In the US, women are expected to feel bad for men who hurt and disrespect them.
The injustice of this expectation was laid bare in pop star Taylor Swift’s testimony Thursday (Aug. 10) in a civil trial over an alleged sexual assault. Swift says that David Mueller, a former radio host, reached under her dress and groped her while posing for a photo in June 2013. Swift told his employer, the Denver radio station KYGO, and the radio station fired Mueller after investigating her claim.
Yet Mueller argues that he’s the real victim here: He filed a lawsuit against Swift in 2015, denying that he had groped her, arguing that the allegation cost him his job, and asking for $3 million in damages. Swift filed a countersuit alleging sexual assault. And on Thursday, she made clear that she feels no sympathy for Mueller—while exposing the inequity of a sexist culture that thinks she should.
Asked about her reaction to the news that Mueller had been fired, Swift responded:
“I’m not going to allow you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault. Here we are years later, and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions—not mine.”
Swift’s response succinctly articulates a truth that shouldn’t need saying: When a man assaults a woman, any consequences he faces are a result of his own actions. Women don’t need to feel bad about that.
And yet American culture consistently empathizes with men who hurt women. Last year, a judge sentenced Stanford University student Brock Turner, convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, to just six months in county jail and three years’ probation. The judge, Aaron Perksy, explained that his decision was informed in part by his concerns about the “severe impact” of a prison sentence upon Turner, particularly “where a defendant is youthful and has no significant record of prior criminal offenses.” In other words, the judge was worried about how prison would affect the life of the rapist; he seemed less concerned about how Turner’s crime had affected the life of the woman who had been raped.
Similarly, when two teenagers in Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty in 2013 of raping a 16-year-old girl, they received an outpouring of public sympathy. A CNN correspondent said it was “Incredibly difficult, even for an outsider like me, to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believed their lives fell apart.”
Such reactions reveal how little value women’s lives hold in the eyes of many Americans. Let’s be clear: If a man loses his job, or goes to jail, or otherwise experiences repercussions after harming a woman, it is no tragedy. The tragedy is a culture that continues to treat sexual assault as an act of little consequence.