We Have Been Taught to Expect Nothing

We Have Been Taught to Expect Nothing
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Yesterday, when Harvey Weinstein was found guilty on two counts—rape in the third degree and criminal sexual assault in the first degree—he left behind the walker on which he’d leaned throughout the trial and relied instead on the bailiff to lead him away. Many saw the act as a metaphor: grandma’s dressings falling away to reveal the wolf inside.

Online, it seemed like every woman I’ve ever met, followed, or friended was cheering. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised: multiple authors have written books about the allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, Pulitzers were won on the basis of the reportage, celebrities like Rosanna Arquette and Ashley Judd added their voices to calls for justice, and conversations about Harvey Weinstein stoked the broader MeToo movement, compelling women around the world to speak about their own experiences. Still, it seems like no one really believed a man as powerful as Harvey Weinstein would ever seriously be held accountable for his actions. After hearing the news, I tweeted “Put them all in the goddamn Wicker Man.” Fifteen men immediately liked it.

The 1973 horror film The Wicker Man is perhaps my favorite movie. In it, a remote, fertility and rebirth-obsessed Scottish community must (major spoiler alert) light a virginal male sacrifice on fire in order to yield a greater harvest. As the man, a condescending, judgmental police officer, burns in the wicker pyre pleading for his life, the town below him rejoices in celebration of the renewal his end will bring. The movie, I think, means for the audience to side with the townsfolk. Death to rigid, patriarchal ideas about sex and purity. Yes to a society that loves consensual, cheerful fucking. Light the gatekeeper on fire.

Many saw the act as a metaphor: grandma’s dressings falling away to reveal the wolf inside.

But my tweet didn’t say “Put one person in the goddamn Wicker Man as a symbol of the work that remains to be done.” I said all without stopping to think who I meant. Certainly Weinstein. I guess Brock Turner, Brett Kavanaugh, Bill Cosby, the fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers, cousins, uncles, and family friends women have told me held them down as children and later said it was just a game. I also meant the president, the men who say a fertilized egg is more human than the living woman who houses it, everyone named in MeToo and everyone who said we should wait for all the facts and then when the facts came out said we couldn’t trust them. Into the Wicker Man.

But here’s what really happened. Six women told a jury that Harvey Weinstein raped them. Outside the courtroom, one hundred more said the same thing. The jury found Weinstein guilty of rape in the third degree, which is by definition “sexual intercourse with another person who is incapable of consent,” and according to The Hill is one of the least serious ways to be found guilty of rape. The first-degree criminal sexual act conviction refers to forced oral sex.

There were three charges of which Weinstein was not convicted: first-degree rape, which requires proof of “forcible compulsion,” and predatory sexual assault, a charge that comes along with first-degree rape and would convict Weinstein of “a history of committing a sex crime against at least one other person.”

Almost immediately, news outlets declared the verdict the beginning of a “new era.” The Guardian interviewed an attorney representing victims of sexual assault who says she now expects to see a “wave of women coming forward with complaints against other sexual abusers.” The Washington Post praised the verdict and declared that at last victims were allowed to have “messy stories.” The New York Times maintained the “trial was a crucial test in the effort to hold powerful men accountable for sexual harassment in the workplace.” In a press conference on Tuesday, Mira Sorvino, a Weinstein accuser, said “The era of impunity for powerful men who rape people is over.”

But it took six women on the stand painfully recounting their rapes, 100 other women with the same story, thousands of pages of news coverage, books written, and Pulitzers won, to get one man convicted on two lesser counts of the least bad rapes within a system that says there are degrees of rape.

And we rejoiced.

We have been taught to expect nothing. These expectations are built on outcomes like the one in the Brock Turner case, in which the judge publicly wrung his hands about the rapist’s bright future, even after two witnesses testified that they saw him sexually assaulting an unconscious victim. A community said an 11-year-old girl looked older to excuse cellphone video of her being assaulted by stars of the high school basketball team and the son of a school board member. We expect a quarter-million untested rape kits to sit in storage units, seemingly only unlocked when Dateline or Netflix turns up to ask questions about an attack of particularly morbid interest. Despite all of the people who have spoken about sexual assault in the wake of the broader MeToo movement, there are still few systems in place for parsing those allegations and deciding punishment. According to the Justice Department, only 23 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police, and of those reports, only 20 percent lead to an arrest. From there, only 35 percent of cases end in conviction, meaning that about .8 percent of the time sexual assault is punished by courts.

It still takes a crowd of women to convict one man. Meanwhile, we’ve come to expect bad men to sit on the Supreme Court and in the Oval Office or to narrowly lose Senate elections in Alabama. It feels as if the country is packed with them, wall-to-wall, so tightly that even a little punishment for a single assailant feels like it reduces the crowd. Weinstein faces between five and 29 years in prison for his crimes, which seems big because anything is greater than nothing.

But this is not a Wicker Man, jam-packed with rapists ready to be lit aflame in service of something new. After the verdict, the Me Too organization released a statement that read, in part, “Whether you are an office worker, a nanny, an assistant, a cook, a factory worker— we all have to deal with the spectre of sexual violence derailing our lives. And, though today a man has been found guilty, we have to wonder whether anyone will care about the rest of us tomorrow.”

When the cheers fade, the fact remains that for every 1,000 Harvey Weinsteins, just five are punished. The others go on to be our bosses, community leaders, fathers, uncles, cousins, family friends, presidents, and judges. We got one, sort of, but the Wicker Man is still mostly hollow.

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