First, let me say that I hear you (“you” being some men that I’ve heard say this in the past week) and I understand where you’re coming from. You’re coming from a place of less understanding and less knowledge due to less experience with this particular issue, because the simple fact is that less of you have been in a situation where you’ve been raped (1 of 71 of you versus 1 of 4 of us) or sexually assaulted. Thus, if, as a man, most of your close friends are male, the topic of being a survivor of rape or sexual assault may not come up as often as it does in conversations among women.
Second, you don’t need to explain the unfairness of life to women, of all people — we are the ones getting paid a fraction of what you do for the same work; the ones who take on a disproportionate amount of housework at home (even if we work too), childcare, housekeeping at work ,and emotional labor; the ones who are responsible for birth control because that was too much for some of you to handle; and the ones that, more often than not, find ourselves running around doing all of this with heels on, in between hair removal/hair coloring/botox appointments and workouts, because on top of everything else, we’re also supposed to look perfect all the time.
So if you’re feeling like the very reasonable starting point of believing women when they say something is patently unfair, first ask yourself why. What do you stand to lose in a hypothetical world where women are believed just as much as men? Oh yes that’s right, your privilege–your privilege to do whatever you want whenever you want with women’s bodies knowing full well that if they speak out nobody is going to believe them. So if you’re not a rapist, this really shouldn’t matter. And if you are a rapist, don’t you think women shoulder enough unfairness in this world (see above paragraph)? Don’t you think it would be okay if you took this one for the team?
We should all be making a bigger, more intentional effort to believe women. Not to believe women more than we believe men, but believe them just as much. In this way, the “believe women” slogan doesn’t mean “don’t believe men.” It means believe women too. Just like the “black lives matter” movement doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter. It means black lives matter too. This is crucial to understand. These movements start because there is a problem with the underlying group the slogans are targeted to support — black people are being killed in disproportionate numbers and people, for whatever reason, don’t believe women.
So, that’s why we need to #believewomen. Because we tend not to. And the consequences can be fatal when we don’t. Anyone who, like me, has worked in the domestic violence sphere can attest to this. When battered women call the police fearing for their lives, and the police don’t come, guess what? They literally die.
I also unfortunately experienced firsthand the devastating effects of healthcare professionals not believing women back in 2016, when I spent almost a year trying to figure out what was wrong with me as I lost my ability to run and do yoga like I loved to do; stayed up at night itching like crazy to the point of bruising, bleeding, and crying and wishing for my life back; lost 40 pounds in a matter of months; experienced all kinds of crazy neurological symptoms; and eventually began to exist in such a constant state of pain that I couldn’t walk more than a couple blocks or have someone I love touch me softly without wincing.
I had doctors suggest, outrageously, that I was just anxious and depressed because my boyfriend was moving to another city to start his residency. When my mom asked her friend, a male dermatologist who’s known me since childhood, about my incessant itching, he told her to take me to a psychologist. One nationally prominent local neurologist even told me he couldn’t find anything wrong with me and to come back in six months if my symptoms persisted. I trusted my intuition that something was deeply wrong with my body and persisted in finding an answer. I ended up having cancer, and when the neurologist’s office called me six months later to remind me of my upcoming visit, I told them I was starting my third month of chemo. So yeah, thanks for nothing.
So to recap: believe people. All people. Believe men. But believe women too. And as an obvious corollary, believe survivors. Believing survivors has never been about ignoring facts, but rather, holding space for survivors to tell their stories — space that didn’t exist before, or existed, but only in private places.