Random & Wild

#MeToo: Out Into The Light

“Me, too,”

I stared at my coworker in shock.

Last month, I had a coaching session with a teacher to talk about his caseload.  We have worked together for quite some time, at least 10 years I would say, and I consider him a friend.  As we sat down at the table he asked me how I was doing and I the same of him. He sighed in exasperation and began to describe a situation filled with drama involving a dance group he and his wife manage.  Because of his long time involvement with this group, his circle includes many from the local dancing community (that is code for: everyone knows everyone else who likes to dance and attend dancing functions).

He shared that several women in this community had come forth to say that a particular man had either made them feel uncomfortable or made inappropriate advancements and they no longer will attend functions if he is there and now they are having difficult conversations about what to do.  As the words came out of his mouth, I couldn’t help but say, “Me, too.”

I belong to a very large Facebook hiking community and as a moderator of the page, I am involved in many behind the scenes situations involving its members.  We had just spent that last week dealing with this very same thing.  A female member had contacted one of the other moderators to say a male member had been inappropriate with her on a hike and she felt we should know (code for: do something about it).  Needless to say, it was a very lengthy debate among the moderators as to exactly what that should be.

My coworker described his situation as awkward because they weren’t sure what the right response was.  Was it up to them to let others know of this man’s behavior? Let him know he wasn’t welcome at dance events?  If they did nothing than the women are left feeling like they must leave the group.  If they do something, then the same goes for the man.  What was their level of responsibility when it was just the women’s word, were they to be some kind of judge?

Our group had been having the very same conversation.  Was it up to us to believe one person over another? Was it up to us to remove someone from the group based on another person’s accusation?  Was it up to us to find out all the facts?  What proof was there?  Did rumors and other promiscuous behaviors warrant enough to lead to an action by the admins of the group?  Whose comfort were we responsible for?  Was he a predator or just a perv?  Was there a difference? So many questions.

Me, too.

As I think about the fact that my coworker and I were both dealing with these tough issues at the same time our society seemed to be exploding with women coming forth to say, #MeToo, I couldn’t help but realize that these conversations aren’t just today’s headlines.  They must be happening all over our country in all sorts of communities. They are not limited to just businesses, schools and other institutions governed by legal rules but informal groups of people with no such officiality.  And more importantly, what are the guidelines of responsibility for us? Are we obligated or instead provided a loophole through which we can escape our duty due to lack of authority?

Even my fiancé and I had a conversation about it, and we don’t tend to have many like this.  He echoed the same feelings that I have heard many others share, “Why now?”  It is a common sentiment uttered when actions seem to come more from a quickly spreading wildfire than anything based on reality.  Why don’t people come forth when these things actually happen? What is it about this that has everybody talking now? 

Actually, the idea of #MeToo didn’t start with the run on Twitter started by Alyssa MIlano, it started over 10 years ago with a woman named Tarana Burke who works to empower young women of color.  She was inspired by her reaction to a story of childhood rape told in confidence to her in 1996 when she was a youth camp director that broke her heart.  When she could not deal with the emotions it caused for her personally, she directed the child to another counselor to deal with it:


“The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it abruptly forced closed again — it was all on her face,” she wrote.
“I couldn’t help her release her shame, or impress upon her that nothing that happened to her was her fault. I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured. …
“I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper … me too.” -CNN

Fear

Inaction happens for a variety of reasons, most of which revolve around fear.  Fear of not being believed.  Fear of losing a job or relationship. Fear of being told it’s your fault. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of retaliation.  Fear of being made to feel uncomfortable in social situations.  And unfortunately, fear is not just an individual experience but a phenomena that can lead to an accepted institutional culture.  Our inaction means every single incident of this type of behavior builds on another leaving victims feeling like that they can not speak up to stop it.  I have my own #MeToo stories as I am sure many of you do.  Too many of us do.  But #MeToo is not about any one act.  It is about the culmination of those acts over time that leads to the acceptance that those very acts are a part of life, a norm. That is just how things are.  Campus rape, sexual harassment in the workplace, and domestic violence are just a few.


But “Me, too” is not about any one act.  It is about the culmination of those acts over time that leads to the acceptance that those very acts are a part of life, a norm. 


Hope

With the growth of #MeToo, I believe the hope is to bring an end to that fear.  Fear loses its power the more we talk about what has existed for years in dark corners and in furtive whispers.  In memories that never fade and are often subconsciously passed on to the next generation. The more we bring it out into the light, the easier it becomes for people to understand something that they themselves may not have experienced but stand in a position to help eliminate. And just as it took a multitude of these acts happening over time to create this culture of fear, it may take a multitude of #MeToo to end it. The conversation shouldn’t be about whether or not any particular person’s story is true or whether it is made up. It should be about ensuring space so that true stories are spoken and believed from this day forward.

I don’t know what my friend ended up deciding within his dance community and as for my group we finally came to the conclusion that it was not within our group’s responsibility to dole out judgment and consequence on to the particular situation we were presented with based on the information we had. However, we did commit to policies that create an environment where it is clear these behaviors would not be tolerated and people would be encouraged to speak up when they occur.  And as I continue to think about how this is all playing out in the world around me, my heart prays that this very same phenomenon is happening in groups and across communities everywhere so that one day there doesn’t have to be any more #MeToo.

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21 thoughts on “#MeToo: Out Into The Light

  1. This was a great write up. It made me think of how our local public library had a “character” who gave me a bad vibe right out the gate. When we were chatting with our teenaged babysitter about plans, he came up with a book on cooking and tried to ask her “Do you like to cook?” I was way outside the realm of acceptable behavior, but framed with that innocent way that would prevent any official reaction. Luckily, the young lady wasn’t phased and extracted herself from this, and I also moved away to reduce the avenues he had for continuing conversation. Unfortunately, my 4yo daughter was nearby with my wife, and he approached and asked her name, I looked back in horror as my wife first hesitated, then told this guy her name. Later she felt sick that she’d not known what to do and had given him our little girl’s name.

    It’s a public library, and no laws were broken…. but I know in my heart this guy has hurt people. What do we do with this kind of thing?

    I hate to think what young women of the caliber seen in the Aziz Ansari situation would do in the face of a calculating truly predatory person, but in some ways at the very least that kind of guy is someone you can see coming a mile off…

    It’s all very tricky, isn’t it?

    1. Yes, very tricky. Your point about the guy giving off a bad vibe speaks to how a lot of us are taught to downplay our instinct about someone when it is probably our best guide. And you are right, no law broken but it still feels like something should be done. Do we let the library staff know what the guy was doing because maybe we are the third person to say something and yet we risk being told we are paranoid or looked at like we are the weird ones?

  2. I didn’t come forward when I was a little girl because I was scared. I was scared the person would hurt my family. I was scared my dad would kill this person and go to jail (which he told us if anyone ever touched us like that, that’s what he would do). So I agree, fear is a factor. Also many people are groomed. I didn’t understand a lot that was happening and he was my “friend.” When I finally understood, I tried to get away and stop these interactions and that’s when I became threatened and scared to tell. Just because I was a elementary aged child doesn’t make my fear more valid than an adult’s. I think people forget that. Thanks for sharing this post 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing you story. It is true about the grooming and that most cases of childhood abuse come from a family member or someone the family knows making it all that more hard to bring it out into the light. Children have it worse as they don’t yet have the language or relationships with someone they can talk about these uncomfortable situations with.

  3. This has happened to so many women, including myself. Inappropriate attention is never comfortable and we’ve been taught from a young age to be nice. So it’s very hard for young girls to assert themselves and say no to an adult male who also happens to be an authority figure. We need to teach them they can stand up for themselves and when they do come to us adult women and tell us what happened to them, we must support them and believe them. It’s the only defense some of these young girls have.

    1. It is hard to teach the difference between being nice and standing up for oneself because the two are often seen as opposites. Even something like “speaking your mind” can have a negative connotation. We know that a woman being assertive is seen differently by society than when a man does it and we need to change that thinking!

  4. Not an easy topic and you have touched me in so many ways. #metoo We all should encourage one another to open up and talk out this and this should make it more tolerable and work through it in your own mind. Thanks for sharing

    1. You’re welcome, Esme. Even if we can’t undo the past, talking about our experiences can definitely help us process and move forward. 🙂

    1. You are very welcome, Meg, I’m glad it was meaningful for you. No one wants to connect over such things but those connections are what is going to help move us forward.

  5. Yeah. Me too
    I reported him at the time. It took two years aid uphill battle with the police who gave him back items of clothing and jewellery that had been entered into evidence.

    But I got there in the end and he was found guilty & imprisoned. Had to fight against the tide the whole way thiugh

    1. How brave and scared at the same time you must have been! It shouldn’t have to be such a battle to get justice for crime against women, hopefully the tide will turn as we continue to stand up for equal rights.

  6. I had heard that Tarana Burke had started Me Too long before Alyssa Milano, but hadn’t heard the story it was based on… so very sad 🙁 As for the why now… Too many times in the past have women been ignored, or villianized when they stand up to ask for help… They’re not believed or if someone does believe them, there’s not enough proof… it’s soul crushing… so you give up and suffer alone. You learn to hide your shame. A lot more women are coming forward now, I believe, because of this movement in itself. We are finally feeling stronger in numbers. We are finally feeling like we are being heard. Because of some brave modern sisters and even groundwork some strong women in the past have laid, we are finally feeling like we are not the exception to the rule…. we are not alone, and there are A LOT of others that now exactly what we’ve gone through because they’ve experienced it too.

    1. I agree, shame is a huge part of it. Hopefully, as we move something that has been an unspoken collective experience out into the open, shame will have to fall by the wayside.

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