With the not-so-shocking sexual revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner, James Toback, and, yes, our current president, Donald Trump, comes even more revelations from women who have suffered in silence for years and have now come forward, loud and clear.
In recent weeks the hashtag #MeToo has become our social networking battle cry--our admission that it happened to us--but the story of its inception needs to be told. When Tarana Burke, founder of JustBeInc, was a young camp counselor she often counseled young girls who had been abused or neglected or both. One encounter in particular ended badly and Tarana begins her story this way: "The me too Movement™ started in the deepest, darkest place in my soul."
It's a troubling but familiar story many of us know all too well: some stories are so painful, so close-to-home, we find ourselves turning away when we're needed most. Tarana built a movement on her shame.
As a young girl, as a young woman, I had my share of sexual harassment--leering men, provocative gestures, unwanted, uninvited touches or grabs, ugly invitations to perform sexual acts. None of us, I venture, were immune. I fended off rape twice, but don't consider myself lucky or blessed. If the boys in question hadn't stopped I would have been just one more among those vast numbers of rape victims. (One I never saw again; the other I ran into from time to time, both of us pretending it never happened.)
There are many ways to violate but none are as demeaning, humiliating, and harsh as rape. Because rape is so horrific we tend to underplay or diminish those sexual acts that insult, that defile, but don't quite penetrate. As ugly and disgusting as the encounters are, we breathe deep. We were spared. We go on.
Many of the #MeToos have been harassed, solicited, violated, and raped by men who hold power over them. It's far different from a casual, unwelcome advance by a stranger or co-equal. Our normal response to the latter is a sneer, a laugh, a flick of the finger. There is no real threat.
And there's the difference.
We live in a culture where we women are supposed to be able to take care of ourselves, but if we can't it's our own fault. It's what comes from the "freedom" reluctantly given to us by men who reserve the right to make more restrictive rules if we try to go beyond their chains. We see it in government, in the work place, in the church. We see it in all situations where men hold power and use it as privilege. They may grant us our wishes, but we'll have to pay a price.
Our silence condemns us: "Why did she wait so long? How do we know she's telling the truth?"
Speaking out condemns us: "What did she do to provoke him? How do we know she's telling the truth?"
Seeking a legal remedy condemns us: "She just wants money. How do we know she's telling the truth?"
Our sisterhood, our solidarity will save us, but so will the millions of decent men who understand and work at keeping us from sexual harm. It takes courage to speak out. We'll commend the brave and stand by the challengers. We will not stop until every last man with the power to diminish or break us understands we will not be silenced, we will not be broken.
And that includes everyone--from a Hollywood mogul, to a boss, to a family member, to a church leader, to the President of the United States. They are no longer safe from us.
(Cross-posted at Ramona's Voices)