Simply put, to be a woman with a public opinion is perilous. Whether you are a female politician or a female model or a female novelist or a female cashier, we are too often assumed to wake up with a single thing on our minds: how can I draw attention to myself? Thus, one of the quickest and most pernicious ways to diminish a woman who is too (fill in the blank: loud, challenging, defiant, disruptive) is to accuse her of “doing it for attention.”
For example, when Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) said last year that President Donald Trump told the widow of a soldier killed in action in Niger that "he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt," the rinse and repeat cycle went into full swing.
Rinse: Trump accused Wilson of being a liar.
Repeat: Conservative media outlets painted Wilson as “desperately seeking attention.” Fox News even published an opinion piece by a psychologist in which the author accused Wilson repeatedly of being an attention seeker.
This treatment is meant to achieve several things. First, it aims to punish women who speak out, especially if our “attention seeking” directly challenges the patriarchy. In this case, Wilson had exposed the callousness of the president. Second, it is meant to undermine our original point, shaming us for speaking then diminishing our intellectual authority.
In early February, I started #MosqueMeToo to encourage fellow Muslim women to share experiences of sexual harassment and assault during the pilgrimage, or Hajj, and at other sacred places such as mosques. I started the hashtag to support a young Pakistani woman who had written a Facebook post about being sexually harassed at Islam’s holiest site. Her post was shared at least 2,000 times. I have spoken several times before about my own sexual assault in 1982 when I was 15 during the Hajj. Using the hashtag, I once again shared what happened to me and urged fellow Muslim women who could to speak out as well. Each voice that we collectively raise helps those who are currently silenced.
#MosqueMeToo has gone global and as painful as the stories are, it has been heartening to see so many Muslim women speak out.
Enter the patriarchy.
Rinse: You’re an ugly lying whore. Who would want to sexually assault you? You just want attention.
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Repeat: You’re a nobody and you just want fame.
What a familiar refrain. Regardless of where and how a woman exposes sexual harassment and assault; regardless of who she is, what she was wearing and whether she was sexually assaulted in a sacred place or a secular one: she is more than likely going to be told she is just angling for attention.
When reality star and model Amber Rose posted a photograph on Twitter last summer of herself in sunglasses, a bikini top, a coat and nothing else to promote her annual Amber Rose Slutwalk Festival to raise awareness of gender inequality and sexual violence, British TV personality Piers Morgan was the most predictable agent of patriarchy ever:
Rinse: “‘The only way for a woman to succeed in life is to post nude photos of themselves to millions of strangers’ - said no true feminist ever.”
Repeat: “This isn’t feminism. It’s attentionseekingism.”
Of course, in mansplaining feminism to Rose while simultaneously slut-shaming her, Morgan reminded us exactly why SlutWalks began: In 2011, a Toronto police officer said that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” And yet, when I was sexually assaulted during the Hajj my entire body except for my face and hands was covered.