During all of the reaction to the Cathy Young article I asked why is it bad to discuss the content of this article? One of the responses I got was that talking about it invalidates the voice of victims. And I get that in general. However, this was a woman discussing her own experiences. Isn’t saying we can’t talk about it invalidating her voice? Isn’t what much of the feminist movement has been about…women’s voices being ignored and discredited?
I posed that question to one participant directly. I asked why is it okay to actively not honor one woman’s views about her own experience? The response I got was that they weren’t saying her view wasn’t valid or shouldn’t be honored, it’s just that….followed by a list of reasons it was not only wrong but harmful. My point isn’t whether or not those things were true or not. My point is that I was told discussing the article would invalidate the voices of others. Yet the same people were more than happy to tell me why the author’s perspective was wrong. But I’m not allowed to discuss it, only hear their criticisms. Somehow that is not invalidating the author’s voice. Simply saying, “oh, we aren’t invalidating them. They can say whatever they want” doesn’t make it so.
Doesn’t that sound strikingly familiar? Isn’t that exactly what has been happening to women for many, many years? When a woman spoke up and said she had been raped the response was to list all of the reasons why it hadn’t happened. Oh, she could say it, but any attempt to talk about it was immediately squashed. Her voice was invalidated because there was no willingness to even consider the possibility her view held merit. Women were framed as trouble makers and subversive. And those were some of the more gentle ways they were viewed.
One of the very first responses to my post was that this is a “big nope train” because the author is a known “rape apologist.” Hmmmm, where have we heard this technique used before? Oh yeah – “she can say she was raped but we know better. She is the town slut.” Exactly the same pattern. It is an attempt to immediately discredit the words of the person by attacking their character. It says don’t judge them on the merits of the situation, instead use inflammatory, negative labels and rely on the assumptions and implications of those instead of looking at the facts and issues in front of you. Let your biases make your decision, not rational thinking and understanding.
Bear in mind that none of this says what you have to agree with or who is right or wrong in the discussion. It simply points out that using strategies that others have used against us seldom leads to anything productive. There is a reason those strategies were so damaging in the first place. That’s true at the societal level right down to the personal level. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had couples come in and one will say, “they criticized me when I wanted to work on this so now that they want to work on it I get to criticize them.” Really? That’s helpful?
It doesn’t get us anywhere. What does create the change we want is to talk, to listen, to learn, to invite, to create understanding. The answer to our problems with rape isn’t using the same bad practices in reverse. It is about creating change. And part of that process is acknowledging that different people have different views. We are going to change that by bringing those differences into the light, exposing them and exploring them.
It may hurt victims to know there are people that disagree with them. That doesn’t mean the answer isn’t to push those people away, deny their voice, or shame them. That’s only going to hide the problem and create resentment and disconnect. The answer is conversation, connection, perspective sharing, and education. That’s always the answer to creating meaningful change.