Hyperbole: No, Not All Crimes Are the Same
So many powerful #metoo stories have come out in the last month. So many brave women have shared their stories of sexual harassment and assault, and have called out their attackers and abusers. But not all these stories are equal.
Among the stories of rape, molestation or incest were the stories that diminish the plight of victims: Flirty customers, off-color jokes, and compliments, all presented as though they were the worst kind of trauma imaginable.
I have been a victim of stalking, financial and psychological domestic abuse, and violent physical abuse. Yeah, stalking is creepy. The financial and psychological abuse was awful; financial abuse is particularly long-lasting and even years later, my life still suffers from what he did to our family. But it was something else entirely to have a bone broken and then beaten until my limbs were so black and purple that I could hardly move them. The psychological abuse was genuinely maddening, but it wasn’t as bad as falling sick because someone poured water over me then locked me on a balcony when the temperature was 30 below zero. Few things are as bad as someone almost killing you.
So, while … yes, I very much understand why it is not okay for someone to grab your butt (I never liked it when it happened to me), and while I understand that it is not okay to be aggressively propositioned by powerful men (and women!), a butt grab should not be trauma-inducing.
Unless you are the victim of past trauma … nope, a butt grab should not cause you trauma.
I understand that someone did something to you that made you uncomfortable. It may have been the worst or most offensive thing that has ever happened to you. But for the sake of other victims of far worse crimes, please stop with the hyperbole.
Dustin Hoffman grabbing some intern’s butt isn’t the same as Bill Cosby drugging and raping numerous women. Drunk Kevin Spacey luring a 14 year old to a party and grinding on him is clearly very, very bad; drunk Kevin Spacey in a bar grabbing a 30-something’s crotch, however, should not trigger a 6-month episode of PTSD.
The bottom line is: Not all sexual harassment or assault is the same, so quit trying to squeeze the same level of trauma out of everything. Words can be painful, but they do not cause injuries that require years of reconstructive surgery. WORDS ARE NOT VIOLENCE. Occasional catcalls should not plunge you into years of intensive therapy. Screaming that your boss is sexually harassing you because he said your hair looked nice sabotages real victims of workplace harassment.
Neither inappropriate touching nor words are the same violence as forcible rape; and yes, there are people who say that they are.
I first encountered this attitude in online domestic violence forums. Those of us who have been victims of violent physical abuse are often the first to be censored, because we want to talk openly about our experiences; detailing our injuries can be cathartic. And yet, we are often the first people to get banned; women who have suffered through mild (or no real) abuse claim that we are “triggering” them. Don’t get me wrong: Psychological, emotional and financial abuse are real and can cause real trauma. But a boyfriend telling you that one meal you prepared is gross is a) not abuse and b) should not give you PTSD. Period. And unfortunately, the women complaining about a handful of mean comments from their significant other tend to attract more attention.
We’re living in a world where one random comment on Facebook can get you permanently labeled as sexist or racist and ostracized from real life communities; and, yet, none of that word policing does anything to stop mentally ill teenagers from stabbing their younger siblings, it does nothing to stop the opioid crisis, it does nothing to make mothers stop selling their children for sex or crazy men from shooting hundreds of people.
We live in a constant state of blowing everything out of proportion with little regard to how it affects our mental health. How do you think a victim of violent rape feels when people don’t differentiate between rape or catcalling? I can’t speak for rape victims, but I know that when people liken their husband saying a few nasty words to my broken rib, I feel like I’m being humiliated all over again.
So please, stop with the hyperbole. Being a victim isn’t fun. It wasn’t fun to get to this place; sadly, most people think we somehow deserved to have this happen to us. People don’t treat you better because of your suffering. Hyperbole either creates an air of drama so suffocating that people want nothing more than to escape its effects, leaving them unable to cope with real issues, or it sets the bar so high that only the most horrific acts effect any kind of response. Both are toxic and can no longer be tolerated. That doesn’t mean that we should accept inappropriate or bad behavior, it just means we can’t have the same nuclear-level response to any and all sexual harassment, abuse, or assault.