All Women Must Control The Narrative In And After The Trumpian Age

02/28/2017 06:50 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2017
Brie Larson, who portrayed a rape survivor in <em>Room</em>, hands this year’s Best Actor Oscar to accused sexual harasser Ca
Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Brie Larson, who portrayed a rape survivor in Room, hands this year’s Best Actor Oscar to accused sexual harasser Casey Affleck.

As a sexual assault survivor, I make one simple request. Can we stop celebrating misogynists and sexual predators with Academy Awards, Oscar nominations, internet readership, government positions, a judgeship, the Presidency of the United States or any other prestigious role that amplifies their voices while our own are silenced or diminished?

Forty years ago, in her novel The Women’s Room, Marilyn French wrote, “Whatever they may be in public life, whatever their relationships with men, in their relationships with women, all men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes.” Though the novel was published decades before, I recommend it to my seminar students at DePaul University. Some may find her words extreme, but Casey Affleck’s Oscar win is the latest example of how misogyny still reigns. A Day without a Woman on International Women’s Day, March 8, sets the perfect moment to start making French’s damning words irrelevant by refusing to reward and excuse male abusers.

It won’t be easy, though. As the philosopher Walter Fisher theorized, human nature is driven by narrative. And the truth is that, in 2017, women still don’t control the narrative. In the age of Trump, women must gain control. Until stories written by women, directed by women, produced and published by women saturate the marketplace, our lives and experiences will never become normalized and respected.

And this includes all women. For every Gretchen Carlson there remains the sexually harassed female employee of color fearing career retribution. And for every Lady Gaga or Madonna boldly recounting her own rape, there remains the transgender female or lesbian college student who suffers cyberbullying for coming forward about her own sexual violation.

Lack of a female narrative also bleeds into the professional workplace. Last year, Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research revealed that less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and less than a quarter of women serve in Congress. Though that number did slightly increase after the 2016 election, white men still outnumber women.

Academia is not immune either. Earlier in 2016, the American Council on Education released a report that showed while more women earn doctoral degrees, female academics remain behind their male peers in tenured degrees and administrative positions.

Following the 2017 Academy Award nominations, Women’s Media Center reported that despite this year’s Oscars being more racially diverse, women nominated in its non-acting categories had dropped. Though Ava DuVernay was the first female and one of color to be nominated for Best Documentary for 13th. Instead, the Oscar went to Ezra Edelman’s OJ: Made in America. Another worthy film but a worthy film yet again directed by a male.

Only Hidden Figures co-screenwriter Allison Schroeder received a writing nomination. Like Schroeder, women writers of all genres fight to have their voices heard. On average only 25 percent of opinion pieces written by women are published by newspapers and magazines. While The OpEd Project noted that opinion pieces penned by women increased by 40 percent since the project’s inception nine years ago, only 26 percent of women published addressed general interest pieces while 35 percent published focused on what The OpEd Project called “Pink Topics”: fashion, food, family, furniture, and women’s issues.

The only thing wrong with “Pink Topics” is the lack of value placed on them. When women do share their unique stories and life experiences, the material is not taken seriously. This year, when I assigned my college writing class to read a Huffington Post commentary that addressed the lack of feminine sanitary supplies in developing countries in order to discuss the piece’s writing, argument, evidence, and structure, one male student said the commentary’s subject repelled him.

Society needs to shift the shame and invalidation that goes toward female experiences toward sexual perpetrators. Not until these perpetrators lose their voices will more women find and be recognized for their diverse ones. Only then will all women’s lives be the new normal. 

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