The words "me too" fill my timeline right now, beneath the names and pictures of dear friends, good acquaintances, family members and complete strangers. All women.
That's what is so overwhelming to process — that ALL WOMEN have been sexually harassed (likely often) in their lives, and that so many have been sexually assaulted, as well. This is the dark reality we have to accept if we're going to change it.
I spoke with a good friend yesterday, another white man who, like me, considers himself a longtime feminist. We talked about how our understanding of the female experience, at least in the US, has grown so much in the past few years especially. It's not that we were oblivious to sexism and misogyny existing in a big way, but that we didn't really get just how constant the existence of it is. That a woman's safety is something she's considering much of the time, that being dismissed or talked over or called hysterical is not the exception but the rule so often. That women are expected to be quiet, in the face of sexism and misogyny, and even in the face of violence.
When I say my understanding of the female experience has grown, I don't mean to suggest I have a clue of what it's like to be a woman in this world. I don't have a clue. But I'm listening. And I'm learning. And I'm committed to being a man who supports women's rights and equality and safety, vocally and without exception.
After I hung up with my friend, I started thinking about why it is I feel more aware of the female experience than ever before, and the answer is obvious: more women are speaking up about their experiences, and social media amplifies their messages. It's not fair that it's left to the victims of sexual harassment and assault to have to rip and re-rip open their traumas before enough of us men start listening to and believing them. It's making a difference, though. It's waking up more and more men, even those of us, like me, who felt we were awake already. There's always more to learn when we stop to listen.
If you posted, "me too," thank you for your courage. It's having an impact.
I also get how frustrating/infuriating it is to see men denounce sexual assault only because they have daughters or sisters or are close with their mothers, rather than simply recognizing that a woman's value has nothing to do with their relationship to her. I still think it's a step forward for men to recognize women's rights and equality, even if it takes having a daughter to do it. Attitudes toward the LGBTQ community have changed for the better over the years because more and more people have come to discover they have gay friends, family members and colleagues, and that they want these people they care about to share the same rights as everyone else. In a perfect world (not the one we live in), people would want women and the LBGTQ community and people of color to have equal rights because...well...they're human beings and why isn't this equal rights shit obvious to all of us by now? Baby steps forward are still steps forward, however, and if having a daughter or a sister is what it takes to usher a man into the realm of gender enlightenment, then so be it. Once he's there, there's at least a chance his attitudes about women will ultimately have nothing to do with those he holds dear, and that he'll come to understand the value of a woman — like a man — lives in her independent humanity.
Also...for those of you who could have but didn't write the words "me too," for whatever reason, you are no less courageous than those who did. I hope you know that. I can't pretend to know how traumatic it can be to have to face so much discussion around sexual assault as a survivor of sexual assault. I'm sure, for some, the "me too" campaign was more traumatizing than healing. Though I see great value in "me too," it's always up to the person to decide if he or she wants/needs/feels compelled to share her story. There isn't a wrong way to be a survivor.
I've seen these words I've chosen to post below making the rounds today, and when I read them the first time, it felt like awakening to something that is so obvious that I hadn't even considered before. Men (the great great majority of the time) are the ones responsible for perpetrating violence. Let's make sure men are the significant part of the conversation when we discuss the violence they're perpetrating. Language matters.
One more thing...every day I say some version of a prayer that we elect more women leaders (and people of color leaders). An obvious reality that hasn't been lost on me is that men run most of the world and the world is seriously fucked. Surely that's not a coincidence. We need more women running the show. All the shows. One silver lining to all the darkness we're seeing in our country right now is that women appear to be rising up like never before, more vocal in their expectations and intentions, and I hope this groundswell of female activism leads to many more women leaders.
Madame President sure sounds good to these ears.