YOU have to hand it to the mainstream media – this week it’s been forensic in its analysis of Harvey Weinstein. The predator masquerading as a movie mogul is hiding out in some plush facility, licking his wounds after two dozen women have accused him of sexual assault and three more of rape.

There’s a lot of news in that. A lot of outrage, because that’s a lot of women. This wouldn’t have happened for one. No, you need a critical mass, a cadre of women to speak loud enough to be heard. There are too many this time to be brushed away with the usual excuses. For once the discussion of sexual assault and patriarchy has spilled out of the feminist spaces. For once, a subject acknowledged in isolation, but largely ignored as a pattern (and actively dismissed as so) is being discussed everywhere. Even the President wasn’t afforded such scrutiny. Sexual assault, the violation of the bodily autonomy of another, happens so often it barely raises an eyebrow. Given its prevalence, its ubiquity, it seems most have either made their peace with it as part of life or have failed to understand scale and impact.

Yet, things feel somehow different this time. We’re in a strange new place. We’ve collectively paused on the in-breath, not quite ready to shake it off and move on to the next totally unrelated scandal.

Predictably there’s been the usual women-blaming, the reframing of predatory behaviour as illness, the high-profile women citing modesty and intellect as armour. But the majority consensus has been horror, outrage, disgust. A week on, the breaking news, analysis, and the op-eds are still going. Outrage hasn’t yet been downgraded to resignation, the stock response that sees us acknowledge the grim reality without changing for the better.

We’re experiencing a rare moment of collective consciousness-raising. There’s room for contemplation. What do we do now in this space between disgust and acceptance? I’d suggest learning about what’s going on at a deeper level, developing a robust understanding of how sexual violence operates.

I believe most people agree sexual assault is horrific. That most think a world free from it would be preferable. But I know people have a hard time placing themselves in a society where these things happen every day and parsing their role in it. And I know from being regularly told to shut up that any ideas about sexual violence that have their genesis in feminist space are still unpalatable and even hysterical-seeming to many. Though I hope things might be starting to change.

In the days following Weinstein, people have been feeling around the edges of this thing, perhaps publicly engaging with it for the first time. They’re acknowledging the existence of a problem, warming to the idea that maybe it isn’t a collection of isolated, unrelated incidents and countless unlucky women. That it might have something to do with gendered dimensions of sexuality. That it might be about an expression of power and the exploitation of opportunity and silence.

Gender is a social construct. It’s a political structure that divides power unequally between the sexes. This system expresses masculine sexuality as dominant and feminine as submissive. It’s upheld and perpetuated by stereotypes. The laws we make, the institutions we uphold, the TV we watch, the advertising, the media, the jokes we tell are replete with them. From birth, we stew in distinct ideas of gender difference. By adulthood, we’re imbued with ideas of men as sexual consumers and women as sexual objects. Is it any wonder that violent expressions of this dynamic seem an inevitable part of life?

THAT’S what rape culture is – the resignation, the excusing of sexual misconduct. The act becoming so normalised that society plods on without addressing an egregious, endemic human rights violation happening every day. It’s fuelled by what we say and what we do. By misogynist language. By victim-blaming. By objectification. By the dismissal of widespread sexual violence. It’s telling men their sexuality is primal and untamed. It’s telling women to adjust for it. That they have some magical talisman that they can rely on to protect them. Rape culture relies on women believing they could have done something more, and society expects them to have followed every rule, every caveat, every piece of advice for it to not be their fault.

We can all learn from the Weinstein expose because it’s a paint-by-numbers portrait of how sexual abuse goes unchecked. A man with a surfeit of power and access to women with less. A man surrounded by blind eyes. A man with a bank balance fat enough to gag squealers. A man relying on silence borne of women’s shame, disgust, and fear of retaliation. A man knowing he can rely on myths about male sexuality to absolve him of guilt and reframe his calculated behaviour as “sex addiction”.

And this is just one powerful man who’s been caught out. This pattern isn’t novel, it’s not unbelievable. No-one is really “shocked”. The culture is the safety net that allows the Harvey Weinsteins to prey on women again and again and again. If every woman were to come forward about her own encounters with oily, predatory men, we’d have to confront the ideas we have about progress and equality in the 21st century. Silence is the secret ingredient that allows us to pretend that everything is fine.

I’d like to believe that this will be a watershed moment. That women will speak up, and that men will believe them. That people will stop wincing at feminist language and call out unacceptable behaviour.

Ultimately, it won’t be the government that fix this, nor the women’s movement, nor some other deus ex machina. It will be personal action.

I hope this is a start, that Weinstein is a blueprint for flushing toxic behaviour out into the light.