Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#MeToo.


Me too. But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know if you're a regular reader of this column. You already know about a handful of experiences I've had, starting at the age of 8, where men took advantage of their position of privilege and assumed superiority to make extraordinarily inappropriate and lewd sexual suggestions, because I shared them a year ago this very week in The Trouble With Boobs. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it again, because it is just as relevant - if not more relevant - today.

And of course you know why it's so relevant, unless you've been held hostage in Afghanistan for the last few years or have spent time running for your life from a raging wildfire recently. If so, you're excused. But pretty much everyone else has heard by now about the rich and powerful man in the entertainment history who was caught on audiotape saying some very sexually inappropriate things, followed by scores of women coming out of the woodwork to say that they had been assaulted and pressured sexually by this same man. The fallout from the exposure of that tape has been massive. 

For Harvey Weinstein, famous Hollywood producer and studio boss who was caught red handed trying to pressure a woman into a sexual situation with him in his hotel room, the fallout has included the opening of several criminal investigations, being fired from his job, losing his wife, coming under fire from his children, being expelled from the Academy, and finally landing in a rehab facility to be treated for sex addiction. The fallout for Weinstein has landed squarely and solidly onto his shoulders in a spectacular fashion.

Oh, I'm sorry. Did you think I was talking about that other famous rich and powerful man in entertainment who was caught on tape talking about pressuring women sexually, followed by scores of women saying that they had also been assaulted and sexually harassed by this man? The fallout for that guy was being promoted to President of the United States by the electoral college (I think it's important to always remember that 'we the people' didn't elect Donald Trump. By several million votes, 'we' elected Hillary Clinton. The electoral college elected Donald Trump). The fallout for Pussygate has fallen directly onto us. Or, to stick to the theme of this column, it's been forced upon us like a tongue down the throat after a bad date.

But there is some good news. At least that's how I'm going to look at it. Bear with me. I'll get there, eventually.

In the past, many men accused of sexual assault have blamed the victim. In fact victims have been blamed for raping and abuse for eons. Maybe its because - caught red handed -Weinstein admitted to his behavior, admitted it was wrong, and never tried to blame his victims. He is (for the most part) accepting total responsibility for his actions. But the Weinstein situation has opened the floodgates to a wave of women who are coming forward with stories of their own sexual assault. It's shining a big spotlight on just how prevalent sexual assault, abuse, harrassment and humiliation is.


Actress Alyssa Milano is credited for getting the #MeToo movement to go viral on Twitter and Facebook less than a week ago. Since then, other Hollywood heavies have come forward with their own stories of sexual assault in the entertainment industry. Jennifer Lawrence. Reese Witherspoon. Angelina Jolie. Jessica Chastain. Gwyneth Paltrow. Rosanna Arquette. Cara Delevingne. Lady Gaga. Rose McGowan (especially Rose McGowan).

But what's more important is the millions - yeah, millions - of other women who are speaking up and sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment. The official statistics say that 1 in 6 American women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. But looking at the staggering number of my own friends sharing their #MeToo stories, I think those statistics are off by a long shot. Especially because women I'm close to that have privately shared horrific stories of sexual abuse (especially by trusted family members) have not made those stories public by sharing. And that's ok. Its not ok to pressure women into sexual situations they aren't comfortable with, and its not ok to pressure them into publicly sharing something that causes them great pain if they don't want to. I even joked on Facebook that it might be easier to ask women to post a status saying #NeverMe to make easier to see how few people haven't been assaulted or harassed (so far exactly two of my acquaintances have done that).

In the meantime, I've seen #MeToo posts from Julie. Hilary. Gretchen. Kate. Buffy. Lisa. Haley. Lyn. Melyssa. Linda. Jennifer. Chellie. Ashley. China. Sue. Keri. Quincy. Gini. Jean Marie. Ursula. Kimberly. Carrie. Noelle. Amber. Rhonda. Laurie. Angela. Pogo. Sarah. Mimi. Anna. Dee. Lori. Francie. Jan. Brandi. Laura. Amy. Danica. Debra. Rachel. Judy. Jenny. Maggie. Dana. Dondi. And another Linda, another Amber, another Angela, another Julie and another Jan. By the time you read this I know the list will have grown longer. And each of their posts are followed by a long stream of hundreds of comments echoing similar situations.

A few of their stories:

"I was 21 I had just graduated from community college with my certificate in cosmetology and was a brand new bride.  As I stepped into the hallway en route to the bathroom, the owner of the neighboring business also entered the hallway. We exchanged our typical morning greetings when suddenly he stopped and turned back towards me. "So, where were you yesterday?" he asked me. "Remember? It was my birthday so I took the afternoon off?" He smiled a strange smile and then stepped in close to me. In an instant, both hands reached for the wall behind my head as he pushed his pelvis and entire body into mine, trapping me against the wall. He leaned in and pressed his lips hard into mine before he thrust his tongue in my mouth. After a 2 - 3 second assault, he stepped back and with a gleam in his eye said something to the effect of, "yeah, I forgot to give you that. Happy Birthday." I was terrified, I was disgusted, I was humiliated and I felt dirty. And for a variety of reasons, I internalized the situation as being my fault. That somehow I had earned the right to be violated. And because of this, I told one person but then kept my silence. This was not the first time I was sexually assaulted in my life. Nor was it my last."

"First time I was 12 and blamed myself. Hard to write this." 

"In 7th grade I was lying on a family beach in Hawaii with my best friend, who noticed that a guy about 12 feet away was watching us and masturbating. We got up immediately and wrapped ourselves in our beach towels and walked away grossed out.
* In 8th grade the dad I babysat for drunk-drove me home and put his hand on my leg and tried to kiss me. The next week when his wife called me to sit again, I said no and told her why.
* In 9th grade there was a classmate who in the hallways grabbed girls by the pussy. He got away with that.
* In 10th grade I worked in a country store on a poultry farm, and the guy who delivered eggs from the barns told me if I didn't watch out he would take me into the freezer. I told the boss's wife, and he was banned from the store."

"I still remember the very first time I became aware of sexual harassment. I was very young and my mom was pushing me around the grocery store in the shopping cart. I began to notice her behaving oddly as she kept looking over her shoulder and tried to choose aisles in the store that this strange man was not already occupying. But he continued to follow us around the store, exposing himself to us from beneath his long coat.
And in case you think this is an isolated incident, something similar happened only a couple years ago when I was on a date with a 41-year-old man. When I politely turned down his multiple advances after our date he proceeded to pull his penis out of his pants and tried to force it on me."

"I was one of the 40% of employees that were subject to this in the National Park Service. In addition to sexual harassment, I faced extreme workplace bullying because of being a woman. When I fought back, work life because ugly and no one even at the regional or national levels would take my complaints seriously. "It's just part of working in a man's world," is what I heard a lot. Bull$hit! I hope my daughter never has to deal with this and I will raise my son to never participate in that kind of misogynistic culture."

"I was on Canner St. walking from my apartment toward Yale Divinity School to start my shift at the Circulation Desk at the YDS Library when it happened. Walked 2 more blocks to school, and decided to call the campus Police in case it would keep the guy from doing it to someone else. I still think of walking this block. That day the campus Police took a report. That was that.
I was/am so lucky to have such strong support structures in my life. It is my responsibility to teach my son to treat all people with respect."

I did say there was some good news in all this, right? OK. Take a look at the last sentence of the last two stories. These are women with sons. Women who are empowered and motivated - with loving, woke partners fortunately - to raise their sons to be better people than the generations of men before them. Because that is what it's going to take. To raise our boys to be respectful of others' sexuality, and raise our girls to be confident that they are worthy of that respect.

I believe we're already shifting in that direction, because as I talk to my daughter about sexual trends in college, she tells me that it is becoming the norm, rather than the exception, to get an acknowledgement of mutual consent before two (or more) people engage in sexual activity. That gives me great hope. I think we have the ability to raise our children to understand that they can achieve success in life without being coerced or forced into sexual situations they don't want to be in, and that they can achieve success without forcing or coercing others into a sexual situation. It's happening already, we just need to keep the ball rolling.

Also, another important hashtag is starting to make the rounds on social media, and it's an important one. #ItWasMe. Men who's eyes have been seriously opened by reading the stories shared by women around the nation are now reflecting on their own sexual history, and owning up to behaviors that they've always known were wrong. A couple of my male friends have expressed just that over the past few days, and I hope they understand that it doesn't make me think worse of them. Instead, I feel they have become more enlightened, and are ready to be part of the solution. For that, I respect them more. Here's a few examples:

"I have touched without consent. I have been complicit in my silence. I have pushed people past their comfort zones. I have objectified women. I have benefited from a misogynist culture. I am sorry. #ItWasMe"

"I am so proud of all the woman in my life publicly declaring "me too."
I struggled with whether I would post my own. Publicly admitting victimization is so hard, and I stand with the women who have come forward and those that haven't. But, honestly I think as a man its more important to say "IT WAS ME." Its a harder thing to admit. But this is our part as men. Patriarchy gives us a privilege that women will never know. And while I am a gay man, I know I have harassed woman; even if inadvertent, unintentional, joking, or in kinship. So for every bra I unsnapped, or ass I've slapped, or comment I have made on appearance. For every "hey slut," or "hey hoe", or sexual joke... I am sorry. This a behavior that paves the way for worse harassment. Its a new world and time to change."

 "I'm seeing many brave women (and some men) posting "Me Too" signifying that they have been victims of sexual harassment or abuse. Although I have also been harassed what stands out to me is that I have been a perpetrator. Maybe some fellas will look at their behavior as well. I'm not proud but unfortunately I HAVE."

I want to acknowledge that this is not simply a male/female issue. There are women in power who abuse it, taking sexual advantage and putting pressure on those beneath them. And the victim is not always a woman, nor a member of the opposite sex. This is a global sexual issue about not respecting boundaries.  However, since the beginning of time males have dominated the world in terms of power (white heterosexual males in particular), and although the scales have shifted somewhat to give power to others, these males still dominate the world in a position of privilege and power, and therefore still lead the way as the largest abusers of their position of power. If you don't like what I'm saying, chances are you're probably a straight white dude.

Straight white dudes, you've had your time, and look what you've done with it. The world has not become a better place with you in charge of it. I'm not saying all straight white dudes are bad people, of course. Some of my best friends are straight white dudes. I married one. But you know what he did on our first date? That man - who will be the first to admit that he is as straight and white and ape-brained as they come - asked me if he could kiss me. While sitting two feet away from me. He never touched me until he knew that I absolutely wanted to be touched by him. It wasn't unsexy, and it didn't take the fun out of it. But ultimately, it's why I married him. Because I knew he respected me enough to make absolutely sure I was cool with it, because he didn't want to fuck up the chance to be with me.

But I'm digressing a little bit again. Getting back to the point, things are shifting again right now. Women are becoming more empowered. They're still trying to figure out just how many women participated in the Women's March in January 2017, but so far their best estimate is around 4.5 million. Taylor Swift kicked some serious ass on a radio DJ who thought he could get away with grabbing hers and proved that she is not just a pretty voice, she is a strong woman who demands respect. I wonder what will happen next. Maybe next we'll be ready for a president with a vagina, instead of one who likes to grab women by the vagina. #SophiaMiller2032 #beengroomingmydaughtersince1997


The last time I wrote about sexual assault and harrassment, I couldn't curate a playlist. It just didn't seem right to set my own person humiliations to music. But this time things feel different. I guess I feel that not only am I part of a movement that is gaining ground, but we're growing bigger because even those who have never suffered - those who have been part of the problem in the past - are now joining with us, wanting to make things better in the future. So it seems like the perfect time to share a streaming #MeToo Playlist on Spotify featuring women artists with some incredibly fierce and empowering songs.

 I don't want to force it on you though. I'm just putting it out there, and hey, if you like what I'm puttin' down, think about picking it up and consenting to a good time for your ears!



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