We've all seen the headlines taking over social media: Taylor Swift Countersues Sexual Assault Offender for $1. A former radio DJ, David Mueller, sued Swift for $3 million, accusing her of false claims and destroying his career after she reported that he grabbed her bare butt underneath her skirt at a meet-and-greet in 2013.
Throughout Swift's testimony, she was steadfast that she was not going to feel guilty or accept any blame for the choices of someone else. "I'm being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions. Not mine," she said at one point. Toward the end of the trial, she held her mother's hand and cried as Mueller's attorney continued to victimise her in his closing argument. She won that symbolic one dollar though and by the jury's unanimous decision. What the trial has highlighted is that rape culture is alive and thriving. The fact that a man who sexually assaulted a woman can then sue that woman for damaging his image is disgusting. The comments about the case online are just as disturbing, albeit completely expected.
"I never liked Taylor Swift anyway."
"It was just an ass-grab. What's the big deal? People are so sensitive, calling this sexual assault. That's a little harsh, don't you think?"
We live in a society that protects men over women. Regardless of the severity of the attack — from a butt grab to raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster — women are always asked the same questions: "What were you wearing? Were you drinking? Are you sure you didn't consent to this action? I mean, we don't want to ruin this guy's life! He has a promising career and future!" The person in power often blames the victim and attempts to discredit and gaslight them. Their power lies in their social status, their race, their wealth, their gender. This Swift trial is a little different because she is a woman that holds a huge amount of power. But this isn't usually the power dynamic in a sexual assault case.
What's even more prevalent in many of these highly publicised cases is cisgender, heterosexual white women and wealthy white men. A person of color rarely makes headlines unless it's an athlete, and that athlete is never the victim. Why is this? There are a zillion reasons, some of which include patriarchy, racism, classism, imbalances of power, cognitive dissonance, and a society founded on the bedrock of white supremacy. The white man has always been set on a pedestal by other white men. A country that was built on denying basic human rights to women and people of colour has a difficult time collectively casting off that history and mindset that is laced within every level of society today.
Swift is using her fame, her wealth, and her whiteness to publicly shed light on a very serious issue: consent, or a lack thereof, in our society. It's unfortunate that a wealthy, famous white woman is what it takes to get the attention of a massive audience in regards to respecting a woman's body — especially considering the frequency that sexual assault happens in this country, and not just to cis, hetero white women. The same was true with the Justine Damond murder shining a white people spotlight on police brutality, even though Black Lives Matter and other organisations have been advocating against excessive use of force by police officers for years and black Americans are statistically far more likely to be killed by police.
Men often feel entitled to a woman's body. Consent appears hazy to many men and women. The well meaning anti-rape slogan "No means no" sets the precedent that if a person says no, then that is an obvious no, and that if someone doesn't say no, then they must want to have sexual contact. But what about the victims who are silent? What about people who abuse their power positions? Affirmative consent should be the only type of consent in regard to sexual conduct. Supposed "men's rights" activists have pushed back against sexual assault reform. Men (and women) in power create a false balance narrative that sexual assault on college campuses is disproportionately false reporting done by regretful drunk women rather than acknowledging that false reporting is very rare and that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.
It's easy to see rape culture all around us. And as painful as it is to try and understand an abuser, the reasons for their behavior are neatly tied up in this society entrenched in patriarchy and misogyny, in the media that often sympathises with a rapist's experience and in a lack of sex education, specifically the role consent plays in sex. For example, the children's movie Ratatouille has a scene where Linguine forces a kiss on Colette. She raises a can of pepper spray to ward off his advances, but eventually succumbs to the kiss, and they fall in love. This seemingly innocuous example of a male forcing himself on a female until she falls for him has been splattered across films over the past century. Men see this aggressiveness as something to live up to, to be a "real man" who women want. And women see passiveness. They see sex as something that happens to them, and they need to just go along with it. These scenarios don't just impact cis, hetero men and women either. People in the LGBTQ+ community are greatly affected by consent, gaslighting, and a fear of reporting due to disbelief and retaliation.
So what can we all take away from this Taylor Swift trial? We can take away the important point that people need to stop blaming victims of sexual assault for the violence that was used against them. We need to stop sympathizing with abusers about how their lives are ruined (by their own hand.) We need to start holding those who abuse their power accountable with programs like Title IX. We need to start teaching our children consent starting the moment they are born. We need to educate our youth about sexuality, consent, and reproductive responsibility, not just tell them to abstain from sex or that no means no. We need to work together to break down the social constructs that have put us in this position in the first place.