I was out of the country and taking a digital break when the rise of the #MeToo movement made headlines in late 2017. Since then, the momentum around exposing stories of sexual violence, harassment, and assault feels like it is picking up steam, at least in some circles.
Countless numbers of friends, family members, and colleagues have offered their gut-wrenching experiences of sexual trauma. It cannot be said enough that telling one’s story is brave. And we feel like we must share our stories in order to tackle a problem that often feels so embedded in our culture that it’s difficult to even name at times. What are the boundaries between what’s appropriate and what’s not? Who gets to decide that? And when lines are crossed, what are the consequences?
In most situations, there are none. Yesterday, I became engrossed in ESPN’s Outside the Lines reporting on Michigan State University, the most-recent ground zero case of what institutional protectionism of the patriarchy looks like. It’s vile. It’s disgusting. And this is merely one needle in the haystack of schools, workplaces, and systems allowing perpetrators of sexual violence to remain unpunished.
I relayed to Aaron yesterday how I find it difficult to put into words what it feels like to be victimized. And it happens with such frequency that I often forget about those moments as soon as they happen.
Our experiences are not monolithic, even though those in power would like to treat them that way (if they choose to acknowledge and validate them at all). It’s so easy and comfortable for others to justify the actions of perpetrators as “misunderstandings” or distortions of reality. How does someone grow up and adopt this mindset? Who taught them to distrust the word of a woman who speaks her truth?
Oh, right. Everything around us. From pop culture to religious texts to history, we’ve been left to wither on the social vine as hysterics, power-grabbers, and muted voices (and woe if you identify as a woman of color as the double whammy of racial and gender identity make it even easier to negate your life experiences).
And let’s not pretend, progressives, that we’ve got this figured out and it’s a problem on “the right.” IT IS A PROBLEM FOR EVERYONE. We’ve got to put in the work to bring solutions to the table. Shining a light on individual and collective experiences is how we start. Because if we don’t acknowledge and lift up these stories, then the oppressors win. We must create platforms and spaces for voices, especially those from marginalized and underrepresented groups, to be front and center in the discussion of how sexual violence remains a pervasive tool to maintain power.
Then, the conversation shifts to: what now? How do we re-imaging a society that values women and the minds and bodies that they inhabit? How can we shift the dominant narrative that takes men at their word while casting shame on women on who speak out? It’s frighteningly easy for people to turn on women and castigate them as liars and sluts; it’s part of our social conditioning to inherently believe those in power, and when that looks like a bunch of white dudes, well, we can’t expect better outcomes for anyone who doesn’t fall into that mold.
I know that I need to continue to hold people accountable when lines are crossed, when discomfort arises, when either myself or others around me feel threatened. Eradicating our culture of sexual violence and degradation requires all of us to play a part. For some, it starts with self-reflection: How do I reinforce stereotypes and gender hierarchy? How do I dis-empower women and those who identify as female with my words and actions? Do I qualify the actions of my female co-workers and staff? Have I stopped when a woman has said “no”? Remember: everything that feeds back into the narrative — that woman are objects, are less-than — keeps the narrative intact.
Here are some of my suggestions and thoughts on what I/you/we can do to shift our culture so #MeToo doesn’t have to be the tagline for women everywhere:
- Don’t assume that you can touch me or hug me. I do like to hug, but that’s an action that I want to have equal power in choosing when and with whom it happens.
- Don’t tell me that any article of clothing I may choose to wear “looks good on my body.” I am more than a body.
- Don’t make assumptions about what I might like, eat, drive, do because I’m a woman. Re-train your brain to be open and un-assuming.
- Find opportunities to step back and be quiet. In meetings. In social settings. Your presence has great power. Be aware of the influence you have.
- Listen to the stories women tell. Don’t immediately slip into “I need to fix this” mode. Listen wholly, without judgment. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions.
- Read more works by female authors and journalists. Watch movies and television programs written by/produced/directed by women. Listen to women-led podcasts. Seek out female musical artists and producers.
- Support female athletes: attend events. Learn their names. Celebrate their achievements as individuals and on teams.
- End passive-aggressive suggestions in meetings, such as “Katie, you have such good handwriting. Can you take notes?” If needed, practice improving your own handwriting.
- Nominate and support female leaders in elections, board rooms, and organizations.
- Hold men accountable for their actions. Don’t be silent, whether in a locker room or in the office.
- Don’t be scared of feminism or identify as a feminist. Understand what it means and what it doesn’t.
- Woman are not breakable. Don’t treat us like that. Challenge policies and laws rooted in those same false “protectionism” values. Those policies and laws are about controlling women, plain and simple.
- Eliminate harmful words from vocabularies: bitch, slut, whore. Other labels used to castigate women.
- Be transparent about your workplace earnings. If inequities exist (and they likely do), take action to address them and/or to pressure those at the decision-making table.
- Seek to understand, first and foremost. We’ll never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of others. But, if we move through this world with hearts of compassion and empathy, we can be allies for those wronged.
I know there are countless more suggestions to share, and I invite any and all to do just that. I don’t have all of the answers or solutions. All I have is the determination and anger to be a part of finding tangible actions that can take place each and everyday so that the number of #MeToo stories whittle down to zero. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight. The time required for change to take place is on our collective shoulders, and, to be real, even more so on the shoulders of men.
Let’s imagine a world where the 12-year-old girl doesn’t get prodded in the breasts by her male classmates.
Let’s imagine a world where the 16-year-old doesn’t have to stand, frozen, at the sink while her assistant manager runs his fingers up her thigh as she tries to wash the dishes.
Let’s imagine a world where the 18-year-old doesn’t have to struggle against the weight of a youth pastor, pinning her down because he only “wants to feel her warmth.”
Let’s imagine a world where the 22-year-old first-year teacher is told by her assistant principal that when her 21-year-old student suggested that she give him oral sex in front of the class, it was a miscommunication.
Let’s imagine a world where the 29-year-old nonprofit professional doesn’t make $5,000 less than her counterpart for no apparent reason.
Let’s imagine a world where when a woman shares an idea, it remains her idea and doesn’t become co-opted by men in power.
Let’s imagine a world where women’s access to healthcare is unobstructed.
Let’s imagine a world where institutions refuse to protect predators for the sake of remaining competitive in the pursuit of funds from top donors.
Let’s imagine a world where those identify as female can walk down a street without a cat call, a comment, a stare.
Let’s imagine a world where the people drafting policy reflect their communities and constituents.
What will you do today to make our world more just and equitable? What will you do to support #MeToo and center the movement around women of color and working women?
- “The #MeToo movement is not a witch hunt and it’s definitely not over.”
- The #MeToo movement looks different for women of color. Here are 10 stories.”
- When Black Women’s Stories Of Sexual Abuse Are Excluded From The National Narrative
- Women of color in low-wage jobs are being overlooked in the #MeToo moment