When I was in elementary school, I remember being asked if I would rather be a boy or a girl by one of my classmates. I said girl, backing it with the simple argument that we are allowed to wear skirts and dresses, while boys are limited to only pants. My 8-year-old brain had boiled down gender roles to outfit choices, and my conclusion was that girls were better off because they had more range than their male counterparts.
Now, at age 20, I understand how societal gender roles manifested themselves in the conversation that I had on the playground over a decade ago, but miss the innocent outlook that facilitated my response. I still am comfortable being a woman, though I no longer believe in the rules that restrict men to pants and women to skirts. What has changed as I’ve grown up is my understanding of gender roles and sexuality to be more complicated issues.
Women’s rights are something that people seem to take for granted. Gender equality is something I certainly believed to exist at age eight, and this has not necessarily been the case. As I have grown up I have seen women be abused, assaulted, silenced and discredited. The situation only exacerbates itself with how divided the current political climate is right now, with people having to vote along the lines of an extreme two-party system, unable to select issues individually – something that often results in women’s issues being swept under the rug.
Any woman who has spoken to a group of men or has walked down the street alone understands what it is to be diminished in such a way. It is something that happens totally unprovoked, so when it is provoked, naturally the comments get infinitely more hostile.
We saw this on a national stage with Christine Blasey Ford’s assault accusation against Brett Kavanaugh. As a rich, cisgender white man, he of course was defensive and aggressive toward anyone who attempted to hold him accountable for his actions (possibly for the first time ever). Ford, who had no motivation to lie, attempted to prevent the country from allowing a rapist on the U.S. Supreme Court and was attacked relentlessly for trying to ruin a man’s life.
One of the issues with this narrative is that the focus is on the potential that a man’s life could be ruined, rather than the reality that a woman’s life has been. Even now, with the new accusations against him, Kavanaugh's life has not changed whatsoever. Just to be clear: the allegations of assault did not ruin his life. The mere threat of a man being held accountable for assault was enough in itself to make the country go absolutely ballistic.
The idea of false rape accusations is one that is taken by men in power and blown out of proportion in order to silence the sexual assault survivors and discredit women everywhere. The lack of data on the subject (and on sexual assault in general) taps into this misconception that women accuse men of rape for revenge or because of mental illness.
This misconception is also fueled by the ambiguous language surrounding sexual assault, as well as the lack of male understanding that accompanies it.
Since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, the definition of rape has yet to be redefined concretely across all law enforcement platforms. The ambiguous legal language adds a layer of confusion with what can and cannot be classified as rape, not to mention that a lot of the bureaucracies that deal with assault (especially on college campuses) are not linked in any way to legal action.
Then the actual trauma of going to the hospital and getting a rape kit, which are often thrown away, makes the actual crime so easily dismissed and so traumatic that most of them go unreported.
To clarify my point again: men discredit women because they are threatened by the possibility of being held accountable for their actions, something that is close to impossible because of the ambiguous language and legality that discredits traumatized women who speak up against their assailants.
Politicians like Donald Trump then feed into this idea that men are the victim again, saying things like “Think of your son. Think of your husband,” at his political rallies, according to the Pacific Standard.
This is dangerous rhetoric that is used to discredit women and make men seem like the victims, something that is consistent with Trump’s theme of making everyone but straight white men the enemy.
To further prove the point, RAINN collected data from the National Crime Victimization Survey and said that “one out of every six American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.”
Out of every one thousand reported sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free – and most go unreported. The narrative has been shifted in such a way, however, that puts the focus on the one man out of thousands who may have been falsely accused rather than the thousands of women who were actually raped.
I am not saying there should be no justice for those falsely accused of rape, rather that if women were taken more seriously about the entire issue, there would be less false rape accusations because the legal language line for what constitutes rape would be clearer. As it stands, however, the entire legal system is determined to ignore women in any case – except for when they threaten a man’s future, of course.