So here we are. The time has come when some of us finally feel safe enough to speak up about something that has been burdening us for a long time, sexual assault. We are being brave. We are being heard. And yet, we are NOT victims.
All these #metoo statuses are popping up on social media and I appreciate the sentiment, I really do. I support the women posting them. Yet I can’t participate. Why, you ask? Is it because I have never been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by a man? Quite the contrary, it is because I don’t know a SINGLE woman who hasn’t in some way, shape or form - most on several occasions. The thing is, I have so much more to say than “me too.”
Our society is slowly waking up from an eerie slumber in which men have been allowed to make inappropriate sexual comments or advancements. Even outright sexual assault and violence committed by well-known and celebrated American men has been swept under the rug, and thereby silently co-signed by the community at large. The vast majority of women who have dealt with sexual harassment or survived sexual assault do not confront their offenders leaving them to hide and suffer in silence. Today, the tides are turning ... And might I add YAY!
The concern I’m having with the #metoo movement is that what it seems to be lacking in most cases is a reclamation of power. Many of us were victimized at a time when we were too small or too scared or too young to fight back. But, as we are joining the #metoo movement now, we are likely in a new empowered position, able to share our experiences. Now is a situation which we DO have the power to choose how we use our voice.
Sexual assault is horrible. It is confusing and painful. It can make you want to crawl out of your own skin never to return. I know because I’ve spent years in therapy to overcome my own experience.
Sexual harassment is terrifying. It’s gut-wrenching and demoralizing. It can make you question your ability to stay in a job or place you’ve worked hard to earn. It tests you in every way. I know because it kept me awake at night for years until I built up the courage to say something - after which I was punished.
Inappropriate sexual comments are distressing. A simple crass comment can be enough to cause extreme anxiety and impact self esteem by way of insinuating that a girl or woman is worth no more than her looks. I know because I looked at myself in the mirror and let these comments impact how I valued myself more times than I’d like to admit.
The fact is, yes. Me too. But I will not allow this to define me. I will not wallow in it. And I won’t claim to be a victim.
In her book “Loving What Is”, Byron Katie brilliantly analysis victimhood. In the book, she says:
“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is ‘out there’—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”
She also says:
“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon, nor too late. You don’t have to like it…it’s just easier if you do.”
I know this is easier said than done. It is some deep work, and I can assure you it is worth it. For a long time, I looked at my assaults, the times I was harassed, as things that happened to me, yet I now know that I can choose to recognize that everything can only happen FOR me. No exceptions. I have a choice on how to react, even if it felt otherwise as I’ve suffered in paradise. The situation is no longer hopeless... I am no longer a victim, I am empowered. And right now, at this moment, with the space that has been created, we too are the chosen ones.
The world is changing. What is accepted is changing. Women are changing... and in turn, so are men.
Saudi Arabian women can finally drive. For the first time in the United States a woman was named the presidential nominee of a major political party. And today, thankfully, millions of woman (FINALLY) have a safe place to proclaim, “Me too.” about being sexually assaulted or harassed by men.
The thing is, while now it’s popular is to be a “Me too,” for a very long time it was only allowable to be a “Don’t mind me”. There has been a power structure at play for centuries that has silenced those voices. Yet, as women, regardless of circumstance and experience, we’ve participated in a society that has educated and accepted the men we now condemn. Yes, it’s time to learn how to respect others. Yes, it’s time to set clear and healthy boundaries. Yes, it’s time to shift out of old programming and conditioning. It’s time for men to do all of this - and it’s time for us too, as women.
For my part, that starts with refusing to accept the notion that I am helpless. Sure, I have been silenced, taught to be small, touched against my will, doubted and blamed. Now I have a platform to be big and loud and strong. And I will embody this power every day forward. I will speak up for and take a stand for other women. Together, we can be heard and show men that our power comes from integrating the depth of our love and compassion. We can work with men to convey the effects of sexual assault and harassment rather than to lose ourselves in rants of anger. What we mustn’t do, is to allow ourselves to be victims of our past.
We have a chance to honor every woman, including ourselves, who had to endure years of suffering in silence by speaking up now with compassion and strength. Rather than alienating men who display obliviousness even today, we must find it in our hearts to forgive their ignorance and to create a new reality, starting now. A reality in which we feel safe to say ‘no’. A reality in which saying ‘no’ is unequivocally heard and respected. A reality in which we are never intimidated about speaking out when our ‘no’ is not respected. A reality in which we wield and own as much power as our brothers. A reality in which we preemptively educate rather than to reactively shame. A reality in which we accept our shared responsibility to create a world that empowers all.
To all the women out there who have participated in the #metoo movement, thank you. I love you. We’ve got this.
To all the men out there, I look forward to working WITH you as we create a new awareness... And to this end, I hope your response is a resounding, “Me too.”
(note: I realize sexual assault and harassment is committed against all genders, and that it is never acceptable. For this article, I am addressing the specific experience of women based on the conversation at hand.)
Written By: Laura Lombardi
Follow her here @happygolaura