#me too vs. the beast

When the mid-October #MeToo Movement began, I signed on with a post on my Facebook page. Just that. No narrative. ‘Nough said. But up to this point, there hasn’t been.

When I saw my colleague, my friend, my cousin, and my neighbor had also posted #MeToo, I wondered after decades of knowing them why I didn’t know this about them. After all, women talk to each other all the time. Not just about the weather, or the price of coffee, or the latest headlines. We share it all—graphic details about our child birthing, loud and judgmental complaints about our spouses, our children, our upbringing. So why didn’t this topic ever come up?

I believe it’s the nature of the beast we call sexual harassment—a moniker that doesn’t sound very beast-like. If we’re going to start talking about it now, let’s call it what it is—bullying, abuse, assault. If you had a loved one who died from a gunshot wound inflicted by a predator, you probably wouldn’t describe her death as a homicide. That sounds statistical. Murder is the word that makes it personal and communicates to others the egregious and heinous cause of the death.

The act of sexual harassment also needs strong language to communicate the essence of this egregious and heinous offense. Those who posted #MeToo are members of a sorority who know its effects all too well. However, in reporting it, I propose using more explicit language so outsiders don’t mistake #MeToo to mean, “I was sexually harassed.” Consider reporting sexual bullying, abuse or assault instead.

It’s important because this beast is a cunning one that has figured out how to get the culture at large to shame and blame its victims with accusatory questions, like:

·      What were you wearing?
·      What messages were you sending?
·      Were you trying to move up the corporate ladder?
·      Aren’t you being a little sensitive?

Even more evidence of this beast’s keen ways is that in addition to women being questioned by society, they often question themselves about whether they caused the behavior that harmed them.
#MeToo as a status might give people a sense of the numeric scope of the problem during the beast’s reign, however it’s not one I put great confidence in. There are likely as many women choosing to remain silent as those who have chosen to make the #MeToo proclamation. The movement doesn’t begin to be a measure of the magnitude with which the beast has affected individual lives.
When I worked for a large corporation in the mid-1970s, I became friends with Clara, an administrative assistant for a top executive. Oftentimes she complained at lunch about Arnie, her boss, calling her Kitten instead of Clara. She also confided that when he had something for her to type he would come up behind her, put one hand on her right shoulder, and lean in, bringing his left arm around her to deliver the typing project. His unwanted caress ended only after she took the assignment from him. Then he released her from his embrace, brushing his left arm and open hand across her breasts as he did.

She eventually left her job because of Arnie.  Forty years later, Clara and I remain friends. At least a couple of times a year she asks me if I’ve seen Arnie’s obituary, since I get the newspaper it will most likely be published in. In case I missed it, I also check the Social Security death index for her. Just by knowing the predator is still alive, the hostile environment she experienced in the workplace continues to haunt her today.

Former talk show host, Phil Donahue, appeared on the Megyn Kelly Today show recently and said this:

“In my day, in 1967, when we began the show, a boss could tell his secretary to walk around the room so he could look at her, could poke her in the chest and say, “Are those real?” There was nothing she could do about it. So I think what we’re seeing now is a new chapter of the women’s movement. The women who are fighting back stand on the shoulders of the early feminists who took a lot of abuse themselves. ‘They don’t like men; they don’t like sex; they’re humorless; they’re bitchy.’ It took too long. It never should have had to be fought in the first place.

Donahue acknowledged we still have a long way to go.
Indeed we do. Hostile environments modify behavior and have served to do that for a majority of half the population. Not talking about the harm done to us in these hostile environments is one of the ways this beast modified behavior. Our silence fed it until it became such a monster that we knew we could only break the beast by breaking our silence and naming it.
Some are balking at the rampant naming that #MeToo has led to, including some women. In her Coffeehouse Blog, British writer Joanna Williams reacted with a post titled “The #MeToo movement reveals feminism’s obsession with victimhood.” In part, she wrote:

“According to Twitter, [#MeToo] reveals 'the magnitude of sexual assault.' In reality, it does nothing of the sort. #MeToo tells us far more about the desire of some women to reach for victimhood status.

“The #MeToo social media revelations blur the boundary between sexual assault and sexual harassment. 140 character reports of having been raped are placed on a par with tweets about name calling, whistling and groping. The #MeToo process helps create a false impression that all men are sexually abusive and simply waiting for an opportunity to assault innocent and defenceless [sic] women.”

As a feminist, my rebuttal to Williams is this:

#MeToo has nothing to do with a desire to reach for victimhood. To the contrary, by naming and claiming our experience, we throw off the mantel of victimhood that has kept the harm and suffering caused by the beast invisible to the rest of the world. And no matter what the inappropriate sexual behavior that caused that harm and suffering, it should be met with compassion, not comparison. Finally, your assertion that #MeToo creates a false impression about “all men” is really a tired, old cliché that insinuates feminists are men haters.

Despite Williams’ take on it, I’m extending my thanks to #MeToo, for starting the conversation none of us have been having. I plan on inviting my friends over for coffee to continue it. We can talk about our fear, our anger, our silence and anything else about our own experience of sexual bullying and abuse. Maybe some of us will learn that by remaining silent to avoid the shame and blame that could come from speaking out, we inadvertently also created a mindset that somehow we deserved bad behavior from men and, unfortunately, tolerated it. Maybe others, for the first time, will find out that they are also part of the #MeToo sorority. Conversation among women has always nourished me. I look forward to this one.


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