Keep the 'Apologies'

 
 

The topics of sexual abuse and rape have been in the forefront of popular culture as of late. I am proud of us as a society for moving in the direction of understanding that these behaviors are wrong–especially after electing a man with more than a dozen sexual assault accusations. It brings me a small sense of comfort that we're slowly evolving to understand that sexual abuse is wrong. It seems elementary, but with the staggering (reported) numbers of sexual assault cases, any progress is appreciated. That is how deeply entrenched we are in patriarchy; we refuse to let it go.

Unfortunately, we're not at all where we need to be in regards to how we treat victims after they come forward nor in our participation in the daily ecosystem that breeds violence. There are still passionate debates over whether we should stick to punitive justice in regards to abusers or rehabilitate them, and whether we should exile them or re-socialize and keep them as active participants in society. We have yet to see how the stories of sexual assault committed by elite white men in Hollywood will play out. Is holding abusers accountable just a fad? Did we ever really hold them accountable in the first place? Donald Trump was elected Leader of the Free World after having been outed for comments regarding grabbing women by the pussy following the multitude of accusations of sexual misconduct against him. Do we really care about victims and survivors and should we give a damn about the feelings of abusers if they end up winning anyway?

One thing that has been steadfast in our reaction to sexual assault is the fervent need to police the bodies and reactions of women and femmes who disproportionately account for the majority of victims of sexual assault. We tend to divide blame between victims and survivors and perpetrators rather than placing the blame on society and the perpetrators. Gabby Douglas took it upon herself to display this redundant practice of upholding patriarchal values by holding victims and survivors accountable for their assault when her teammate, Aly Raisman, called for support of victims and survivors. Although Douglas is a woman, her identity doesn’t absolve her as an agent of patriarchy. We’ve all internalized the systems of domination to some degree, but our identities do not and will never excuse the impact of our ignorant or willful participation in upholding systems of domination. 

If Douglas stood in her ignorant or willful participation in rape culture, I wouldn't have written this piece. But instead, she added salt to the wound. The time between her initial tweet (November 17th) indicating that women should dress modestly to avoid rape and the 'apology' tweet (November 18th) suggests that she had learned nothing. Her 'apology' (if you can call it that) read as, "I should have used different words to tell you all to dress appropriately to avoid your rape. I stand with you." It doesn't make sense. It takes more than a couple of hours to understand the dangers of patriarchal rhetoric; it takes time to understand how we act as agents of power systems by voicing our internalized misogyny. Douglas' harmful initial comment and the follow-up makes me question the newfound need to be 'empathetic' (read: coddle) to people based on the marginalized identities they hold.

One Twitter and user and writer, @MorganJenkins, tweeted about our collective cancel culture and the ways it impacts women of color. She also alluded to respectability that is asked of women of color. She made this correlation from the way in which Douglas spoke about the relationship victims have with their experience with sexual violence. In this same tweet she asked where others empathy reside in the case of a women such as Douglas when they make mistakes (or decisions). 

 
 

In a following series of tweets she brought Douglas' age into question. Sure this may appear to nuance the conversation, but her take fails to nuance the victims age at the time of the abuse. Race is also a factor, when she talks about community — "our own."

 
 
 
 

Another user with the handle, @GeniusRetard tweeted the same sentiments with regards to Douglas' age. Again, missing the point of accountability, it would be one thing has Douglas been an impressionable eight-year-old, but a well-traveled twenty-one adult with access to knowledge needs no excuse.

 
 

There is nothing wrong with holding a well-traveled and affluent adult Black woman accountable for the harm she enacts. There's no harm in keeping people accountable when necessary, no matter their status or identity. If we shouldn't be so quick to 'cancel' Douglas because of her age (21), why haven't we considered Raisman's age at the time of her abuse? Raisman was not yet an adult. If Douglas' intersecting identity as a Black woman is a factor as to why we shouldn't 'cancel' her, why aren't we analyzing how and why Black women and girls aren't treated nearly as sensitively as their white counterparts regarding sexual violence? By being 'empathetic' (read: coddling) to Douglas, who is upholding the system of patriarchy, we're not doing anyone any favors, not Douglas and certainly not the victims and survivors. Frankly, I prioritize the victims and survivors' feelings over anyone else's (of any identity) feelings.

What I know for sure is that Douglas' response to the backlash of her toxic words was unnecessary and insulting. Word of advice to public figures and everyday people: if you catch a firestorm for spewing toxicity, rummage through responses fixated on your social death, and attempt to find enlightenment. That's your responsibility. 

Douglas' socio-economic status leads me to believe she has more than enough resources to learn about rape culture and how she became complicit by holding, and publicly voicing, her harmful beliefs. Oddly, public figures tend to refuse to be silent after making mistakes — or decisions —because they prioritize damage control over unlearning and considering the feelings of those they’ve offended. So, to Gabby Douglas and everyone whose made a mistake or a deliberate decision: learn from it. Genuinely learn and do better. We may not need to 'cancel' her, depending on which side of the social death argument you stand on. However, this song-and-dance of spewing toxicity then being rightfully reprimanded, to then respond with an insincere 'apology,' at minimum is just annoying.

 
 

Kevin Spacey is another excellent example of this tired approach. During his scandal, he tried to minimize the abuse accusations raised against him by throwing the entire gay community under the bus. His 'coming out' served to ammunition and confirmation bias for people who believe being gay is correlated with being a sexual deviant and predator. Lena Dunham also volunteered herself to the faction of celebrities catching fire for their insensitivity toward sexual violence. She 'apologized' for defending a former Girls writer who was accused of sexual assault. Dunham wrote, “I now understand that it was absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement and I am so sorry." What this reads as is, "my timing to defend an accused rapist was off, I am so sorry," again; this doesn't address what was offensive. 

 
 

We need for both public figures and average people to prioritize concern for those they’ve offended over their public image. We also need to have a better grasp of identity politics and how to avoid manipulating it to minimize harmful behaviors on the strength of the actor's identity. Only after the work of unlearning is done can concern be placed on rehabilitating the relationship with the public in the cases of high-profile figures.