This Is The Year We Do Better
Want to end assault? Elevate survivors.
December 28, 2017
By Lauren Friel | Image CSA Archive via iStock
Over the past several months, our world has begun to consider the idea that there is no sinister gene.
We have been confronted with the reality that bad men often masquerade as good men, that even the most powerful can fall prey to assault, and that we have failed deeply, for generations, to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens. We understand now that abusers are all around us.
Over the past several weeks, revelations about some of the restaurant industry’s most beloved, successful personas have forced us to face an even more terrifying reality: These bad men are not just all around us. They are us.
I knew that already. So did millions of my fellow abuse and assault survivors. Millions. And yet, somehow, we are shocked. If one in every five women in America will experience sexual assault in her lifetime, how do we reconcile our astonishment?
In our industry, as in most that are historically patriarchal, it isn’t difficult to point a finger at a single boundary-breaking, celebrity-making, follower-inducing thing: ego. But not just the ego of these bad men. Our egos. If we choose to consider how we ended up in this place, we can’t stop at asking how these men have failed us. We have to ask the harder question, which is: How have we failed ourselves? Why have we refused to admit our darker natures?
We have this idea in our collective consciousness that it takes a certain “kind” of person to victimize another person. We use the word “predator,” conjuring up Hollywood visions of unusually grotesque characters. It revs up our shock and horror, and, in the end, it’s how we protect our delusions of safety—surely, we would be able to identify the “kind” of person who would do something so malicious, so obscene. This willful ignorance is particularly insidious in our industry, which values its luminaries as much as it values perfect seasoning and tight technique. It’s what made it possible for Bill Buford to chronicle Batali’s behavior in Heat without sparking our collective outrage. We understood the chef’s flagrant objectification and verbal assault of women to be part of his brand as “a hedonist.” It was what we expected. It fit in its box.
Now, we revisit this same behavior and are disgusted, betrayed. Why? What changed? Victims and survivors, in large part due to the current political maelstrom and the media’s desire to take down these perverse predators, have been given a true sounding board, the volume of which we’ve never before been granted.
It’s been a few years since I escaped my abuser. I told a lot of people what happened, but most of the ones in positions to help stop him didn’t believe me. Unsurprisingly to me now, but devastating, humiliating, and confusing to me then, the people I confided in often replied that he didn’t seem like the “kind of guy” who would abuse someone. He was a chef. Successful, intelligent. I was, by contrast, ashamed and destroyed, deep down to the layers of myself I could not access. The word I often used to describe myself at that time was “trash.”
My abuser ransacked the lives of more women after me. I know, because I have spoken to them. We have commiserated in our fear, our isolation, and our deep, destructive shame. None of us believed we could stop him. None of us felt empowered to protect ourselves. He was The Chef. Who were we? Going to the police was not an option: if our own community thinks you’re lying, why on earth would you hold out hope for law enforcement?
I believe that if someone had listened to us, we could have stopped him. But no one did. No one had to.
So now, we are horrified. We are disgusted—with these bad men, with ourselves—and we want absolution. We want to feel, as an industry, safe again. And so, we must topple the power dynamic. We must celebrate something other than the ravenous personas of men.
We must celebrate survivors.
I want you to make assault survivors more valued members of our industry than abusers. I want you to accept us. Listen to us, but don’t get embarrassed and sad when we tell you our stories. Cheer us on. Make us heroes in the public eye—not just within the industry, and not just when we speak out against powerful men. Not just when we are victimized. Write articles about us, not about our abusers—let their legacies die with their misdeeds. Value us and our wisdom for who we are, what we know, and what we can be without our victimhood. Don’t just say our names—remember them.
Once you’ve accepted us, enlist us. Don’t expect us to form our own organizations and sounding boards—create them for us. Show us that you are invested in your own salvation. Give us forums in New York and Copenhagen, sponsored by Food & Wine and the MAD Symposium. Hire us to give talks at corporate and political events. Appoint us to boards. Give us financing for our own projects. Let us help craft industry-wide assault protocol and protections. Let us be “out” about our victimhood, and let that be a reason why you want us, not why you get quiet when we walk in the room.
Celebrate our survival so that we can help ensure your safety, because this is what I know: Abuse continues because abusers are never held accountable. They are never held accountable because we elevate their voices, silencing ours. In our silence, we suffer, we self-blame, we doubt and judge ourselves. We begin to believe we deserved it. We get quieter and quieter until we never speak of it again.
This is also what I know: Survivors are the only ones who can hold abusers accountable. Without our voices, there is no crime. Without our voices, there are no warnings. Without our voices, anyone could be next.
I don’t just want safe spaces for survivors. I want us to take up space.