Patriarchy prevents society from realizing that abuse broken down is a power dynamic that defeats the right of choice, which only harms everyone involved.
By Barbara Muhumuza
“People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” — Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography
I was young. Physically grown but still a girl, still maneuvering my way through my adolescence, not fully understanding the intricacies of human interaction but still feeling all the emotions that came with existing then. I was dressed like a child but my curves still peeked through the seams of my clothing — apparently all too visible for strangers, family members, and peers to look away, all of them representing the “boogie-man” that I thought didn’t exist.
I was seen by everyone except those willing to protect me. It was then that I learned the dangers of power and before I could put it to words, it was then that my being came to understand the violence of patriarchy — the way it not only harms everyone physically, mentally, and emotionally, but normalizes abuse to the point of no return. My black girlhood was stolen and invaded by those unwilling to see me beyond my physical appearance, but even beyond that abuse and negligence, my black girlhood was stolen not only because of those individuals but because of the systems set in place that gave them the courage, space, and power to commit those acts of abuse. For those that may not understand, this is the basis of patriarchy.
Patriarchy is not only a violent and abusive system that harms people of all identities, it creates spaces for these acts to be committed continuously and without consequence in a society that is normally strict about morality in almost any other circumstance except when it requires that the facilitators and perpetrators of these systems be held fully accountable for their harmful thoughts, dialogue, and behavior.
While solidarity between victims has been proven to increase personal and communal healing, I am saddened to see just how responsive society becomes when requests for solidarity come from white women.
I say “me too” not to reiterate or relive my personal experience with abuse, because I have lived through it so many times and have now found my peace with it, but to highlight the frequency of the abuse and harm that people face because of patriarchy, and the different sub-systems, such as misogyny and transmisogyny, which stem from it.
In the recent unraveling of American scandal, Harvey Weinstein has been revealed to be a sexual abuser. With this news, the floodgates burst open which led many victims of sexual abuse and harassment to come forward and share their stories. The online response has been overwhelming and discouraging to witness, but it has been considered crucial to creating dialogue that highlights the severity and commonality of sexual abuse within American society, specifically within American media. By request of Alyssa Milano, many people, including high-profile celebrities, came forward with the statement “me too” to express their own experiences with sexual abuse and harassment. While solidarity between victims has been proven to increase personal and communal healing, I am saddened to see just how responsive society becomes when requests for solidarity come from white women.
“Me Too” is a hashtag that was created by Tarana J. Burke, a black woman blogger who began the hashtag to create essential discourse that would hopefully heighten communal healing. While sharing these stories regardless of credit is important, and dire, especially now, I find that far too often, the voices, opinions, stories, and works of black women regarding sexual violence are often erased to serve an audience that has no intention of listening to us.
It’s an insult to only listen after you have asked us to speak, and not while we are screaming to anyone willing to listen to our plight about the plight of all of us. Not only has the hashtag “me too” served as a form of erasure of black women, it has reinforced the idea that there are only two binary genders that are capable of committing these acts or being victims of these acts, instead of defining sexual abuse as acts committed by people willing to use their positions of power in abusive and harmful ways. “Them too” because anyone is capable of being a perpetrator, victim or both of sexual violence. The lines aren’t as defined as they may have been before, and to move forward and create communities that are safe, welcoming, and accepting of all people, we must be inclusive.
Stop waiting for victims to share their stories and start looking before the stories come.
We must recognize “them too” and not attack or deny the legitimacy of anyone’s story because of their personal identification. We must understand that waiting until now to be outraged, concerned, and saddened is an indication that we (you) haven’t been paying attention to those that have spoken all along. We must understand that asking victims to speak up to confirm the continuous existence of sexual violence says more about your willingness to listen after it occurs the first time than it does about the validity of sexual abuse within our communities.
We don’t owe you our stories, because it shouldn’t take a story to validate the dangers of patriarchy, and the ways it allows acts such as sexual violence to occur within communities without so much as a blink of an eye. You shouldn’t allow these stories to be buried into the ground where only more mistakes will grow, but more importantly, you shouldn’t allow these stories to be your only source.
Stop waiting for victims to share their stories and start looking before the stories come. Look at the statistics, look within your own communities, look within your work spaces, look within the streets, and understand that even without the stories of millions of victims this form of abuse does exist. Just look around you. It’s there and not hiding in the alleyway but standing in the light, within your peers, within your family, maybe even within yourself.
No matter what gender identity you choose to abide by, if you decide to at all, patriarchy harms all of us. Patriarchy places power in the hands of men, and by doing so becomes negligent to the fact that people don’t need to identify as male to be just as abusive — that men can also be victims of their own oppressive systems. Patriarchy places hyper-masculinity at the forefront of male identity and frames the idea that sex is a rite of passage to manhood, which prevents boys and men from realizing that they too have been assaulted if they were in such a position that they felt violated, or unprepared for such sexual acts.
If we want to change the reality of the society we live in, abuse must be recognized in every face it wears, and then rejected, and defeated as it attempts to invade the space.
Patriarchy prevents men from talking about these things in a progressive way that promotes healing, and honest emotional communication. Patriarchy prevents society from realizing that abuse broken down is a power dynamic that defeats the right of choice, which only harms everyone involved. Patriarchy silences the voices of those that don’t fit into the caricature of what society assumes abuse victims or perpetrators look like, and to change this, we must adamantly reject the idea that abuse has a limited narrative. Even more importantly, men must work to adamantly reject this. You must work adamantly to reject it.
If we want to change the reality of the society we live in, abuse must be recognized in every face it wears, and then rejected, and defeated as it attempts to invade the space. Recognize the dangers of patriarchy and realize that we are all at risk of being harmed by it. If you’re a man looking to change the narrative surrounding patriarchy, begin with self-reflection, engage in self-change, and then demand the same change within your spaces.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list, you can start here: “20 Things Men Can Do RTFN to Support Women, Beyond Just Literally Ceasing to Sexually Harass Us” and even beyond this list, we can all begin changing the narrative by removing the gender constraints surrounding the conversation. Listen the first time. Do your part to resist. Do your part so that maybe the removal of patriarchy, and a world without a complicit demeanor towards abuse can be a reality within reach.
Author bio: Barbara Muhumuza is an undergraduate student at GSU. She is studying psychology, and is an avid black mental health advocate. She is also a poet, and is working on a book that will be released next year. She DJ’s on her spare time, and can be reached on all social outlets as @simimoonlight.
Featured Image: Art by Victoria Siemer