“Imagine if society were as vocally outraged about a rapist going free as they are about a guy not standing up for the national anthem.” I saw this statement a few weeks ago on social media and it resonated with me. Later on I saw the same analogy but referencing the Terence Crutcher case and the injustice surrounding the lack of punishment to law enforcers for violent behaviors.
It got me thinking about how society and media react to violence and social justice issues nowadays. It almost feels like we are becoming numb to this kind of news because it is normal to hear about these situations.
We are all aware there is a big problem in our culture – it is no coincidence that we hear more often about crimes driven by hatred and intolerance, unpunished sexual assault offenders, and violence in general. I believe the big problem is that our culture is normalizing toxic behaviors.
When we normalize something, it means we are making it ordinary, we’re reducing it to a norm. Socially speaking, normalizing happens when a person, a community, or the media manipulates society to agree or accept something that could be in conflict with the law, social norms or our own code of behavior. One recent example is Donald Trump defining his sexual assault comments as “locker room talk.”
We have normalized certain behaviors and ideas that nurture racism, gender stereotypes, violence and inequality.
Let’s take rape culture for instance. We’re talking about behaviors, comments and/or ideas that excuse or otherwise tolerate sexual violence. When we hear this term we tend to think it doesn’t apply to us since we are not in favor of rape and certainly we’re not promoting it. However, the problem with normalizing sexual violence is that we don’t even recognize that we are being part of it. Have you ever noticed how violent our language is? We tell people to “Go f*ck themselves” when we’re angry, or “I raped that test” when feeling confident we’re going to get a good grade. Every time we use this kind of language, we are a part of the problem.
Let’s face it. We live in a culture where people are afraid to speak up when they are sexually assaulted because our society is used to blame the victim. Basically, our culture teaches people to avoid rape rather than teaching people not to rape.
As a young woman living in Chicago I can speak to the “normal” habits in my daily life that were taught to me by my family, friends and media. The fact that I have come to expect that if I go out alone at night I might get raped, that’s a problem. Wearing my headphones during my commute to and from work is a habit to avoid listening to catcallers. I have accepted that carrying pepper spray and checking over my shoulder when I walk down the street is normal. These are just some examples that are part of a larger social trend…and that is a problem.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
The first step is to recognize that violent behaviors and intolerant comments in our daily lives are damaging and contributing to the deterioration of our culture. We have to stop normalizing violent language and behaviors in our own lives and call ourselves out when we use it. We have to hold ourselves accountable when we do.
We need to start being advocates and not just allies. We need to act towards the fight for social justice and not expect someone else will do it for us. We can passively agree with something but nothing will change until we’re actively making a change.
Let’s hold other people accountable for their actions too. For example, if someone says a sexist or racist joke, don't laugh. If you feel comfortable, take it even further and call out the joker: “that's not cool pal.” When someone comes forward about sexual assault let's support them by believing them. Let's make sure they know It's not their fault and let's educate the people who tend to ask victim blaming questions like: "…but were you drinking? What were you wearing?"
We are fighting the good fight by speaking up when we recognize toxic behaviors. We’re being upstanders in our community when we act, instead of waiting for someone else to do something about it.
So let’s raise awareness by speaking up. Speaking smarter, not louder. Let’s make our voice be heard with tolerance when hatred or injustice is being uttered. Let’s stop normalizing violence and promote peaceful upstanders instead.