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Before anyone gets offended, please think of this: these points and examples that I am including in this article put words to the very real systems of abuse, discrimination and exploitation that people in our society experience. 

Please take this as an opportunity to learn about the things that we women, the disenfranchised and the abused talk about among ourselves and wish for the rest of the world to understand.

We all agree that our society needs a change. Nothing will until we as individuals put our biases and our own assumptions about how the world works aside, and listen, and try to understand.

And if you experience any discomfort from reading this piece, please take a moment to evaluate where that discomfort comes from, and address it. 

I originally wrote this piece, titled On Bill Cosby and Defending the Indefensible, in a frenzy, and decided it needed a serious update.

I’d spent an entire afternoon arguing with people who would not budge from their positions about the many allegations that Bill Cosby is facing and is still facing today. No matter what I said, and even before I said anything to defend my position, at the mention of Cosby’s name, the people I spoke to would trip over themselves to steer the conversation to why “some women” can’t be trusted, why “some women” lie about rape, and why “some women” have something financial to gain from lying on Cosby. (No link because seriously, this does not exist, people.)

Without knowing the facts, often times remaining purposely ignorant of the women’s testimonies or the specific allegations, even Cosby’s own admission, I have friends and coworkers who purposely kept a safe distance from the details of Cosby’s predatory behavior in order to cast doubt on the victims in their own minds, guilt-free.

And I could not for the life of me understand how people who were otherwise intelligent, level-headed, reasonable adults could possibly defend the actions of someone who’d proved to be a serial predator and was finally being held accountable for his behavior. I still do not.

Yes, I understand that unlike me, some people grew up watching The Cosby Show, and have a lot of trouble separating the actor from his character, Cliff Huxtable.

I also understand that Bill Cosby was once widely regarded as a hero to many, a role model and pioneer, and asking someone to change their perspective of him is akin to asking them to change their entire world view.

But with the recent slew of allegations against Roger Ailes, Eric Bolling, Harvey Weinstein, Lukasz Gottwald, Bill O’Reilly, Hugh Hefner, R. Kelly and many other less prominent public figures, I wanted to revisit this topic with a slightly more level head, because this is not just about abusers. This is about how we view hierarchies, power, and for a lack of a better way of saying it, “knowing your place,” in a society.

It’s Not Just Show Business 

We live in a society full of hierarchies, a few of them are legally, religiously and financially ordained, and a few of them implied. Recognize this?

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Standard hierarchy for the home

Or how about this one?

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Sample of a social hierarchy

Or to hit a little closer to home, how about this one?

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Sample of a work hierarchy

Hierarchies teach us that as long as everyone is doing their part and stays in their place, then everything will be fine; that there is always someone on top, and that there is always someone on the bottom.

Some hierarchies only allow you to go so far, like with the Christian one, where if you’re a woman, you’ll never be the head of household.

Other hierarchies have entire systems dedicated to teach you how to move up, but still take part of that growth out of your hands. Like the caste system, the idea is that if you do the right thing, stay in your lane, and you might be rewarded in the next life.

The problems with the “good” hierarchies is that they view societies not as they are, but as some people think they should be.

Sure, it would be nice to live in a two parent home with a good husband who can provide for a family of four comfortably, a mother who can stay home and manage the household and raise the children to their image, but that’s not the reality. Most families are actually single-parent families, and most of those single parents are women.

And guess what population suffers from the cycle of poverty, homelessness and food instability the most? Single-parent families helmed by women.

The other problem with hierarchies is that they don’t like taking specific people into account, like with the retail one, where, if you don’t manage to move up (or depending on the store’s specific flavor of kool-aid, down) the pyramid, then it’s clearly because you didn’t want it enough; Not because some managers are assholes, or because you didn’t look the part, or because you were set up to fail, or because some people in HR like to play favorites. Nope. You.

The even bigger problem? Gatekeepers and abusers.

The Systems that Feed Us

One of the first lessons I think everyone learns early on, is that there is always a price.

For children, there are many ways that people- sometimes the very people tasked with caring and protecting them- knowingly and unknowingly, steal childhood away from them. This is in part because children until recently were seen as small adults, and in some cultures, as sub-human beings who should be seen and not heard, only to speak cuando las gallinas mean (i.e. never).

Children were and are still often subjected to physical and emotional abuse, too often to sexual abuse, and social conditioning that is inherently damaging, under the guise that this is just how the world works, that they should learn fast and not be babied, and sometimes just because they were born to parents who were ill equipped to raise them.

If you’re white, and have no clue what people mean when we talk about white supremacy and privilege, well, it looks like this:

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If you have that one uncle that always talks about “those other people” , and you think he’s harmless, think again:

pyramid-of-hateIf you’re a man, and you don’t understand what women mean when we talk about Rape Culture, it looks like this:

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And if you come from a violent household, you might recognize this:

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These are systems. They show that bad behaviors do not exist in a bubble, but are actually parts of systems with their own language, codes, and processes of escalation. You might not think that you’re a racist, or a sexist, or an abuser, but if even one of these examples hit too close to home, then you are still feeding into the very systems that make racism, sexism and abuse function in our society.

If you see your own behavior in these examples, you are in fact taking advantage of these systems of abuse for your own gain. 

Paying the Price

Even if you make it to adulthood without some sort of childhood trauma or social bias, at some point in your life, you will come across someone or a group of someone’s who will offer you something you want, for a price.

I have seen this behavior exemplified most often in the workplace. It doesn’t matter if the environment is non-profit or corporate, government or retail, small business or large. Every workplace that you step into has some sort of unspoken rule that one hand washes the other, and you best fall in line.

Examples:

  • That coworker who either has an equal or similar job description than you, but tries to bully you into treating them as a superior.
  • That manager that makes you do more work outside your job description with the expectation that will pay off later.
  • That other employee that does things that are not quite okay but pleads with you to “be cool” and not snitch.
  • The expectation that you should be on-site 15 minutes before your shift but you’re not allowed to clock in until a minute before your shift actually starts.
  • That superior that holds you to different standards than your peers for clearly personal reasons.
  • Knowingly selling an item or service that you know is not in the consumer’s best interest but it’s your job.

The road to perdition is not a clear cut path that you can point out and steer clear from. The way you lose yourself and lose your humanity is by compromising in the wrong direction in small pieces, to hopefully benefit yourself, and most often only yourself.

It’s insidious. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts in which each decision feels like it’s a decision you have to make, that you have no other choice because this is the way things are, and if you try to go against the current, then the shit pile will land on you.

Abusers are bad. Those who trade in their integrity for a paycheck and keep their mouths shut while others are being abused, partake in covering it up, or become abusers themselves because that’s just how things are, are worse. And then there are those that excuse it, because in their deepest, darkest dreams, they wholeheartedly wish they had the kind of power to exploit and abuse others at their leisure.

Which brings me back to my point, from the original article:

“At what point do we stop expecting women to be perfect victims in order to address the many ways men victimize us? At what point do we stop projecting our own standards of behavior on other victims? At what point do we collectively accept that women should not be expected to behave like perfect saints to be treated like people? At what point do we analyze male behavior the violence that men perpetrate against women and against other men, without hearing someone mumble, “But certain women…” 

At what point do we accept that women do not exist to be your good girls? But most importantly, at what point do we start holding abusers to the same standards as our victims?

Abusers are sneaky. They are seducers. They are charismatic and powerful and deceptive. Abusers love to target the mentally ill, the marginalized, those who are hard to believe, and those who do not like to make waves because they’ve been taught to be good and respect their elders and those in power. And they absolutely benefit from a society that is constantly questioning the word of their victims. It is predatory behavior that thrives because of your devil’s advocacy. And when I hear someone immediately start to question women, what I really hear is someone trying to maintain the status quo that allows their shitty behavior to pass, shitty behavior that allows men to treat women like they are disposable. 

I understand that it’s a lot harder to accept that you’ve been deceived by someone you looked up to than to repeat tired stereotypes about how some women can’t be trusted. I also understand that it’s very difficult to look in the mirror and address your flaws. But by defending male entitlement by constantly deflecting back to the victims, you are essentially proving that you don’t care to fix the problem, because it might mean having to check your privileges.” 

When people defend abusers, what they’re really defending are the systems that make abusers possible.

What we are really saying is, abusers are an inevitability in any civilized society, and those who suffer at their hands were only abused because they didn’t know their place.

What we are saying is that there is a price for greatness, even if it’s someone else’s greatness and we are the ones paying the price.

What we are doing is playing judge, jury and executioner and feeding that deep, dark, part of us that enjoys seeing others suffer because we’ve suffered too. That part of us that enjoys seeing others fail because we’ve failed too, or worse, that part of us who enjoys others getting smacked down for trying at something that we were too afraid to try at.

And that’s not okay. We are better than this, and if we want to live in a civilized society with good family values and virtues and bootstraps abound, then we must open our eyes and see the very real systems that keep us and our neighbors from being able to do so. Therein lies the real gospel, that’s how you become the example of Christianity.

Don’t be complicit in systems that abuse people because you think you might get something out of it. Change your world view. Learn.

You got something better to do?