Hello and Happy New Year! Onward we go, a new year full of new conversations and resolutions. I wanted my first column of 2018 to be something more lighthearted than past columns — you know, sex and dating New Year’s resolutions (e.g., stop ghosting people on Tinder!) and answering some of the more creative questions I’ve been sent (we’ll get to those, I promise). But, this week demands something more than laughs on this Friday afternoon.
Ask Ayla isn’t politics or journalism; it’s about conversations. It started as and remains a place to discuss the complexities of hookup culture, sex, dating and love on our campus in a time that often feels confusing and unromantic. But these days, it’s hard to discuss hookup culture without a necessary discussion of the dangerous and harmful undertones it can take on, the likes of which have been revealed by the News and other outlets this week. These were only the most local and recent assault-related headlines in a series of local and national stories forcing us to critically examine, and hopefully improve, the way we interact with each other.
This has been a week full of questions, both my own and others’: What’s your experience as a woman on Yale’s campus? Does it really feel unsafe? What do we make of the nuance and complexity of #MeToo and Time’s Up? Are the men at Yale also having these conversations? And how do we as a community get better?
I’ve spent time being angry. And empowered. Fired up and exhausted. I’ve felt scared. I’ve felt determined. Confused. Responsible. On any given day, I go back and forth between a fundamental belief in the power of our voices and a nagging anxiety that when the lights go down on a Saturday night, everything will stay the same no matter how loud we’ve been speaking.
I’m only one voice. I could never dream of speaking to every experience, not by a long shot. So I ask that we listen to others. What follows are voices who anonymously and powerfully shared with me their experience of being a woman or a survivor on this campus.
“This movement [Time’s Up] has made me less ashamed of my pain, more empowered because people take others’ similar pain seriously and has helped me advance faster into fully believing myself,” one wrote. “I want people to understand that I hurt, why I hurt and that too many others hurt too.”
In a heart-wrenching response, another said, “The most viciously painful parts of being a survivor at Yale are realizing that firstly, there are so many of us, more than you ever imagined, and secondly, that nobody gives a fuck … Yale students are poisonously apathetic.”
“Being a survivor at Yale was the single most horrifying, isolating and psychologically damaging experience of my life,” another wrote. “I’m extremely happy that #MeToo and #TimesUp is happening; it feels vindicating — but also a constant reminder of how my Title IX case led to no tangible results, just more trauma for me.”
“Being a survivor at Yale is draining. I want to be a normal student again, but at this point that seems impossible,” one said. “I never know what to think of interactions with those who know him — Do they know what he did to me? Why are they acting this way toward me?”
Someone else wrote: “I think that while being a woman at Yale has meant that I know that I do have a community of peers and friends who will support me, I also know that as a woman at Yale, I am constantly worried about being sexually assaulted or harassed especially at parties and while walking alone at night.”
And another: “It seems odd to say as a 19-year-old that I feel jaded about romance and men in general,” the student wrote. “But then I remember the morning my suite mate came to me in tears after having asked a friend of over a year to walk her home from a party because she was too drunk, and waking up in his bed the next morning having blacked out.”
Someone wrote how the “potential ambiguity of sexual situations, especially those involving alcohol and with people you know, makes it easy to blame yourself … You can’t give consent if you’re too drunk to stand up or send a text. Yale students should know this.”
“I think the hardest thing is not having other people know or understand your story,” another said. “The absolute worst thing is when people do not believe your story or think that if you were drunk when you were raped it was your fault. These movements have provided me with great strength and empowerment.”
“I feel empowered by the women around me, but at the same time I feel like so many men just don’t get it,” someone else said. “They don’t understand what it’s like to be in our shoes and ultimately it’s supremely frustrating trying to explain the same lessons to people who don’t care to listen.”
But still, in the darkness of these reports, empowerment emerges through the exhaustion.
“Being a survivor at Yale has sucked. It’s altered the course of my life,” someone wrote before addressing Time’s Up: “The only mixed positive has been knowing I’m not alone. It was simultaneously so heartening (solidarity!) and so depressing to see all the #MeToo statuses pouring in on Facebook from people that I know.”
“As a woman and a sexual assault survivor, the movement has been incredibly moving and painful. I am reminded of how unsafe I still feel … I have felt empowered by #MeToo and reminded of how I am very dramatically not alone. I feel energized by the changes made, the nuanced conversations and the hope of the movement.”
“It is groundbreaking,” someone else wrote. “So much about being a woman is about being the victim of continued violation and disrespect, both in the classroom and with friends. I look forward to us being one step forward to equal respect.
And, finally, someone said: “It has been extremely empowering to witness these nationwide movements and to see so many strong, confident, bold women and men stand up for themselves and rightfully serve justice to those who have harmed them for far too long. These movements have proven that time is up and enough is enough!”
Time’s up for “poisonous apathy.” Time’s up for people feeling hurt and unsafe in the social spaces we create. Time’s up for a news cycle that shows us frightening stories and statistics, which ultimately fade into a short-lived institutional memory. Time’s up for the mentality that we — women; survivors; students of every gender, race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background — should stay silent. People like us have started appearing everywhere, hashtagging MeToo on Twitter, suing DJs for $1 to show that physical harassment is never OK, whispering lists of shitty media men to each other, then telling those lists to the press. They were on the cover of “Time” magazine as Person of the Year, collectively deemed “the silence breakers.” Most recently, they donned their black at the Golden Globes and claimed that time was up for silence, for excuses, for not listening. Here on campus, they called out powerful fraternity members for profoundly horrible actions. Here’s to Yale’s own silence breakers.
Because of them, we’re now talking about it in classes and in the papers and over coffee and late at night. For a long time, these conversations were whispered between those who were forced to confront them; now, they’re everyone’s domain, everyone’s responsibility to engage in. We may not always agree. These movements have issues and nuances, complexities and politics. The conversations are tough. These movements have power and pitfalls. Choosing to make a personal experience political can weaponize it for change in the public sphere, but it remains a personal moment of hurt that won’t evaporate when you switch off the newspaper app or Twitter. Discussing harassment and assault and inequality isn’t the same thing as healing from it, but hopefully they can go hand in hand.
Listen to each other. Reach out. Abolish apathy. Fight the good fight. It’s just the beginning.
Ayla Besemer | firstname.lastname@example.org .