Smack dab in the age of information, people seem to lean more toward data and numbers over emotion. They want cold hard facts and numbers to sway them rather than a pathos-based argument. This strategy is useful when discussing an issue like climate change, for example. But what about matters of human experience?
With the Harvey Weinstein trial reaching its verdict as of Monday, Feb. 24, I am baffled at the trail of media coverage and sound bites made in defense of Weinstein over the span of nearly 30 years and picking up along with the accusations. In those 30 years Weinstein reached at least eight settlements until his most recent trial in which six women took the stand and proved him guilty of sexual assault and rape. However, he was found not guilty of predatory sexual assault.
Whether one believes that the verdicts are a fair reflection and consequence of his accusations is only for the individual to decide. Rape has never been treated fairly in the American justice system — just look at the backlog of untested rape kits, according to Vox. What can be fairly analyzed are the attitudes of those not directly involved in the situation and how the media and figureheads alike have continued to maintain a longstanding feeling of disbelief toward victims and survivors of abuse.
Weinstein’s attorney Donna Rotunno has been questioned on her support of the Hollywood figurehead and long career in defending sexual assault accusees because of her gender. This question is sexist in itself because no one asks male attorneys why they choose to defend other men. 77% of people charged with murder are men, according to Slate Magazine, but gender never comes into question when inquiring about their lawyer’s support. So, why in an interview with the New York Times was Rotunno asked if she had ever been sexually assaulted?
When questioned, the attorney replied, “No, because I would never put myself in that position ... I have always made choices [where] I never drank too much, I never went home with someone I did not know. I have never put myself in a vulnerable place ever.”
She goes onto explain that she doesn’t necessarily believe that every woman who has been sexually assaulted has put themselves in that position, but that “you have to make [smart] decisions when you’re putting yourself in circumstances with other people … all that I’m saying is that women can take precautions.”
The volume that Rotunno says what a lot of victim blamers are thinking is what is so deafening about her statement. She not only openly stated that she sides with the argument centered around self-preservation but also gave an implication that she understands exactly what kind of man her client is. Lawyers are not necessarily hired to defend the truth, but rather to prove something to be true in the eyes of the law. It isn’t Rotunno’s supposed belief in Weinstein that makes her a bad person. Belief alone would only make her a poor judge of character and dimwitted power sympathizer with misplaced empathy. Rather, it is simply her defense of the sex offender that hurt so many survivors and women.
The outdated rhetoric she used to defend Weinstein is harmful to survivors and those who still struggle to believe them. Rotunno played off of antiquated ideals to compliment the prejudiced thoughts surrounding victims that seemed to have been buried beneath new waves of politically correct belief systems. It takes a lot of nerve to say something of that sort post-#MeToo, especially since anti-Weinstein statements were a huge propellant in launching the #MeToo movement into the mainstream media. There was no strategic obscuring of her harmful views on sexual assault victims, none of the usual circumventing of the “well, what do you expect?” narrative.
“We’ve created a society of celebrity victimhood status," Rotunno said in the same New York Times interview. "We’ve created a society where women don’t have to take any responsibility for their actions, [where] if we say ‘believe all women’ then that means we’re not supposed to question anyone at all so there’s absolutely no risk for women to come forward now and make a claim.” Does anyone else hear a whistle?
The worst part about her statements that are also bolstered by her platform is that it’s a useful argument in Weinstein’s case and many like it. In our societal landscape, our views as a collective regarding sexual assault have always been to be skeptical. Combatting the skepticism around sexual assault has primarily felt like a women versus men issue. Rotunno just solidified with her statement that other women still believe this rhetoric as well. Although women would like to think that they can find solidarity within their gender’s community, it’s a harmful narrative that women carry more responsibility for condemning sexual abusers than men.
Rotunno has demeaned the experiences of Weinstein’s victims as “regret sex”, and blamed said victims for continuing to associate with Weinstein after years of allegations against him. And, as much as I want to call her a bad person for being a woman defending a case against women survivors, she is merely a bad person for being on the wrong side of the efforts to alter the attitude around sexual assault.
To look at her stance and efforts as a disloyal act against women rather than one against humanity is putting a patronizing amount of responsibility on women as “fixers” rather than people. Even though women statistically experience sexual assault more than men, that doesn’t mean that they are automatically guarded from harboring harmful views themselves. There is barely any gender gap between men and women who are ultimately pro-life, and it was an ostensible 52%of white women that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls.
As much as we would like to believe some kind of overarching general womanhood experience to be true to bolster a call for gender solidarity, we can’t bank on a sweep of unity among the women to save us from men or even each other. Women can be bad people, too. There is no line between the genders that simultaneously categorizes good and bad. As much as women are offended that “one of our own” has stood up against what feels like the rest of us in defense of a rapist, it is useless to take it as a personal attack. It is a reflection on a fault of humanity recognizing itself, not another stake in “the gender war”. Empathy and understanding needs to come from all sides of the spectrum – we will go nowhere if we keep our main focus on gendering what should be universal issues.
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