This past Saturday, the women of SNL united for “Welcome to Hell,” a catchy, candy-colored music video that serves to remind everyone that sexual harassment and abusive behavior toward women has been going on for a very, very, very, long time. Together with host Saoirse Ronan, cast members Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Kate McKinnon joined forces to sing about the “full nightmare” of being a woman when “all these big, cool, powerful, guys are turning out to be habitual predators.” (They’re later joined by Leslie Jones, who pops up to remind everyone that “it’s like a million times worse for women of color”).
Throughout history, women’s bodies have been routinely criticized, commodified, and objectified. Although RAINN reports that 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, sexual violence often continues to be swept under the rug or trivialized.
Sexual trauma may serve as a catalyst for developing an eating disorder. According to renowned trauma expert Timothy Brewerton, women who report sexual trauma exhibit higher rates of both PTSD and eating disorders. With this in mind, four of our writers shared their thoughts on the “Welcome to Hell” skit, along with their personal experiences with sexual harassment and assault.
Content note: descriptions of sexual violence. People of all genders experience sexual violence. This piece is a response to SNL’s “Welcome to Hell” skit.
Erin Gargaro: As a woman who experienced both sexual harassment and assault, I often wished that the perpetrators could experience the constant vigilance and perpetual semi-panic that follows these events. I was always a step away from finding a place to hide. To try to keep myself together, I focused my energy on shrinking. I came to two conclusions.
First, if I looked frail, ill, weak and sick, no man would bother me. Second, if some creep tried to assault me, I could use my body to hurt him. It’s sick. But during my 20s, I liked to envision that if I was in danger, my bones would somehow protect me.
It is hell. Straight up. And the candy-colored upbeat vibe of the SNL “Welcome to Hell,” skit made me feel giddy. Bright colors? Shiny things? Witty lyrics detailing that women’s experiences suck? YES, PLEASE!
Both the harassment and assault inform how I dress. While I loooved the vibe of the skit, I more comfortably celebrate the falling of the mighty in oversized clothes, no makeup, and avoidance of eye contact. I used to do cute outfits and makeup and heels. Now, it just feels unsafe. I might go that direction if it’s for an event where I’ll be surrounded by safe people.
If it’s in public, I’ll still wish I could grow claws, just to be safe. And I watch the room. And I glower if a man looks at me. And I clench my jaw. And I fight the impulse to yell at that anonymous man for having the audacity to look. Welcome to hell, indeed. Where a stranger’s passing glance feels like a threat.
Lauren Myers: SNL’s “Welcome to Hell” skit is not knee-slapping funny but it’s definitely powerful. As a survivor of sexual violence, I’ve experienced disturbances in my body image. Anywhere from viewing my body as something shameful, disgusting, and dirty to turning my focus on molding, punishing, and controlling my body. Because I felt like “it did not happen to me, but to this body” and that I was “letting it happen.” All which contributed to the development of my eating disorder.
Working with my therapist has helped me realize that everyone has experiences that connect them to power, confidence, and trust. Expanding and embodying my past positive experiences has helped me understand and correctly read the signs of my body and to be attuned with its needs.
Recovery from any type of sexual violence is a process and that process looks different for everyone. It may take weeks, months, or years, but finding the right support is an important part of recovery.
Diana Denza, Senior Communications Associate: Sexual harassment and assault have nothing to do with women’s looks or choices and everything to do with power. When I was a 21-year-old queer student at a bar catering to LGBTQ folks, a man my group had met there told me to remove a piece of clothing – presuming that I was too intoxicated to refuse. I quickly removed myself from the situation, but it still stands out in my mind as a situation in which I, a young woman, could have been placed in potential danger by someone on a power trip.
Just last year during a body painting art event, a random man attempted to physically grab me off the street. I looked him dead in the eye, shouted “no” into his face, and pushed him away. I realize that oftentimes, women do not feel empowered to do this. Luckily, I was with a group of supportive people and felt safe to speak up.
While literal sexual harassment never directly fueled my eating disorder in college, the idea that women need to look pleasing and be compliant at all times definitely did. I believed that society only valued me for my body and that restricting would make me more desirable. Our current cultural ideals demean and disempower women, and send the message to men that extreme aggression is natural and that women should be subservient.
SNL’s “Welcome to Hell” skit was a colorful but stark reminder of the dangers women face simply for existing. Most importantly, it made the point that contrary to news reports of the “spike” in sexual assault, this shit has been going on for a long time. It’s a pillar of our patriarchal society.
It’s outrageous that sexual assault survivors turn on the news to see rallies in support of alleged pedophile Roy Moore and convicted rapist Brock Turner appealing his case. It’s infuriating that women everywhere still walk with their keys between their fingers, mace in their bags, and the nagging thought that they’d be blamed for their own assault.
Good, memorable comedy sheds light on real social issues, and SNL’s skit landed at exactly the right time.
Katrin Alyss: I don’t think that there is anything humorous about getting sexually harassed. I think every time a woman or a girl gets sexually harassed, it makes her feel objectified. The woman or the girl would feel devalued because the perpetrator is only looking at her as an object and not a human being.
Their self-confidence could become very low and they could retreat to the eating disorder as something that they think they could control. When women or girls get that unwanted touch or comment, it is very unnerving! It makes us feel like sex objects that we have to keep our body a certain way.
I have been sexually harassed at work and it was very unnerving. I told the closing manager there and she helped me talk to security and find the people who harassed me. I felt very uncomfortable and scared!
Sexual harassment against anyone isn’t funny or cute. It demeans people. If you are a student at college or high school and have been sexually harassed, please talk to either a counselor at high school or a campus police officer at college. Another option would be to talk to an instructor who you feel comfortable with. Support is out there—you don’t have to go through this alone!
If you or someone you care about has been the victim of sexual assault, please act now to ensure that you get the help you need and deserve. Call RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.
For recovery resources and treatment options, please visit our help and support page. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call ANAD’s Helpline at: (888) 375-7767 or the National Alliance of Eating Disorders Helpline at: (866) 662-1235.
If you are thinking about suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. In crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer from the Crisis Text Line.
Images via SNL/YouTube