Blame vs. accountability.

Photo by  Jeremy Bishop  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Hey loves - this is a bit of a heavy one. But there’s lightness, too.

[Content warning: all the fucking men in the fucking news cycle who keep assaulting people. If you don’t wanna hear anymore about it, jump to the links at the end.]

I just don’t know what to do anymore. There are just so many God damn sexual predators and I can’t get away from hearing about them, because I’m too scared that if I turn off my New York Times notifications, THAT’S when the world will explode.

I’m so glad they’re all getting named. I’m so glad that some of them are losing opportunities because of it. I’m so glad that people of multiple genders are feeling emboldened to come forward and break their silences.

But, oof, it’s really hard to get anything done lately. I keep going down internet rabbit holes and reading brilliant analyses of why this terrible man’s apology wasn’t good enough, why that terrible man got away with it for so long, why women are so angry… (This one by Laurie Penny was particularly brilliant.) (And this one.) (Also national Goddamn treasure Lindy West said some brilliant things too.)

It all feels important. The internet rabbit holes and the think pieces and the well-placed online outrage. I do consider it time well-spent.

And amidst my grief, as an assault survivor and a woman, I am also heartened by all the uplifted voices, the speaking out, the new bravery. I am heartened that something is clicking for the men around me that somehow never clicked before. I am heartened by the loudness of this moment.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

I’m worried about what happens when this moment is over.

Here’s what I’m worried will happen: Remember how when the first few states legalized same-sex weddings, it was SUCH a big deal and cause for celebration? And then after a couple dozen states, we’d barely even hear about it when a new state jumped on board? That, but with rapists.

I'm worried that we're going to be too attached to our self-image as "the good ones" to effect real change in the long run.

I’m worried that my liberal community is going to just keep smugly patting themselves on the back about not having ever assaulted any 14-year-olds, and not examining the ways in which they might be contributing to the culture that protects - nay, exalts - that guy.

Only rapists are responsible for rape, but all of us are responsible for rape culture.

(Me included. How many times in college did I say with disdain that someone was "hoeing it up"? How long did it take me to acknowledge that sexual assault is an intersectional issue? How many years went by of me hearing the rumors about Louis C.K. and hoping that, since I hadn't heard them substantiated, they were untrue - not so those women wouldn't have to walk around with that pain, but so I could keep enjoying his standup without guilt?)

I’m worried that, when Louis and Kevin Spacey continue to get opportunities (as they undoubtedly will, just like Mel Gibson and Woody Allen and countless others), the world will see that as “evidence” that these crimes did not actually occur, or simply not care.

I’m worried that we’re going to just collectively check out after reaching critical mass of serial abusers, because we haven’t the energy to keep engaging with it.

So, why am I saying all this? Why the hell is a life coach writing a blog post about how worried she is?

Because that only happens if we let it happen.

We have the power to keep this a priority. We have the power to keep demanding accountability. We have the power to never stop having the conversation until it isn't necessary anymore.

I mentioned Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful book Hope in the Dark last week, and I’ll mention it again here: a key takeaway from that book for me is that revolutions always start way before the place where the history book picks up.

Years before the big event that gets into the history books, paradigm-shifting conversations are happening in living rooms and bars and, yes, even Facebook threads. And this change happens slowly. You never know how many tiny moments lead to a changed mind, even if your own mind is the one being changed.

We can decide to keep having those conversations. We can decide not to shut up. And we can decide to never stop growing.

I also want to take a moment to talk about the difference between accountability and blame.

(Brené Brown made a handy little video about that very subject, because of course she did.)

The goal of blame is simplicity. Person X did bad thing Y; we can blame and punish Person X for bad thing Y; case closed, let’s move on with our lives.

Accountability is messy as hell. Accountability means, “I’ll do my best not to hurt you, and if I screw up, I’ll do my best to make amends rather than get defensive.” Accountability means that we keep learning forever, and learning is messy.

Blame is about the past. The shitty thing has already happened; a finger must be pointed so that we can all move on with our lives.

Accountability is about the future. Accountability is an ongoing conversation.

Blame is about sacrificing individual scapegoats; whoever's to blame is disposable, even (or especially) if that person is yourself. Accountability is about our relationship to one another; it starts with the premise that none of us are disposable.

Blame is about deflecting vulnerability; accountability invites vulnerability.

The world is cracked and bleeding. It's not your fault. But how might we hold each other and ourselves accountable for making sure this moment doesn’t fade into the night?

Even if you already do so much. Even if you have grown up fearing for your own safety. Even if you are tired too. (I'm tired too. I'm so very tired.)

How might we show up more wholeheartedly for our communities?

How might we carry the lessons of this moment forward?

How might we better care for one another?


Here’s what I’m reading/loving this past week:

It’s a few months old now, but the “No” season of The Heart podcast is one of the best (and most artfully created) primers on consent and rape culture I have ever come across. Required listening for men especially.

Eva Jannotta wrote a pretty fantastic roundup of BullCon, the conference I spoke at a couple weeks ago. (Hi Eva!)

Be Nourished: An open letter to Brené Brown about fat-shaming

BuzzFeed: Does your butt have a defiant attitude? Fix your body’s trouble areas.

From my favorite Man On the Internet, R. Eric Thomas: A petition for House of Cards to recast Julie Andrews as Frank Underwood

The Village Voice: How the Queer Kitchen Brigade Is Coming to Puerto Rico’s Aid

Lastly, I just rediscovered this wonderful wonderful poem, by Queen Maya Angelou. I hope it brings you solace.


CONTINUE: a poem

By Maya Angelou


My wish for you
Is that you continue


To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness


To allow humor to lighten the burden
Of your tender heart


In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter


To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined


To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And the no one is beneath
Nor above you


To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely


To put the mantel of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless


To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise


To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected


To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good


To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit


To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing


To float
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name


And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue

Yours in revolution,

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