Letter to the editor


As a alum of The Spectrum, as a woman who works with sexual assault survivors, and as a survivor myself, I was deeply disappointed with parts of Amal Elhelw's article "Hypocritical feminism." 

While her main point seems to be that feminism needs more action, and less labels, the author seriously loses her way when she begins to talk about feminism with respect to sexual assault survivors. She says self-proclaimed feminists "fall short" in supporting sexual assault victims, in part by pushing benevolent sexism regarding how and when victims choose to speak out and report their assaults. This assertion not only shows tremendous ignorance for why victims often don't report, but the passage is rife with its own brand of sexism. 

The author uses the pronoun "she" repeatedly while discussing the behavior of victims. Later on, she writes "We...wouldn't expect men to keep their stories in the dark." Both of these statements push gendered stereotypes about sexual assault, and make it harder for victims of any gender to report.

The National Center for PTSD reports that 10 percent of men suffer trauma related to sexual assault. While that number is less than the one in six women who experience sexual assault, that 10 percent still represents 2.78 million men (as of 1998). The sexual assault advocacy group RAINN notes that while sexual assault can happen to anyone, males "may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity." Stereotypes that the author herself is guilty of.

By making this about the behavior of women vs men, the article completely disregards those who are gender non-conforming--a group of people especially susceptible to sexual violence. According to the Human Rights Commission, half of transgender people will experience sexual violence during their lifetime. Furthermore, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects reports that 85 percent of victim advocates surveyed "reported having worked with an LGBTQ survivor who was denied services because of sexual orientation or gender identity." The very institutions that are meant to aid victims of assault (hospitals, shelters, even rape crisis centers) are working against some victims because they don't fit into a particular binary narrative--a stereotypical one that the author is helping to further.

For the author to define feminism as the "fight for equality," she does a terrible job of applying the concept to her own thoughts and writings. She ignores entire groups of people who have been sexually assaulted, turning the issue into a simple binary of "what we expect from women" versus "what we expect from men."

Which brings me to the biggest issue I have with this article: her "expectations" of victims.

Where does this author get off telling survivors of any gender how to behave after a sexual assault? She criticizes victims who wait to share their story. Although she back pedals by stating that waiting is "valid and appropriate," the dog whistle is audible. The author places the onus of responsibility on the victim. Victims must speak out immediately to be truly effective. Victims who wait only perpetuate the cycle. Victims who wait are responsible for there being more victims.

This is complete bulls––t.

The only people responsible for rapes are RAPISTS. Yes, there are a ton of socio-political factors that enable rape culture, and we should do everything we can to address them. But to put even one iota of responsibility on victims is to victim blame in the most egregious of ways. Sexual assault victims have exactly ONE responsibility--and it is a responsibility to themselves alone. They must SURVIVE. And they most do so however they choose. 

The author writes that "If we foster a supportive community, we could change the course of assault cases to come." Except that what she just described isn't support. It's peer pressure and strong arm tactics. It's pushing this reprehensible idea that feminism somehow means subverting your own needs for the greater good of some mythic "sisterhood." 

A truly supportive community would pick up the burden when the victim can't. A truly supportive community would advocate for better mental health care, stricter sentencing guidelines and the dismantling of outmoded stereotypes. What a supportive community absolutely would not do is add to the burden of an already suffering person.

By publishing this piece as is, The Spectrum has unwittingly added to that burden.

Sincerely,

Erin Maynard

This letter has not been edited for grammar.