Yet again, I had an entirely different topic that I was going to post about this week. It is half-way written. It segues nicely from my lack of a post last week into being a working mom and how every mom should feel free to choose the lifestyle that best fits her personality and family without judgement. I am sure I will post it at some point. Because well, it is half written. And pretty important to me. But this weeks movement is too important to let it pass by without commentary.
This week, women from all walks of life are bringing awareness to the sexual harassment/assault in the world as more and more women speak out against Harvey Weinstein. The trending hashtag #MeToo has become pervasive throughout social media. Women are standing together. We are gathering our voices to become a force of nature. We have united. We have raised the battle cry for change.
Like most women, I have raised my voice along with the chorus and posted my #MeToo hashtag. Like a lot of women, sexual assault entered my life as a child. And it hasn’t ever left. It’s like an all too familiar force that you just can’t push out of your life. So I raise my battle cry too, because this shouldn’t be status quo. But so many women have admitted to feeling like their experiences are not enough to stand with the #MeToo voices. We, as women, have come to accept these things as a part of life. Some feel like it doesn’t count if they are merely made to feel insignificant or uncomfortable. Like, if they weren’t touched, then their experience was irrelevant.
There is a man in my office building (whom our company has done work with) that has never used my name. I am forever “Honey” or “Sweetie”. I didn’t think twice about it. My father, on the other hand, got livid about the disrespect. His exact words were “Doesn’t the dip-shit know that you are a professional?” My father is 100% correct. I am a professional and this man would not address a male contemporary with pet names in a professional setting. But I am a woman, so to him it is acceptable. And I allowed it. I am so accustomed to that treatment, I didn’t even notice. I am so used to men challenging my intelligence or command of my profession, that I make jokes about it. There is the aggressive behavior from men that wouldn’t take “No” for an answer in bars over the years. I would explain that I was married. They would still push. I would laugh it off and try to exit the situation. I think all women know the feeling of a man pressing himself against you on a dance floor without permission as you look over at your girlfriend and plead to move to another area of the floor. We don’t fight. We laugh. We don’t call out the behavior. We diffuse the situation. We enable.
This disregard isn’t relegated to strangers or professional acquaintances. I have had many men in my life that didn’t respect my boundaries. I would express them clearly, but the men would push. Some men push those boundaries aggressively, others make subtle adjustments that wear you down over time. The result is still the same- your boundaries don’t matter. Men have needs. I acquiesced more times than I would like to admit. Allowed the behavior. Sometimes because I was afraid. Sometimes because I thought it was love. Sometimes because they were so good at manipulation that I didn’t realize they had bent my will until years later.
I cannot speak for all women. I do not presume to have an understanding of all experiences or all perspectives. But I know my own. I know that my experiences as a child shaped my view of myself. Of the world. Of what to endure. When I was 10, I was molested by someone close to my family. No one knew the events that transpired until years later. Because I felt guilty. I was afraid. Victim guilt, victim blaming, came from my core. Did I do something to entice him? I didn’t say no, so does that mean I wanted it? Would my mom get mad at me if I told her? The reality is, I was a child and I had no idea how to properly handle the situation. A person that was an authority to me was telling me what to do. I didn’t know how to say no. I didn’t know how to reject that authority, to realize it was a blatant abuse of power that should not be accepted. I didn’t want it. I didn’t do anything to “deserve” it. But that child, she didn’t know that. And it weighed on her for years.
When I found the courage to speak my truth- to divulge my secret- I was met with a response that a lot of women have faced over the years.
I was told I was lucky. That it could have been worse. That I should be thankful that it hadn’t escalated to rape.
These things were not spoken to me out of malice. They are words that many women in my position have been told. These are phrases that have been passed down through the generations. They are the words that made my experience seem insignificant. Made me feel like the weight I carried around in the pit of my stomach wasn’t warranted. They made me enshroud my shame and pretend it didn’t exist. I tried to believe that I was lucky. But deep down, instead of feeling lucky, I internalized something else entirely.
I learned that my value, my essence, was my body. That was what I had to offer the world. But that value wasn’t my own. My essence could be siphoned without my permission.
And it was expected of me to freely relinquish it when it was desired. My control was taken from me. My voice silenced. And that is why through all of those “minor” infractions throughout the rest of my life, I let them go. I didn’t think I could speak up. Or worse- I was afraid I wouldn’t be loved anymore if I did. Because if that guy at the bar is that persistent you should feel flattered-right? Or if your boyfriend wants something from you with such a need, it’s because he loves you-right?
I am so very proud that we are uniting and speaking out. We are taking our voices back. We are supporting each other in ways that haven’t been done before. I am so proud that we are shining a light on this pervasive, and often “unintentional” problem. It is something I wish I didn’t have to be proud of. It is something I wish we didn’t have to speak out against. At the core, the problem isn’t that women aren’t comfortable speaking out. The core problem is that we are put in the situation to begin with.
The generation of tiny humans that we are raising right now- they are the ones that can change the world. And that responsibility rests squarely on our shoulders as parents. We can teach our little girls that they are more than “just a pretty face”. They are smart. They are strong. They are ingenuitive. That they (our sons and daughters) do not have to give grandma, or anyone else, a kiss or a hug if they aren’t comfortable with it. Because that pressure to please, to do the “right thing” builds the foundation of not trusting your gut or being strong in your boundaries. That social graces are more important than your comfort level. That is the first lesson that choice and control are not entirely yours. But just as importantly, we have to teach our little boys what is acceptable and what isn’t. We can no longer ignore behaviors because “boys will be boys”. We can no longer take the responsibility of the decision maker and place it on the victim. Boys need to be taught that their choices are their own. They need to practice restraint and respect. If the exposed skin of a girls shoulder distracts them, it isn’t the girls responsibility to cover said shoulder. It is his responsibility to realize that said shoulder is not his for the taking. That he must use his self-discipline and regard, not because she is female, but because she is another human being. That her existence alone, and not her genitalia, is what demands respect. We- as parents- need to adjust our words, our reactions, our behaviors. Negative responses are negative responses, regardless of the gender or energy of a child. Gender does not dictate disposition or any other manner of things. But the generalization of a gender allows behaviors to be accepted that shouldn’t.
So to my fellow parents, I raise another battle cry. Raise your girls to know that they are strong. Don’t teach them that they have to worry about the clothes they wear to a club or to travel in pairs. Teach them that their strength, their value, has nothing to do with their bodies. That they are worth fighting for and possess the courage and resilience to do so. Raise your boys to take responsibility for their actions. Raise them to see all humans- regardless of gender- as people worthy of respect. Raise them to know that girls have sexual urges too, but they must be reciprocated before advancing. And that it is ok for a girl to change her mind mid stream. Just like it is ok for a boy to do the same. And this must always be respected. The timeline in which “no” is spoken does not diminish the power of the word. Because victims aren’t only female and predators aren’t only male. Devaluing a person and stripping their worth down to their physical being is a gender-less problem. We must be the change. We are the generation that can bring awareness to the problem. The generation that is pulling the wool off of our eyes and looking the devil in the face. We are tearing it’s power to shreds so that we can teach our children- the next generation- what love, respect, and inclusion really look like. If we can raise our voices, open our eyes, and be the example, they can take our strength, our lessons, and our wisdom to new heights. They really can save the world.