The Dominant Narrative
By Rev. Keisha Kogan
A few days ago my 11-year-old son came to me to tell me about his day. It was a normal sixth grade day until he got to Current Events. Current Events is when the entire sixth grade meets with the school’s principal to discuss a topic presently in the media. This day the topic was the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and the testimony of Dr.Christine Blasey Ford. The sixth graders were supposed to decide whose story they agreed with the most. What my son said was not what I expected. He said that he was leaning toward Dr. Ford because she had a very “compelling” story. What she lacked, he said, was "evidence."
I asked him what kind of "evidence" would have completely swung him to her side. I knew that somewhere inside, he knew there was no answer. His instinct told him to believe Dr. Ford, but his somehow having fallen into the Matrix, accepting the Dominant Narrative, he was forced into the land of needing proof. The place where the word of a victim-survivor is not enough.
What do I mean by the Dominant Narrative? It is the story told over and over again until it becomes a natural part of our collective consciousness. We don’t question it because we think it has always been this way. But it hasn’t. It has been created by human beings to modify human behavior. And in this case it is to undercut the word of the victim-survivor. Being someone who works with victim-survivors of domestic violence/intimate partner violence it was very difficult to hear my son say he wanted evidence. He still bought into the Dominant Narrative. It is time to change this narrative.
After Dr. Ford’s testimony, much like the beginning of the #MeToo campaign, stories of sexual abuse were free-flowing. People needed an opportunity to talk about the pain and hurt they had been carrying for however long. Some were liberated by Dr. Ford’s testimony and others re-victimized. The hashtag movements that followed the hearings were about the survivors: #Believesurvivors, #Believewomen, #Believeallwomen. The narrative appeared to be changing.
But believing is more than saying "I believe you". Believing is being willing to stand in support of the
victim-survivors. It means validating those in the presence of others who would seek to deny the truth of their experience. It means standing up again and again for the rights of victim-survivors everywhere. Believing is just one step in the process of changing the narrative. The next is taking control of the story. Don’t like the story that has been written? Write another one and repeat that over and over again. The last part is difficult but key: do not drop out of the fight. Changing that which appears normal in our society will take effort and time. The Dominant Narrative was centuries in the making. It will take that much strength and passion to alter it. The hashtag movements have been a clarion call. They have awakened people to the truth of sexual violence and those who come forward to tell their stories. It has expanded the way we view abuse. And it has made the stories very close to home. When one in three women and one in four men will be the victim of a violent crime in their lifetime, there is no room to refuse to act.
We all must answer that call to be a witness, an advocate and a warrior for change. The story is the evidence. The story and the storyteller must be believed for the Dominant Narrative to change.
Rev. Keisha Kogan is an interfaith minister in New York City. She is the coordinator of
CONNECT Faith, an organization dedicated to preventing interpersonal violence and promoting gender justice in diverse faith communities.