The other day, I heard two men running for office say that their wives hadn’t had a #MeToo experience. Sadly, I don’t believe that. It’s hard to imagine that any woman and most girls living in the United States haven’t had experience with sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape. Just sit with that for a moment. Every woman and most girls. That’s truly tragic.
To be fair, when #MeToo first started trending, I was surprised by the sheer number of women coming forward to tell their stories. Seeing all the women I know – and many I don’t – write #MeToo was like a gut punch. I’m a psychologist in private practice who taught the Psychology of Women for six years yet even I didn’t grasp the enormous impact of sexual violence. It was overwhelming, made doubly so by my initial belief that I hadn’t had a #MeToo experience of my own. When I truly started thinking about it though, the memories started flowing. Some instances were so bad that I was shocked they hadn’t immediately come to mind. But that’s the point.
Women do what we have to do to survive. We keep silent (maybe if I don’t talk about it, it’ll go away) and bury our memories (if I just don’t think about it, maybe I’ll handle it better). We also tend to blame ourselves, giving us at least the illusion of control (if I had said no louder, it wouldn’t have happened). Of course, this ignores the reality that violence is about power and no one ever asks for or deserves to be abused.
Probably the most common way we live with sexual violence though is by dismissing its’ severity. It wasn’t that bad. He didn’t mean it like that. At least it was over fast. Other women have it a lot worse. This dismissal, the integration of sexual violence into the very fabric of our lives, helps most of us live in a misogynistic society without going crazy. Just imagine if we made a federal case over every catcall, lewd comment, unwanted touch or violent intrusions into our bodies from strangers but more often from family members, close friends, coworkers and adults in positions of responsibility. If we spoke up about everything, the emotional upheaval would be constant. So we don’t. Instead, we downplay our feelings and get on with it. And while this can be helpful with daily living, it also permits sexual violence to rage unchecked. Unsaid. Unfought. Acceptable.
That’s why the #MeToo movement has been so powerful. Almost overnight, sexual harassment and assault morphed from behaviors that were only whispered about to a code of conduct that’s no longer OK. Women were not only talking about their experiences but they were being believed, even celebrated as courageous. But we must be crystal clear about how this happened. It wasn’t because the thousands of women who had previously spoken out were finally believed. It wasn’t because the powers-that-be decided that it’s wrong and enough was enough. No, it was because this time, the women speaking out were celebrity women – women who mattered – those with nothing to gain and everything to lose. They were women who could not be scorned as ugly, unsuccessful, or as wanting a big payout. The sheer number of them ensured they couldn’t be just imagining things. In other words, at long last, they were women who could not be dismissed.
Maybe it’s time that we refuse dismissal too, both from others but most especially from ourselves. Maybe the Time’s Up for us to keep ignoring our pain and tolerating behaviors that are unacceptable. Maybe it’s time for us to be honest about the world in which we live. To do that, we must start at home.
I don’t doubt that the wives of the two men running for office told them they didn’t have a #MeToo moment. Perhaps it’s even true. Perhaps these two women are the rarest of creatures: women without first-hand knowledge of sexual violence of any form. But I doubt it. It’s much more likely that they’ve dismissed those memories, buried them or just didn’t want to have a difficult conversation. While I can understand that, it’s unfortunate because it leaves their husbands looking uninformed and naïve.
Men simply cannot understand our world unless we tell them and just having women in their life doesn’t cut it. In his answer to a question about #MeToo, one of the politicians joked that he’s surrounded by so many women even his dog is female. It was clearly meant as a throwaway comment but I have news for him. This is not funny and I bet the dog actually has more experience with the #MeToo movement than he does. Even she’s probably been called a bitch.