What Does it Really Mean to Believe Women?

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Over the past year or so we have seen what some have called a “reckoning” with a mainstream focus on the #metoo movement. We have seen some powerful men lose their jobs, or even get arrested, for the sexual violence and misconduct that they have perpetrated. In September, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, Julie Swetnick, and at least one other woman who remained anonymous came forward with credible allegations of sexual violence at the hands of then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And just last week the documentary, Surviving R. Kelly, aired highlighting horrific and ongoing violence that the artist has perpetrated against numerous girls and women. Throughout this time, we have talked about the importance of believing women. We have marched, protested, and demanded that Sentors look at us. At the same time, though, we have largely centered white women. Lest we forget that Tarana Burke, a Black woman, created #MeToo through the work she has done with victims of sexual violence in Black and Brown communities for over 20 years, and R. Kelly’s downloads increased during the airing of the documentary highlighting his abuse of Black girls and women.

So I’m left to wonder, what does it really mean to believe women?

To me, believing women means listening to and believing all women, femmes, and gender nonconforming folk — about their experiences with sexual harassment and violence, racism, sexism, their lived experiences, and about their feelings. It means believing all womxn about all of their experiences.

If we truly believe women, we must believe Jewish women when they say that they are experiencing pain and marginalization within our movement. We must believe Black women when they say that making demands of them is racist. We must believe women who wear hijab because they want to, not assuming that it means they are being oppressed. We must believe womxn who identify as gender non-binary, genderqueer, trans, or gender nonconforming; noting and using preferred names and pronouns without need for explanation. We must believe women of color who are sharing their lived experiences of marginalization — in our homes, communities, schools, workplaces, yoga studios, churches or other faith houses, and our classrooms. We must believe girls when they tell us about their abuse, even if it is at the hands of someone we love. Believing the mother at the border who has fled violence in her home country, walking with her children for weeks to seek asylum. We must believe women with disabilities about the need for single use straws or accessible spaces. We need to believe women who say they’re in pain at the hospital. Pregnant mothers who say that something doesn’t feel right. Mothers who are worried about their children. Women who are struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, or other mental health concerns. We must believe women. Believing women, to me, means believing all womxn and trusting their experiences, even when I don’t quite understand or when it makes me uncomfortable.

Believing women means trusting that we get closer to our liberation by listening to one another, not by turning our backs.

But believing women also means believing my colleague who says that my workplace doesn’t feel inclusive to her. That the bar or restaurant that I selected for our office happy hour isn’t a place that she feels comfortable or welcomed in. That the pink pussy hat that I knitted for the march doesn’t represent her or our inclusive, intersectional movement. Believing women means believing my colleague when she tells me that my words or actions have had a harmful impact on her, no matter what my intentions were. Believing women means trusting us when we say that we are experiencing sexism at work, even when the man we are asking to be held accountable is popular or on our ‘side’. Believing women means trusting that those among us who are most marginalized are best positioned to lead us to liberation. It means believing in their leadership, even when it doesn’t look like ours. And it means following that leadership, preferably with gratitude and humility.

So, I ask you. Do you believe women of color in your workplace when they tell you that they are experiencing microaggressions and racism in your workspace? Do you believe women when they tell you that a man that you know or love has harmed them? Do you believe women when you download and listen to R.Kelly’s music or watch Woody Allen’s movies? Do you believe women when they speak in a tone that you don’t deem as kind or respectable?

If you can’t say yes to all of this, then I implore you to consider just what you mean when you demand that we believe women. Which women? And under what circumstances?

Believing women is as simple, and complex, as believing her no matter how it makes you feel.

This blog was also posted on Medium.