Amber Tamblyn has had it. As she wrote in a powerful op-ed for The New York Times, the prominent actress and activist is simply "done with not being believed" when it comes to her own experiences with sexual assault and harassment. And the fact that Tamblyn has spoken out against sexual harassment (again) so eloquently in such a high-profile publication is a major victory not just for her in her quest to tell her story, but for girls and women everywhere. And it's already clear that Tamblyn's latest public account will do its part to empower women when society delegitimizes their knowledge about what happened to them.
The 34-year-old, who became a first-time mom to a baby girl back in February, has written publicly about being sexually assaulted before. So, she as much as anyone has met the resistance of a society unwilling to believe that some men are capable of such violence against women. Perhaps she's even more well-versed in this denial than the average survivor, because the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants star is a successful actress who has built her career "working in a business whose business is to objectify women," as she noted in the op-ed.
The impetus for Tamblyn to pen her latest piece on the subject came last week, when she interjected in a Twitter back-and-forth between actors Armie Hammer and James Woods. According to TIME, it was Woods' objection to a movie in which Hammer stars in — that tells the story of a love affair between a 17-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man — that prompted Tamblyn to tweet that the much-older Woods had allegedly tried to pick up her and a friend at a restaurant when she was just 16, and that she had informed him of her age. Woods himself has since dismissed this accusation as a lie, according to The Wrap.
But for Tamblyn, the fact that Woods was so quick to try and discredit her only reinforced the point of her op-ed: the unsettling reality that there's this knee-jerk reaction to immediately disregard a woman's account. As she wrote for The New York Times:
For women in America who come forward with stories of harassment, abuse and sexual assault, there are not two sides to every story, however noble that principle might seem. Women do not get to have a side. They get to have an interrogation. Too often, they are questioned mercilessly about whether their side is legitimate. Especially if that side happens to accuse a man of stature, then that woman has to consider the scrutiny and repercussions she’ll be subjected to by sharing her side.
By refusing to back down, Tamblyn is doing her part to show other survivors of sexual assault and harassment of all types that their stories indeed matter. That, when they come forward, they can find support in a sea of judgment, denial, and suspicion that leads to the belief that they somehow deserved the assault.
When Tamblyn shared on Instagram back in October that an ex-boyfriend had allegedly sexually assaulted her in a club, she was terrified that her parents would learn what had happened. She wrote that she could "still remember the shame." But she knew that — perhaps because of her discomfort — it was an important story to share. So, that's what she she did.
The same can be said for her latest admission in The New York Times. In it, she opens with the story of how she turned to a producer on a TV show in which she starred more than a decade ago because a male crew member "kept showing up to my apartment after work unannounced, going into my trailer while I wasn't in it, and staring daggers at me from across the set." That's undeniably scary and inappropriate behavior. The producer's response? "There are two sides to every story," Tamblyn wrote.
That answer was 100 percent unacceptable for Tamblyn. And, by going public with that and other anecdotes, she's helping to ensure that such treatment won't (and shouldn't) fly with others, either. Because it's simply not right that victims have to constantly wonder how coming forward about incidents will actually end. Will it shunt them into silence or force them to act like it never happened? Will people try to make them even second guess their own memories or, worst of all, blame themselves?
"Disbelief is not just about men disbelieving us," Tamblyn wrote in the op-ed. "It is about our own disbelief in ourselves.
Tamblyn is already helping to combat that self-doubt with her writing and activism. And future generations will, hopefully, have her to thank in part when society doesn't second-guess a survivor's story.
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