Well, 2018 has rolled around and as I listen to the news the #MeToo movement is not going away. In fact, it is taking shape as a human rights movement. Actors in Hollywood are taking the lead, meeting in private and organizing to battle the social consciousness which has fostered and nurtured this alarming environment, which enabled and accepted such abusive behavior. Objectifying people, oppressing them, harassing them, preying on them, physically abusing and assaulting them, and all habitually for decades, centuries, millenia. Most of us are not likely truly shocked by these revelations. We’ve all heard of the director’s couch or watched Mad Men or read history. Yet, the severity, the years-long acceptance of this horrific behavior add details to this public knowledge of the director’s couch which finally highlight to us the criminality and twisted abuse behind it which still exists in the 21st century. When the news first broke of the Harvey Weinstein accusations and the impossibly unthinkable rapes and physical harassment of these women, it left me shocked and appalled. I support and admire whole-heartedly those women who have come forward but initially just believed that it was an isolated incident. But then… more and more men were accused. Kevin Spacey. Al Franken, Mario Batali. Matt Lauer. And more.
Now this has become something we need to pay attention to. Now we see people being accused in the tech industry, in the arts, in politics, in the food industry, in business, in factories, in the beauty industry, not only the Hollywood director’s are guilty of such heinous acts. It seems to permeate our society, across workplaces and across social classes. I was most shocked by Matt Lauer because his depravity lurked behind the man I had watched for years on the morning news. I recently watched a video on Youtube where he, according to the title of the clip, salaciously asked Anne Hathaway about a photo taken up her skirt days earlier at the premier of Les Misérables. In light of today’s revelations, the various headlines called out Matt Lauer’s comments as sexist, “icky,” “sleezy.” I watched and found myself not so offended. Maybe he was just having fun and being perhaps a little too familiar? Put this in the context of his sexual harassment and abuse of power over years, and now it gave me pause.
My reaction made me think about how I too have been complicit in my acceptance of the “boys will be boys” attitude which I think lies beneath the social acceptance and lack of any significant action or consequences for these men as their stories were unearthed over the years. Not only, do these accusations call out these acts and call for their final rectification and the end of such abusive behavior, but it also calls out to all of us to think about what we accept as “normal” behavior. We need to check ourselves each time we accept sexist comments, sexist jokes, judgements about such everyday things like clothing, even discrepancies in how men and women are charged for hygiene items, our expectations for “normal” behavior for men and women, or devaluations of behaviors attributed to genders like sensitivity or emotionality versus rationality and stoicism. Not only do these criminals come from all walks of life, as do their victims, but so does our allowance of their existence in our society. I believe, we need to become over sensitive to these behaviors and these social norms which created a society which has allowed people in power to victimize and prey upon those in their control using gender and sex as their weapon. Only through a hypersensitivity will we truly become aware of how far it reaches in our personal, work, and public lives. We need to weed out all of its sources in our society’s beliefs and our own gender identities before we can truly rebuild a world in which these power-based atrocities and harmful and degrading gender beliefs no longer exist.
I believe that life works like a pendulum. Unfortunately, we only act when the pendulum swings to its outermost point, where it cannot tolerate any more forward movement in that direction and needs to shift its course, retrace its steps, and counter balance itself by swinging in completely the opposite direction. We have reached that ultimate point where the pendulum of sexual harassment has become so extreme, we can no longer allow it to continue. We must act to bring us back to some sort of equilibrium. We, as a society, must recognize this necessity and work to bring it to fruition and if it means we are overly sensitive to such behavior, so be it. I have already heard, in the media and even in my own family, that this is becoming a witch hunt, but let the women and men come forward and make their accusations. We will see when the dust settles who is guilty based on proof and evidence and who has been falsely accused. Perhaps this is harsh but so are these crimes. Their depravity and their widespread existence at such a magnitude demands we act.
So, #MeToo. I too have been complicit in the proliferation of this behavior. I said nothing and quietly allowed jokes about women, stereotypes of men and women to color my own words. I accepted boys will be boys, even when I saw behavior that made me uncomfortable, like Matt Lauer’s comments to Anne Hathaway, but I wrote those uncomfortable feelings off as my being overly sensitive. I grew up being told and believing that women were inferior emotionally and intellectually. It was a struggle to break these beliefs. Only in my 40s did I begin to embrace my femininity, my empathetic nature, my sensitivity. I allow myself a freedom to express my emotions, or at least I am starting to. My opinions are not weakened because I shed a tear in sympathy or anger, in fact I am stronger for it because I allow myself to open my heart to others. Exposing your heart is no act of cowardice. Like everything this reclaiming my emotional self and my feminine self is an ongoing process. But here in face of these heinous realities pervasive in our world, I choose to fully embrace my ability to empathize with others, to feel outrage against accepted behavior, to go with my intuition. When something feels wrong, I will take note and speak up and act. My voice is just as strong and valuable and potent as the next person’s, and I choose to speak out and call out those who are helping to keep this system of abusive power and physical harassment in place – even if it is myself that I need to call out and hold accountable.