Believing survivors of harassment and assault cannot be an empty gesture on social media, nor can it be something that is done only easily until the issue hits home.
It seems as though we can't go a day without learning of someone noteworthy having engaged in some form of sexual misconduct at best, or sexual assault and rape at worst. Since the predatory misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein went public, the flood gates have opened with numerous celebrities and political figures being accused of some form of unethical behavior and treatment of women (and men!). Scores of women have come forth and shared their ordeals, leading to powerful movements such as the hashtag #MeToo (which was actually created by a Black woman 10 years ago), shining a glaring light on how endemic sexual harassment---and therefore sexism, and toxic masculinity---is in every facet of our culture. Patriarchy is not a bug within our culture: IT'S A FEATURE.
Of course, with accusations of misconduct comes support from those who believe the accusers, and, more increasingly, support for the accused. From fans of Bill Cosby and R.Kelly, to Lena Dunham stating--and then walking back from--- her friend Murray Miller has been falsely accused of rape, to the recent statement of support for Senator Al Franken from the women cast members of Saturday Night Live, we've seen this play out before us time and time again whenever someone famous many people like is accused of horrific deeds. While understandable on a certain level, these reactions do more harm to survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and allow this toxic part of the status quo to continue.
Now is the time to tackle this conundrum, and realize something that I've had to realize myself:
Just because folks are nice to us, treat us good, or even seem nice and like good people, that doesn't mean that they have not or are not horrible to others.
We know of plenty of people whom, to their neighbors and onlookers, seem like good people, yet have done the most disrespectful and repugnant things to fellow human beings. And if you consider yourself someone who believes in the message "Believe women", or believing in victims and survivors of sexual harassment and assault, you cannot express those talking points except in those cases where it involves someone you like, are friends or family with, or a fan of. This is a hard thing to do, because we don't want to even consider that folks we care about, love, and look up to would ever harm others. But we have to consider that everyone is capable of doing harmful things.
When the initial accusation came out that celebrity George Takei drugged and tried to sexually assault a young man decades ago, I was shocked. I didn't want to fathom this person, who's been a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community, would ever do something so insidious to another person. But we just never know, especially given that these types of cases are hard to prove, and thanks to the patriarchal climate we've all been raised in, it's never in the victim's best interests to come forward, as they----mostly women, but even men----would not only NOT be believed, they would face being ostracized and shaming for coming forward. Sadly, there were some I followed on social media who used their platform to question why must we believe the accuser when these types of accusations come out, and well....the fallout was BAD.
Like anyone else who understood rape culture, I was disappointed in Nnedi's tweets. But then, I was reminded in private conversations with my partners that I had engaged in this very thing regarding a friend of mine who was charged via a police sting in his 20s for attempting to have sexual conduct with a minor, a la "To Catch a Predator" style. After hours of argumentation, tears, and days of deep thought and consideration about the entire situation----what that friend told me, why I chose to believe the charge was an unjust one----, I realized that I couldn't say that I'm for believing survivors while being in denial to the possibility that someone I used to trust lied to me in order to save face. In doing so, I was no better than Nnedi, or pretty much anyone who still to this day capes for R. Kelly.
It really does goes back to what Mikki Kendall has said: "All your faves are problematic". Everyone is capable of doing something terrible to other people, even if they're good to their family, pay their bills on time, or help old ladies cross the street. Predators are sociopaths; they know how to operate when people are watching, and count on folks thinking the best of them while they do the worst to those they see as lesser than, as objects to be consumed and abused, and are aware of the climate we currently live under. If we as a society are serious about shifting the paradigm from a patriarchal one to where all genders and sexes are on equal footing, we must be consistent with our praxis and processes in every facet of our lives. If we're going to believe women or any survivors of sexual harassment and assault?
We must ACTIVELY BELIEVE them. Change starts with US.