades, even. Nobody will ever, ever believe them. So when I see things like the Kesha decision, I only grow more angry and disillusioned about the prospects for more justice to come to men who commit sexual assault. The next time a friend or loved one shares their experience with me, I won’t be able to bring up a prominent case which encourages women to risk the additional pain and difficulty of actually bringing a charge against an attacker and say, “Here’s one time where it worked.” Not one. Sure, maybe there are some smaller cases here and there. Some men do have to face the music. But it’s so rare. My most honest response to that woman would have to be “You’re right, chances are nothing will come of it but pain and heartache for you.”
There’s plenty critical that can be said about the state of contemporary feminism. People read and hear certain things and shout “misandry!” — I’ll even admit I sometimes read things like Meredith Graves saying “all men are shit until proven otherwise,” and it stings. It doesn’t seem like a very good way to build bridges and it feels like gender-based prejudice. But then again I’m a pretty outspoken person who burns a bridge every other day. So I start to ask myself how I might feel living in a world as a woman where the majority of women I know (and probably myself) have been sexually abused and assaulted and hardly any can name a single man who’s suffered legal consequences.
Provided my experience with the number of women assaulted and the number of men unpunished is more normal than less, the inescapable conclusion is that women live in a shadow world, until now almost invisible to men, where their trauma has been normalized and suppressed while the men that inflicted it go routinely about their business. It becomes almost shocking how kind women are to men, how they give us a chance in the first place. It starts to make you wonder if they just feel trapped and like there’s no choice. Like they’ve been dying to scream “fuck you all” for all these years, and only recently found an avenue to do it.
It’s hard as a man to hear really bare sentiments of distrust for men. But men can process that one of two ways, they can scream back at women and call them sexists, or they can stop for a moment and consider how they’d act if they had to live in a shadow world of unpunished assault and abuse. I can’t think of a single man who wouldn’t go full misandrist. Which means the difference is only the matter of a small act of imagination. The most simple effort at empathy. The judge in Kesha’s case failed at that. As a result women can only feel just as trapped as ever, just as angry as ever. Who could blame them?