Such a casual phrase:
“I’m heading to lunch.”
“I’m so excited for the weekend.”
“I’m going to my boyfriend’s place for the holidays.”
Until it’s not:
“I’ve been sexually harassed” … “I’ve been sexually assaulted.”
Last month when the #MeToo movement resurfaced on social media, I wish I could say I was surprised by how many of my friends and colleagues across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram could — and did — respond with those two usually casual words. And while not surprised, I was sickened, horrified and heartbroken.
In light of the extensive allegations against Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s power hitters, I started talking with girlfriends and trying to think back to the first harassment, the first assault, the names attached to the episodes. I was shocked that I couldn’t pinpoint the first time. That I couldn’t remember the name of the guy in grad school I had to escape from after he pinned me to the wall after a night of workshopping writing pieces and having a few drinks. They couldn’t remember their perpetrators’ names either.
I talked to friends with female children who looked at their social media pages to discover the “Me Too” hashtag. I witnessed the reaction of male friends discovering their eighth of eight female relatives had posted those two words. I saw another male friend’s breakdown when he found that post on his sister’s page. It was powerful — too powerful — seeing that so many of us already knew what the #MeToo movement was about.
This has to end. The fact that this is so prevalent, so pedestrian that it no longer stands out when it happens, is inherently wrong. But where do we go from here? In 2014 we had #YesAllWomen. Three-plus years later, we have #MeToo, a decade after its initial call for action. How do we keep this movement from dying a social media death, while this criminal treatment of women hasn’t changed, hasn’t stopped, hasn’t become unacceptable?
The question was posed to me, “What should women say when they are harassed on the street?” My answer to that is “whatever the fuck they want.” Questions like this — again — put the onus on the victim, the harassed, versus placing the responsibility on a harasser or abuser to be a law-abiding, decent human being. A woman shouldn’t have to be coached on what is appropriate to say to someone who’s catcalling or commenting from his car window about her body, or gait, or outfit… or worse.
[pullquote-1]There are just so many connections and so many disconnections attached to these behaviors. I look back into our recent history at the list of names of powerful people who have been accused: U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, comedian Bill Cosby, TV host Bill O’Reilly, actor/director Woody Allen, President George H.W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, President Donald Trump. And now, every day I read the news and the list grows, including people I’ve long respected:
NPR’s Senior Vice President Michael Oreskes, actor Kevin Spacey, actor Dustin Hoffman, actor Jeremy Piven, director Brett Ratner, journalist Mark Halperin.
This list of the accused (and their apologies and denials) is almost as long as the list of friends posting #MeToo — and sadly, unfortunately, realistically — that makes sense.
Somewhere in this downward spiral of trauma and sadness I read that the way to stop this is to put more women in power. While you’ll certainly not hear any argument from me that it’s far beyond time to see more women in big, influential positions, is that really the only way? Is it truly impossible to raise a generation of boys who don’t’ grow up to be misogynistic and abusive? And while all of these apologies only go so far toward righting so many wrongs, I have to believe the answer to this is still, “No. It’s not impossible.”
Now let’s prove it. Call out sexual harassment and abuse whenever you see it. Teach others what is right. We need to stop the behavior, not regulate the reactions. Don’t let #MeToo die on social media. This is too important. This is our fight to win. These are our lives to live.
For an in-depth piece on sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as an article on the lack of women in the C-Suite, pick up our sister paper, the Colorado Springs Business Journal this Friday, Nov. 10, or visit csbj.com.