The Ursuline Chronicle

The Silence Breakers

Meggie Goodridge, Senior Editor

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The Silence Breakers

For better.

“A person, a group, an idea, or an object that for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year”

Last year, we saw then-president-elect  Donald Trump on the cover of TIME magazine as their 2016 Person of the Year. Trump spent months of campaigning on a platform of controversial policy and rhetoric, often of hate and exclusion. With more than his fair share of scandals throughout, he had certainly made an impact on our country last year, albeit a detrimental one in the eyes of many.

 

Last week, a group of women took this honor in the most graceful, powerful, symbolic way.

This year, that coveted cover spot belongs to Isabel Pascual, Adama Iwu, Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Taylor Swift, and all the women who have been victims of sexual assault and harassment. Collectively deemed “The Silence Breakers” for speaking out against men in government, Hollywood, Fortune 500 companies, and in the strawberry fields of Southern California, these women are the faces of bravery.

 

It’s an elbow in the right-hand side of the frame that reminds us that breaking out of silence is often a privilege. The arm belongs to an anonymous hospital worker from Texas who wishes not to be named, and who represents women all across the world who may not have the platform of listeners or the safety net to come out about their personal experience with sexual abuse. The risk of sacrificing safety, employment, or respect of family and friends means that many women live with the weighty burden of silence each and everyday. To speak up would be to live in constant fear, but these women can now find solace in knowing that the world cares about their voices, and that there is a group mobilizing more each minute to create an environment in which they can discuss the injustices against them without worry.

 

It has long been evident that distorted and dangerous views of male behavior are what lead to and encourage brazen misogyny and shameless sexual abuse. It’s when harassment is diminished to “locker room talk,” abuse is minimized to a dodgy “misconduct” and we grow up hearing that “boys will be boys,” that we know we have an issue plaguing society. It’s when girls are taught to alter their fashion choices to avoid tempting men, to change their interests to better suit society’s formidable sexist roles for young men and women, to stifle their talent and brilliance to avoid what is seen as the worst possible scenario: “emasculating” their partner, brother, or classmate. Not only have girls learned through both microaggressions and blatant misogyny that they are not seen as equals, that they are free to be objectified, but with that comes a dangerous narrative for impressionable young men as well. Perhaps if children weren’t taught from an early age that boys have so little control over their own power and bodies that girls must be mindful to tread lightly around them, we wouldn’t face such an issue of the violent sense of entitlement in boys and men that leads to unwanted advances and rape. Maybe we need to stop and wonder if part of the issue is that we have long been speaking such behavior into existence through damaging, antiquated gender stereotypes.

 

With a commander-in-chief who has bragged on tape about sexually abusing and violating women, who has endorsed child abusers in government and called silence breakers “fake news,” it has been up to passionate private citizens to establish a new norm of discussing and condemning sexually-based violence. In the wake of many famous, even venerated, men in entertainment and politics being exposed as sexual predators, they have not disappointed.

 

We can now see a tangible shift—in thought and in dialogue. We are not done crusading for justice in the name of the one out of every six women who has been the victim of attempted or completed rape. We are not, by any means, in a place to be content, but to forget this watershed moment in women’s rights would be an injustice to the voices that have emerged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proof is the fact that feminism was the most-searched term in 2017 and Merriam-Webster dictionary’s #WordOfTheYear. It’s young girls watching women rise, vying for leadership positions and refusing to be spoken over. It’s the action against the atrocity that is any highly-developed country having a gender wage gap in 2017. It’s the critique of white feminism and the acknowledgment that feminism without intersectionality isn’t really feminism at all. It’s one underdog Democrat’s crushing defeat of Roy Moore (birther, racist, denier of evolution, and accused child molester, among other things…) in the blood-red state of Alabama. It’s the fact that such a win may not have been possible just one week prior without the #MeToo movement taking over social media platforms and encouraging women to share their stories with a type of open forum and public acceptance many victims of sexual violence have never had.

 

And yet, we’re far from the end of this road. It will take genuine accountability on the part of all men. It will take continued determination to form a world in which victims ofsexual violence are given respect and resources to rehabilitate. It will take us vowing to raise our future sons and daughters the same. It will  take not a ‘shift in culture’, but an utter destruction of what we previously thought to be true about gender roles. It will take the complete elimination of the automatic skepticism when women accuse men of sexual assault, backed by the acknowledgement of undeniable facts: only 2-5% of sexual assault claims are proven false, while 65-85% of actual sexual assaults go unreported. Of those that are reported, there is a less than 2% chance that the rapist will be incarcerated. So no, it is not an acceptable assumption that women rush to accuse innocent men of rape for selfish reasons. It is not acceptable to be automatically disbelieving of women who have risked their safety, privacy, and reputation to report their predator to protect other women from having to go through the pain that they have. Most importantly, it will take women unconditionally lifting up other women, standing as a source of power to persist despite being disparaged for speaking up.

 

Goodness is rising. Let’s not have it fall again.

 

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The Silence Breakers