I know things have been tough lately.
Weinstein. Franken. Levine. Batali. Rose. Thrush. Simmons. Tambor. Zimmerman. Kreisberg. Lauer. Louis C.K. Piven. Halperin.
And on and on and on. The list seems endless.
Probably because it is.
In the past month, I’ve had many men in my life who I care for and respect, many of them frequent allies, express horror at the seeming deluge of sexual misconduct and assault cases bubbling to the surface lately. How, they wonder, could this possibly be so common?
Welcome to our world, fellas.
It’s one where we walk to our cars with keys carefully gripped between our knuckles, just in case.
It’s one where we stay vigilant as we make that walk, or any other, picking up the pace when it seems like a man is following too closely for too long, crossing the street when need be.
It’s one where we remind each other to text when we get home so we know everyone is safe.
It’s one where we watch each other carefully at the bar, knowing full well that one moment without full awareness could mean something slipped in a drink.
It’s one where bathrooms become confessionals, places to plot escape routes from scenarios primed to go very wrong, where women exchange code words with strangers designed to elicit help.
It’s one where we know that even the men we trust can’t necessarily be trusted, because it’s the men we know who are most likely to try to hurt us.
It’s one where we know the word “no” to be dangerous to our careers, relationships, and very lives, and that wielding it is no guarantee of respect should that danger be outed.
Think we’re paranoid? If the news lately has rattled you, consider this: it is highly likely there is not a single adult woman in your life that has not had to walk another woman through the fallout of an assault, if she isn’t a survivor herself.
And yes, before you go there, this is personal.
Because I have lost count of how many times I’ve had those conversations, consoling traumatized women and reassuring them they did nothing wrong, were still whole and worthy.
Because strangers still think they’re entitled to grope me regularly, and it rattles me even now.
Because I’ve taken business meetings where the shape of my body was clearly of greater interest than the shape of my analysis, underscored by attempts to close a very different kind of deal by the end.
Because I haven’t left the house without being catcalled since I was 14, hearing in vivid, scatological terms the commodification of my own body, even while holding my small, confused daughter’s hand.
Because when my 9 year old asks me each morning why she has to wear a training bra, I choke, unable to find the words to explain to my child that there are men who sexualize such otherwise carefree little lives.
Damn straight it’s personal.
For some of you, the horror you’re experiencing is genuine. The fact that it’s taken you this long to get to this point after centuries of women screaming at the top of their lungs is frustrating as hell, but if it means you reflect and adjust and start calling out unacceptable behavior in your day to day life – including when women aren’t present to hand you a cookie for it – I am willing to take a deep breath and say thank you. Better late than never.
But if your focus right now is on saying “not me though,” you’re missing the point. I’ll give you a second to consider that. If you’re too busy defending yourself, you’re centering yourself in the conversation again instead of actually listening.
See, what’s hard to get past in all this is that there are others for whom this horror is something else entirely. The acts are heinous. Maybe they admit that. Maybe they don’t. But the real fear stems from the fact that those committing these acts are FINALLY facing a tidal wave of consequences. Not enough in some cases, frankly, but consequences nonetheless.
Hell, even Roy Moore couldn’t carry a blood red state.
The problem is that there is an unspoken question behind some of their reactions. They don’t support the behavior, they’ll say. But did he have to lose his job? But did he really have to resign if he apologized? But why did these women wait so long? But how do we know they’re telling the truth?
But but but NOTHING.
These reactions are as old as time, but our patience for them is waning. It is particularly hard to stomach within circles which pride themselves on intellectual vigor. I get it. Questioning claims is how we’re wired. At some point, though, as claims and corroboration of assault and misconduct mount, your need for a scientific proof doesn’t make you a skeptic. It makes you an asshole who might just be asking questions rooted in thousands of years of patriarchal oppression so you don’t have to wonder if you might be accused next.
If you find yourself thinking such things, then maybe you should wonder. And ask yourself why you’ve made choices that would make your wonder in the first place. Then do something about it. Make amends. Stop making choices that make women feel unsafe or objectified.
Because making an allegation of sexual assault is not a small or easy thing. There are significant consequences in the personal and professional lives of survivors for speaking up, often compounding the original trauma. There are good reasons false allegations are statistically exceedingly rare, even relative to other major crimes.
Add into the mix having to deal with jerks more concerned about asking these sorts of questions to shield their own ego and yeah, coming forward takes a whole lotta guts.
And gents, if you think YOU feel uncomfortable right now, imagine how we’ve felt for basically all our lives.
Right now is different though. It’s a moment. After we watched a country (including an embarrassing amount of white women with some major internalized misogyny issues apparently) elect a pussy grabbing traffic cone with no actual qualifications for the job rather than a woman, we took to the streets. Looking around Chicago during the Women’s March, feeling the rage and determined energy in the air, I knew, without a doubt, that things were going to start changing.
Ladies reading know what I mean. It feels important, like a potential shift in the tide to a life possibly a little more empowered and a little less dangerous.
I see you. I hear you. I stand with you. There’s this sense of responsibility, like we HAVE to get things right, have to be measured as we raise our voices on a subject that makes us want to scream and cry all at once. It is exhausting.
And yes, to some end, there is a responsibility to every woman who has survived assault and endured harassment to be deliberate and careful in our advocacy. Misappropriation of language surrounding these experiences, directly or implicitly, makes it so much harder to recruit potential allies in this quest for progress and justice, who then in turn make it much harder for survivors to come forward and advocate for themselves.
I feel it too. I lost count of how many drafts of this I went through. I am still not sure I’m getting it right, but I know that trying to get it right is worth every single moment of effort.
Above all, now is the time to listen. Listen to the stories in the news, yes, but also the other women speaking out without such bright spotlights. Talk to women in your life about experiences they’ve had.
Then think, hard, about whether some of your behavior might be part of the problem in the past or now. Commit to being better. Commit to pushing those around you to be better. Do not allow the onus for propelling change to rest on the shoulders of women who have been abused by people like Cosby and Weinstein and Moore, shoulders that have been carrying far too much for far too long as it is.
And do this, not because there’s a woman or girl in your life you care about, but because we owe it to each other, and to ourselves, to, I don’t know, treat each other as human beings?