In the shadows, hordes of women keep silent all the time.
They have reputations and careers to protect. It’s somewhat of an easy choice to make between your dignity and your career if you are an ambitious woman in a world that makes you choose between the two.
Meanwhile, the men who have historically been in power continue to build up wealth and fame…and an illusory fortress of immunity. They know they are protected when they hold the power. Until.
Until…the tide begins to turn.
Every woman learns the second she hits puberty that her body is now public property. If, like me, you’ve never experienced sexual harassment or assault, then you know that, regardless, you are still on public display as a girl or a woman. You are open for commentary, opinions, legislation, misinformation, and judgment. Some of the aforementioned can haunt you even after the formative years, even after you know who you are and who you want to be and really don’t care what others have to say anymore.
And if, unlike me, you are a victim of sexual harassment or assault, then my heart aches for you, because you know the true pain that stems from a system as sick as ours. And really, this is a sick system we live in. It goes even beyond sexual harassment or assault, although that is one of the cruelest and most visible symptoms of it.
As women in this country, our rights to run our own lives and make choices about our own bodies are subject to legislation. Our bodies and looks are allowed to be commented on – whether positively or negatively – by pretty much anyone who would like to make a comment, in any circumstance. Female worth is still too often derived from looks. The way we live our lives and conduct our relationships, the way we raise our children, our choices to work or not work – particularly after becoming mothers – and our preferences and priorities, are all up for public debate. So many institutions are still set up to retaliate against us if we challenge the system.
These institutions include workplaces. Workplaces toxic to women still exist despite lots of progress made, as we’ve seen through the recent stories about Silicon Valley and other high tech companies and the stories pouring out from celebrities and actresses about the entertainment industry. We elected a president who has an undeniable track record of disrespecting women and who has made decisions like the one to roll back the birth control mandate, citing religious freedom.
Ah. There’s an aspect of this system at large that no one wants to talk about. What about our churches and religious institutions? The ones that quite often preach that men should be the spiritual leaders, that women are not necessarily equal to men but rather glorified “helpers” to men (as [male] religious leaders say in an avuncular manner while citing Genesis), that women should submit to men (often caveated that women should submit to one man, their husbands, as though this does not still set up a very specific power dynamic).
I am generalizing in the paragraphs above, and I want to acknowledge that of course not all individuals and institutions are active or complicit in this. But still – in a broad sense, every facet of life that a woman might participate in perpetuates a male-centric power dynamic.
Whether directly or indirectly, women have been taught that there is a natural order to things, and though they may move up within the system, moving up does not come without consequences, without payment to those in power. And those in power are immune to consequences (or at least used to be), as we have seen in the Larry Nassar case, where the USA Gymnastics leadership’s failure to do anything about Nassar despite clearly being aware of his actions was exposed by girls who had become women who were silent no more. These are the brave women who were willing to take a hammer to the wall of immunity and found it wasn’t as indestructible as they were coerced into believing.
I am amazed and humbled by the women who have begun to speak up, or who have spoken up before and are speaking out again, who have always known that this wasn’t right, who are now experiencing the support in many cases (but still not all) that they always should have had.
I am not worried for men in general, as I know some are. Some cry “witch hunt” or worry for the world their boys will grow up in. They think this is an indictment of men. They think the innocent will get dragged into the fight.
But I haven’t yet heard an accusation against a man who didn’t deserve it. My basic philosophy is, if you’re not an asshole, you won’t be accused of being one. Even Aziz Ansari’s actions, regardless of what you believe about the allegations themselves, were not those of a man acting respectfully toward a woman. My life is full of good men – most of the men I’ve ever known are good men – as I know is true of many. That’s not the point. The point is that there are a lot of men out there who either are NOT good or, in less extreme cases, are woefully misinformed, many of whom are in positions of power, many of whom are perpetuating a status quo that people are now challenging as damaging, sometimes oppressive, and ultimately wrong.
The world our boys will grow up in is a world where asserting dominance, sexual or otherwise, over women won’t be tolerated, where society will teach them that men and women are equal, and women are to be respected. And that is something to be celebrated.
The rules of this life should be simple. We all were created equal: male, female, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual, questioning, black, white, or somewhere in between, foreign or domestic, young or old. We all deserve the right to make our own decisions about how to live our lives, free from coercion or judgment.
This all ultimately comes down to a relatively simple concept: respect – respect for the people who live life alongside you, respect for your superiors AND your subordinates, respect for all people you encounter, regardless of the circumstances. And although the #metoo movement and its peripheral issues are mostly about men respecting women, we all could benefit from a little more respect toward each other in this world.
We are living in the midst of another civil rights reckoning, and I am excited. Though I am angry and saddened by the system in place, I am inspired and hopeful as it begins to crack and give way to something new and beautiful.