Sultana Khan

A few months ago, I was asked to “judge” a local dance competition. For now, we’ll set aside the fact that my dancing ability and therefore judging ability is approximately equal to that of a drunk, sexually-frustrated toddler. The event sounded fun, and a friend of mine was also on the judges panel, so I agreed and posted eagerly about the evening on a few of my social media pages. 

A few hours after I’d posted about the competition, a woman I’d met briefly and then maintained an online acquaintance with, messaged me. One of the local music acts on the event’s billing was an abuser. He’d used racial slurs in text and in person, about her and around her. As with many abusers who are entertainers or artists, the cyclical trauma of seeing his name attached to seemingly progressive spaces was difficult.

She reached out to me, she said, because, “I know everything you stand for… I know protecting women is way up there, especially women who are up against powerful men abusing them.” She went on to ask for my help in having the man removed from the event lineup, and warned me that he had powerful friends, both men and women, who were gaslighting and harassing the survivors who had dared to speak against him.

Although it was immediately clear to me what the correct course of action was, because I believe women, there was a brief moment where I selfishly asked myself if I was ready to take on the uncomfortable burden of being an ally in this situation. The ugly creature in my breast, the one that has been unsuccessfully trying to convince me to be a more accommodating woman for decades, started whispering about how awkward it would be to call the venue and make demands. It hissed about how this could make me unpopular with a crowd of powerful people in the music scene in Portland. It could brand me as difficult, as hysterical, as a misandrist. It would be so much easier to ignore this message and just pretend it never happened.

As I hushed the creature and called the event’s promoter, I reframed the narrative of the story for myself. I had been given a valuable gift by these women. I had been trusted to hear their stories. I had been trusted to take action. But this gift had not been given in a vacuum — it was given because I was a visible ally. I owed it to these women and to my own dignity to say something. 

So I did. And although it was uncomfortable, the man was removed from the lineup by the next day. I heard he was gracious about his dismissal. 

In the wake of the #metoo movement, I hope it’s become more clear to men that the reason so many women don’t name their rapists, their abusers, their harassers, or their stalkers, is because so few of them are believed. They cannot name powerful men without repercussions. They cannot fight a system that has upheld men’s reputations above women’s sovereignty over their bodies. 

Rather, they can’t do it alone. And they shouldn’t have to. Believe women. Believe survivors. Prioritize their mental and physical wellbeing. 

When you wear your status as an ally, not as a safety pin, but as a bright flag wrapped around your words and your actions and your intentions, you make it possible for others to trust in you and share their stories. You provide a model for others who might be hesitant to quiet the creature that tells them not to make waves. But with your visible actions, perhaps there is a greater ripple effect to be seen. 

This article has been edited for clarity since publication by request of the writer's source.

Sultana Khan is a social justice advocate who works in youth development. Previously, she worked as a national security correspondent and cultural commentator for Gawker Media.

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