Recently women have bravely and powerfully been posting #metoo in their social media to indicate that they have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault and demonstrate how widespread this problem is. I felt compelled to respond as part of Revolution Institute’s mission of social advocacy.
As a therapist and clinical supervisor (as well as a husband, father, co-worker, and friend) it has been painfully obvious to me for a long time how widespread the threat of sexual harassment and assault is to women in our society. Sexual trauma exists to such a widespread degree that maybe the appropriate question isn’t even “Has it happened to you?” but “How much has it happened to you?” Even women that do not identify as ever being harassed or assaulted live in a world where most women have. Women have to make choices every day to defend themselves from being victimized again. Every woman brushes off dozens of glances, gestures, and statements every day that would not occur if they were male.
The party in power (in this case men) will always ignore an inconvenient truth until forced to deal with it. They will minimize the problem. They will find an exception in every individual example that validates their ignoring it or treating it as an exception to the rule. Individuals will push off responsibility by claiming they are not a direct perpetrator. They will pretend it is a problem out in the world but not one that anyone they know is a part of. When pressed, individuals will eventually accept there is a problem but that they are too small to fix it and blame others. This is true of misogyny in this case but we see the same dance with racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, corporate greed and dozens of other issues holding down our present and threatening our future.
So what can men do in this case that isn’t the above? Well if the real question for women is actually “How much sexual trauma have I experienced?” then the real question for men should not be “Have I been a perpetrator of sexual trauma?” but “How much sexual trauma have I contributed to?” If you have made a comment to or about a woman that maybe wasn’t appropriate, made or laughed at a joke where objectifying a woman was the punchline, or looked the other way when you knew something wrong was occurring, then you, like all the rest of us, have added to the problem. That doesn’t make you a bad person it just means you’re a normal person in a world that makes it okay to do that. It’s trying to draw lines between good guys and bad guys that gets us stuck.
The answer is in taking responsibility for the things you have done and resolving to fight the problem more than you add to the problem. We can all resolve to hurt less but we can also resolve to do more. There is unspeakable power in the courageous choice to call out a friend or even a superior for making an inappropriate comment. The willingness to take the room from jovial to unbearably awkward for a few moments sends out ripples to everyone present that indicate the world where those comments are acceptable is coming to an end. Think of someone powerful in your life that makes those comments and imagine yourself speaking up calmly the next time they say something to let them know why you don’t think that comment is okay. Actually picture the moment and imagine what you might say.
If you are a man, that uneasy feeling welling up inside you is you, for just a moment, taking on a tiny piece of the burden that we let women bare for us every moment of their lives.