Editors’ Note: Actress and activist Alyssa Milano has been a leader of the #MeToo movement, as her 2017 tweet calling on women to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault helped create a national conversation. Milano also endorsed Joe Biden in this year’s presidential election, having interviewed him for her podcast last year shortly after he got into the presidential race.
Living in the Gray as a Woman
When I sent the #MeToo tweet which helped spark a movement by amplifying the work of Tarana Burke in 2017, I didn’t know what it would bring. I knew I was in pain. I knew millions of women around the world were in pain. And I knew how lonely that pain was, how isolating the experience of being a victim of sexual assault was, and how bad it was for us as a nation and as a species. But then it took off, and a moment became a movement that had been relegated to the shadows by a patriarchal system and we stepped out into the light together. It was breathtaking, and powerful, and changed the world.
It also changed me.
Isn’t it instructive that conversations about gender violence continue to haunt men of power? When we live in a culture whose structures fundamentally thrive upon the objectification and oppression of women, it’s not surprising that men who participate in these practices find great success in life. It’s forced so many women to make impossible choices between working with the very people who oppress us in order to have a chance at gaining power or not working with them, and staying under their thick, hairy thumbs. This is the game we were all forced to play because the board was rigged. But the rules are changing.
As an activist, it can be very easy to develop a black and white view of the world: things are clearly wrong or clearly right. Harvey Weinstein’s decades of rape were clearly wrong. Donald Trump’s alleged sexual assaults were clearly wrong. Brett Kavanaugh’s actions, told consistently over decades by his victim (and supported by her polygraph results), were clearly wrong. So were Matt Lauer’s, Bill Cosby’s and so many others. As we started holding politicians and business leaders and celebrities around the world accountable for their actions, it was easy to sort things into their respective buckets: this is wrong, this is right. Holding people accountable for their actions was not only right, it was just.
Except it’s not always so easy, and living in the gray areas is something we’re trying to figure out in the world of social media. But here’s something social media doesn’t afford us–nuance.
The world is gray. And as uncomfortable as that makes people, gray is where the real change happens. Black and white is easy. Gray is the place women can come together out of the glare of the election and speak our truths, our doubts, our hopes, our convictions and test them against the light and the dark.
Gray is where the conversations which continue to swirl around powerful men get started. And it’s really almost always men, isn’t it? As women, we’ve been gaslit, we’ve been blamed. We’re too shrill or too quiet. We’re weak or we’re insufferable. We’re whores or ice queens. We’re baby killers or welfare queens. Women are not afforded the gray. We are not allowed anything but the binary extremes. And then, we are pressured to turn on one another for making impossible choices. It’s bullshit.
It’s not up to women to admonish or absolve perpetrators, or be regarded as complicit when we don’t denounce them. Nothing makes this clearer than the women who are still supporting Joe Biden even with these accusations. Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Amy Klobuchar, Nancy Pelosi, and Elizabeth Warren have all endorsed Biden and like me, continue to support him. Because it’s an impossible choice.
It falls upon women to navigate within the system of men’s design to make pragmatic choices that we hope will lead us to a more equal future. I still support Joe Biden because I believe that’s the best choice for that future, and again it is not up to women to absolve perpetrators. How do progressive women choose between the pussy grabber in chief who has done so much damage to our country and a man who has allegations made against him? In any black and white world, we’d have a woman to rally behind to replace Trump instead of an electoral college which says white men are the people driving the charge yet again this year.
The allegations against Joe Biden concern me, deeply. He’s a man I know, respect, and admire, and who I can’t picture doing any of the things of which he’s accused. But I’ve thought that before, and been wrong. And sexual assault is always wrong. This is the shitty position we are in as women but make no mistake: it’s not because of women. We have to suss out the one truth between two opposites, and either one puts us in an impossible position.
The Biden campaign’s only statement said that he believes every woman should have the right to tell their story, and that the media is obligated to rigorously vet those claims. And of course, I agree. Now, nobody’s asked me, but if he did, I’d advise him to face the allegation head-on, answer every question, and admit any wrongdoing, and to be the example for all men who face these kinds of accusations whether founded or not.
As far as his accuser, I want every survivor to have space to tell their story. But I also don’t want her to be fodder for the machine. And I honestly don’t know what’s next. Believing women was never about “Believe all women no matter what they say,” it was about changing the culture of NOT believing women by default. It was about ending the patriarchy’s dangerous drive for self-preservation at all costs, victims be damned.
It’s okay to be confused by the complexities progressive women face at every choice. It’s okay to feel like there is no right way out, just the best way available. It’s okay to look at evidence and come to your own conclusion. It’s okay to vote the way you want. And it’s okay to wish it was all so very different, that it didn’t feel so hopeless here in the gray.
I want powerful men and women to continue to be held accountable for their bad actions. I want victims to be free to be heard. I want there to be an honest process of proving out accusations one way or the other. And I want to keep having the conversation. I hope you’ll meet me in the gray to talk and to help us both find the way out. For women, no one else will.