Speak up for those who speak up

So it’s been a wild ride in the last day–I had a tweet go viral to a level I’ve never had before, and on a topic where I got vitriol as well as support and randomness. (Oh, the internet.) My tweet was about remembering that Christine Blasey Ford is a person, an actual human being with a life outside all this. And to that I want to add:

You know people in your field or in your region who have spoken up about rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. You do. We all do. One of the things I would really like to ask you to do for them is talk about them a) on the internet and b) in ways that are not about the person who hurt them or the way that person hurt them.

When you do a search on the name of someone who has reported these crimes, quite often the first hits will be about the crimes. So the person will be linked with their accuser’s name, sometimes the place or event where they were assaulted (/raped/harassed), and the key words “rape,” “harassment,” “assault,” etc. It’s good to talk about these things, to try to stop them from happening again. It’s good to bring them to the light. But it’s really not cool when someone has to choose between keeping them secret and being defined by the event they reported. Being defined by someone else’s bad choices about them.

This is one of those cases where the silence of bystanders is not enough. For someone at the national level, you will probably not be able to do anything about the associations with them. Christine Blasey Ford will be linked to Brett Kavanaugh now, period; that’s what you’ll find when you look for her. But in smaller communities, more self-contained fields, there’s absolutely still a chance to fight back against defining victims solely as victims. There’s still a chance to paint a fuller picture. And we should.

Because our culture is really, truly broken on the subject of status and hierarchy, some people thought I was saying that Christine Blasey Ford matters as a person only because she’s a professor and a psychologist. No. We all matter as people. We all have individual details that matter. If someone has what the outside world looks upon as achievements, great! Name them! But getting our own heads worked back around to remember that people matter as people is important, too. So you can talk about Person A as a family member, a friend, a volunteer, a person who has their particular hobbies. It is worth saying “A makes pickles” or “B sings in the choir,” as well as “C is an accomplished physician,” “D writes beautiful poetry.” All of it. All of it counts. All of it matters. Being able to be seen as multifaceted, whole human beings who make choices matters even when those choices aren’t traditionally high-status.

So make a point of mentioning it. “I read E’s latest book, and it was so great!” So that E will be associated with “book” and possibly even the book title, not just with “harassment,” “assault,” the assailant’s name. And in those posts I do not mention the harassment, the assault, the rape. So that there can be some chance of not every single thing E accomplishes being colored by it.

Fighting this stuff directly matters. But the long-term support we can have for each other matters also. Let’s back each other up when we are victims, yes, definitely–but also let’s help people not be defined as that, but as the positive, worthwhile things they do instead.

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