How We can Make Violence against Women Unacceptable in 2015
The Huffington Post
Phoebe K. Schreiner
What was not new in 2014? Violence against women. It happened in 2014 — at crisis levels, in multiple forms and across all sorts of boundaries — just as it has year after year, month after month, day after day.
What was new this year? The way we responded. The strength and volume with which we said: That is not okay. The power with which we said: Violence against women is unacceptable. And: It’s time to hold ourselves accountable.
Let’s review some key watersheds of 2014.
1. #YesAllWomen and #AllMenCan
When Elliot Rodger’s killing rampage happened, we (finally!) did not say, Oh, just another mentally ill lone gunman on a shooting spree. We could see his luridly misogynist manifesto, and we said #yesallwomen live with some sort of daily discrimination, hatred or violence against them. And men said #allmencan understand that and hold themselves accountable.
2. The NFL
When Ray Rice’s domestic abuse came to light — and the NFL basically yawned — we did not. And by “we,” I do not mean just seasoned feminist bloggers. I also mean everyday devoted football fans with no particular pre-set social justice agenda. We said a two-game suspension does not cut it. Die-hard college guy fans said things like: “Until someone in a position of leadership is held accountable, I will not watch another snap.” Other male sports bloggers wrote things like: “Ben Roethlisberger got away with raping two women and the… Steelers did nothing. So to have the Steelers playing the Ravens immediately after the nation watched Ray Rice club his fiancee senseless… I knew I wasn’t going to be watching football.” Given the outcry, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had no choice but to step up and initiate some serious change. We’ll see how serious that change will be; what’s important now is that public opinion is still holding him to it.
3. Bill Cosby
When women began coming forward with rape allegations against Bill Cosby, we did not automatically dismiss them because he’s famous, or for any of the other myriad “reasons” or ways we find to undermine women’s claims of assault. Networks and boards backed away; media as mainstream as the New York Daily News called Cosby’s ongoing silence “unacceptable.” More than one distinguished male journalist, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, came forward to hold themselves accountable for having under-investigated, under-reported or ignored claims they knew about years ago.
4. Rolling Stone
When Rolling Stone first walked back its major story on rapes at the University of Virginia — well, okay, this one’s complicated. The whole episode is a giant polluted mess, one exuding potentially long-lasting toxins for survivors. But what’s notable, even incredible, is the speed with which managing editor Will Dana updated his note to Rolling Stone readers questioning the verifiability of the story. When version one appeared, stating that the magazine’s “trust” in alleged rape survivor “Jackie” was “misplaced,” social and news media exploded, criticizing Dana for “throwing Jackie under the bus.” Soon thereafter, version two appeared, replacing the buck-passing with the clear statement: “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not Jackie.”
The White House and DOJ finally said that the level of sexual violence on America’s college campuses was unacceptable. They are deploying an array of strategies and approaches to hold all stakeholders — from administrations to otherwise silent bystanders — accountable. Even fraternity members and organizations themselves are starting to work on proactive prevention.
I don’t mean to cherry-pick or oversimplify. There’s more we could celebrate, still more we could criticize. This year, we have taken significant steps both forward and back.
Still. Ray Rice’s suspension may have been overturned, but now all the major sports associations are being held to account. Their responses and policies may take years to perfect, but can you imagine any of these organizations blatantly minimizing a domestic violence incident in 2015?
Like any passionate yet patient investor, I trust that the stock market always goes up. Likewise, from the earliest women’s rights movements to the emergence of the now-common term “rape culture” back in the 1970s to the unprecedented outrage over the gang rapes (and murder) in Delhi and Steubenville, we have built and risked and invested so much. And now the payoffs are reaching a whole new level.
“The fact that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way our society treats women is a proposition on which there is now general agreement,” Yale Law School military justice expert Eugene R. Fidell recently told the New York Times. That’s huge.
Big picture, this is exactly how culture change works. Change, pushback, change, pushback, irreversible change. Steps back, yes. Going back: no more.
I believe that the outrage in 2014 can deliver what we need it to in 2015: true accountability — from our institutions and from us as individuals. Sports associations and universities must really change, not just shuffle the lineup. We need to continue demanding accountability from them and from ourselves. We — you! — can start by looking in the mirror and saying “How can I step up?” New York City comedian Dean Obeidallah invited Breakthrough to co-produce a comedy show called “Dudes Against Violence Against Women” (which sold out in August and will now be an annual event!). California high school student (and finance whiz kid) Nick Jaeger, 16, launched an investment fund for a local domestic violence organization; it’s now worth more than $60,000.
To really end violence and discrimination against women, we need more than policy change. We need culture change. And for that, we need the personal change that I see calling more and more of us- – men and women, all sorts of new allies — to accountability, and to action. We call it the Breakthrough Generation: the generation that will make violence against women unacceptable, in this lifetime. Maybe even next year.
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