Rebecca Solnit on Jeffrey Epstein: "In patriarchy, no one can hear you scream"

In a characteristically brilliant essay, historian, activist and writer Rebecca Solnit connects the dots between the sexual abuses of Jeffrey Epstein, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Brett Kavanaugh, Harvey Weinstein, and the unnamed 16-year-old boy whose admitted rape was excused because the judge said that This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well: in each case, there was an elaborate scheme to silence and discredit the survivors of sexual violence, abetted by networks of (mostly) men who treat the disclosure of sexual assaults as a worse offense than committing the assaults themselves.

Patriarchy is thus, first and foremost, a denial of the rule of the law, which relies on no man being above the law (contemplate that one of Epstein's survivors did a longer prison stint for drug dealing that Epstein did for raping her as a child). Even when powerful men settle the rape claims against them, the settlements are invariably shrouded in nondisclosure agreements: worse to speak of the thing than to do the thing.

Patriarchy is part of a culture of impunity: where power means the power to get away with stuff, and where the more power you have, the more you get away with, and where the people who have more than the rest of us combined can get away with anything.

Monsters rule over us, on behalf of monsters. Now, when I think about what happened with Strauss-Kahn, who was subsequently accused of sexual assault by several other women, and with cases like his, it’s the secondary characters who seem to matter most. These men could not do with they did without a culture—lawyers, journalists, judges, friends—that protected them, valued them, devalued their victims and survivors. They do not act alone, and their might is nothing more or less than the way a system rewards and protects them, which is another definition of rape culture. That is, their impunity is not inherent; it’s something the society grants them and can take away.

The Senate’s Brett Kavanaugh hearing was a referendum on this aspect of rape culture. Christine Blasey Ford told us how she was assaulted and that Kavanaugh was not alone in the room as he attacked her, and then we got to see senators waffle, deny, excuse and ignore, and we learned about the malevolent machismo of prep-school culture and how the great fraternity of the northeastern power elite of the USA operates first and last to protect its own. The law of the land is now handed down to us by a man whose redfaced, self-pitying, rageful lack of self-control was displayed to a watching world and who got the job anyway. And as the American Bar Association put it, “A year after Yale Law professor Amy Chua wrote an op-ed article praising U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh as a mentor to women, her daughter is beginning a clerkship with him.” Meanwhile, Christine Blasey Ford got death threats and had to go into hiding. Countless women in other cases—including dozens who filed civil suits against Epstein—signed nondisclosure agreements that rendered them silent for life, further protecting the perpetrators.

In Patriarchy No One Can Hear You Scream: Rebecca Solnit on Jeffrey Epstein and the Silencing Machine [Rebecca Solnit/Lithub]

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