Me too. Of course. Show me a woman who hasn’t experienced some degree of sexual harassment or assault.
I’ve had it easier than many women. I’ve “only” been groped. I’ve “only” been examined head to toe in a professional setting with my male colleague’s gaze ending somewhere around the area of my chest rather than looking me in the eye. I’ve “only” been cat-called. I’ve “only” been mansplained. I’ve “only” been told to shut up in a work meeting. I know at least four women who are date-rape survivors, but haven’t been a victim myself.
Here’s the thing: The #metoo campaign from this week and the #yesallwomen campaign from three years ago are just a small part of countless attempts to make our society value women as fellow human beings and not as someone else’s property. We aren’t moving forward unless we stop being a society where immediate sexual gratification supersedes the humanity of the one being assaulted.
I’m flabbergasted that we continue to have this conversation despite the aforementioned attempts to admit that we – as a country, as a society – have a problem. I’ve read countless testimonials this week, many followed by well-intentioned comments by men that they are stunned at the extent of the problem. They haven’t ever been exposed to this before.
Yeah, right! This is a country that has knowingly elected sexual predators to the highest office in the land (Trump is hardly the first). This is a country where a high-profile sexual harassment scandal has broken out every year in my memory (I’ve lived here for 21 years). This is a country where domestic violence statistics are staggering: On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. Have these people who profess surprise – mostly men – lived under a rock? Their willful ignorance has enabled the system that treats (mostly) women as second-class citizens.
Let’s not forget that sexual harassment and assault do not happen in a vacuum. They are part and parcel of a larger culture where women are still paid less than men; where women are still doing the bulk of childrearing and housekeeping (though that’s changing); and where women CEOs and organizational heads are a miniscule number compared to men.
The other well-intentioned comment that riles me up is the qualification of the commenter’s horror by saying he has a wife or a daughter or a mother or an aunt or a female friend and therefore understands. Enough! You don’t need to have a woman in your life to understand that women are human and to act on this understanding.
The #metoo campaign and other similar social media phenomena are showing us that we have a long road ahead. Yes, we all need to listen to the women in our lives who’ve faced sexual assault and harassment. Yes, it was powerful that so many women spoke up. Many of them had been silent before, so the campaign empowered them. Many others who are survivors felt a sense of solidarity and community.
But we as a society need to do better. Hashtags and Facebook slacktivism can only be a beginning. By themselves, they aren’t going to change us.
Here are some ideas – nothing earth-shatteringly new here – on how I believe we can make this happen:
- Educate all children – not just boys – about consent. No means no.
- From an early age, speak to children in age-appropriate ways about sex, relationships and treating everyone as humans.
- Model treating women as human beings. Don’t just open doors or give up your seat on the subway or some other gallant bullshit that is mostly meaningless. Speak up when colleagues make sexist remarks or when women are excluded from the boys’ club.
- Believe victims. We talk a lot about men whose lives are ruined because they are falsely accused. But what about the women whose lives are ruined because a man assaulted them?