I had not yet chimed in on the #MeToo movement. I am not sure my experience adds to the discourse. It is a lot to share for someone like me, as run-of-the-mill as I feel like my experience has been. Mostly, I have been mulling over what precisely I think about the movement.
There are clear examples of outrageous behavior that require improved accountability- the college student who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, for example. Someone being drugged and waking up to a nightmare. In addition, though,there are also ambiguous encounters every day between young adults who are figuring out their approach to sex and to relationships. Who are experimenting with drinking, perhaps, or with drugs. Learning where their boundaries are.
Speaking as a mother of a college age boy, I do hope we remember those early and confusing days as we move toward better understanding each other. It takes a long time to master the language of intimacy. We give and receive mixed signals while we learn.
Setting aside force, which is never okay, there is also a learning curve when it comes to the difference between flirtation and seduction. Persuasion and coercion. What we’re comfortable with and what feels like violation. I’ve been married for over twenty years, but that was not a clearcut and straightforward journey, as I recall.
Anger feeds anger.
The tone of some of this wave of #MeToo feels like it may unintentionally swamp the need for frequent acceptance of the shortcomings of our life partners. It may replace that necessary understanding with reasonable, righteous, yet damaging anger. I wonder what this current outrage might do to the concept of lifelong relationships.
I am fortunate to be in a long-term, healthy relationship, however. If he demeaned me, insulted me, or hurt me, that would devastate me. The balance with which I write this would disappear.
I would not presume to speak to the role of forgiveness in abusive relationships. I’ve written about the tragic connection between childhood abuse and its likely effect on a convicted adult abuser. I implore anyone who’s being demeaned or threatened to get counseling and get to safety.
Not minimizing the harm done.
This may sound like I am minimizing the toll sexual harassment and sexual assault take on us as society. It may seem like I am trying to excuse it. I definitely am not.
I am emphasizing the need for us to forgive our loved ones when they let us down – not when they assault, demean, belittle or abuse us – but when our relationships momentarily derail. When their – or our – behavior is less than it could be. Within healthy limits. When a lapse is a forgivable event, not an abusive trend.
It is not my place to set that boundary for anyone else. It’s imperative to be vigilant about what healthy limits are. To protect and value ourselves. Many men are not aware how pervasive the belittling is that can lead us to undervalue ourselves or our gender. It’s difficult to hear if you’re not female.
Be an imperfect but necessary example.
So, I am speaking up. We need to teach our daughters, our friends, and anyone we influence how to value themselves. How to respond to harassment. How to guard against abuse. We need to immunize them against feeling powerless. That’s not solved by policy. although thoughtful laws about harassment and sexual assault are essential. Confidence, appropriate response and self-defense are taught, modeled, and hopefully absorbed by future generations.
Tell your #MeToo story. Here is mine.
So, with that in mind, of course, #MeToo. Harassment. #MeToo. Assault. #MeToo. Here are four examples from my life.
#MeToo: the socially inept harasser
Some encounters and offenders are simply unpleasant, inconsequential gnats who should not affect one’s otherwise happy life. For example: after college and before graduate school, I worked as a waitress in addition to my day job to better make ends meet. A guy who was a regular customer came in one night and had dinner. At the end of his meal, he said, “Will you come home with me?” I laughed and said, “Thanks, but no.” He said, “You might as well. I’m just going to go home and jack off thinking about you. So, why not come along?” I looked at him with irritated disgust and said, “And that’s why you’ll probably always eat dinner alone.”
That guy owns his abysmal, shameful, repulsive behavior. He does not deserve to have any effect on my life except to be justifiably mocked for behaving in such a gross way. It did not cross my mind I was in any way at fault. This was not in any way my problem. I thought what a sad little man he was to say such awful things to someone he barely knew.
#MeToo: the mentally ill harasser
Some harassment is scary, unpleasant, even dangerous, and a consequence of that person’s significant issues, such as mental illness. When I was in graduate school, I was followed through a drugstore by a homeless man who fondled himself while mouthing obscenities.
The security camera would have shown me hotfooting it through the pharmacy area looking for nasal spray at a frantic pace while throwing exasperated looks back at the foulmouthed irritant. Perhaps I should have been afraid. I was not. I was in a well-lit store surrounded by (regrettably oblivious) employees. Had I been worried, I would have asked for help.
Encountering someone like him was a not uncommon occurrence in New Orleans in the 90s, where people living on the street were sometimes in various states of intoxication or mental distress. In my mind, he was not a threat. He was a sadness.
At the time, I did not think of his action as harassment. I thought of it as a lack of self-control on his part, a blindness to boundaries brought on by whatever demons he faced. It did not cross my mind I was at fault in any way for his behavior. I was clear that in his mind, I was vaguely female and that sufficed for whatever odd script he was following in his head.
I did not think about other women being frightened of him. I thought about him needing medication. I thought about getting home. I may have been wrong to respond like that. I probably should have tried to get him help.
#MeToo: harassment in the workplace
Then there are the men who love power and don’t much like or respect women. A CEO at a company where I worked in the 90s hosted regular marketing offsites to report on what worked and did not and strategize on what we planned to do next.
He had a private plane and flew many of us to and from these meetings. The marketing managers were primarily women. Upon our return from one offsite, he walked up to us as we were lined up to leave and gave each of us a kiss. On the lips.
I’m no shrinking violet. Yet I let it happen. Words cannot express how repellent that man was, and still is, to me. But putting my job on the line by calling out his behavior was a risk/return ratio that, at that time, was not in my favor. Each of us knew he did that because he could. Not because he was attracted to any of us. It was an impulse, completely impersonal and completely about him. A casual expression of what he thought of, were he given to introspection or analysis, as dominance.
It never happened again. None of us would have let the opportunity present itself. That’s how women used to handle situations like that. They might happen once, but we would be intrepid about making sure they could not again.
I definitely mishandled that incident. It is obviously not enough to have avoided being in the situation again. Because a guy like that was not just saying his desires were more important than his employees. He was also saying that women are inferior. Less powerful.
My colleagues and I let that perception remain. I knew I could go somewhere else, continue my career trajectory, and finesse any future encounters like that one. That’s precisely what I did.
But people like him should not be in charge of companies. Unfortunately, narcissists can be really good at building companies to a certain level, so they’re rampant in upper management.
#MeToo: the assault
Then, there is assault. A young man broke into my apartment in New Orleans when I was in graduate school. I awoke to him standing over me, telling me he had a gun and he was going to rape me, then kill me.
I was lucky. The calculus in that situation went thusly. “I’d rather be dead than be raped by this man.”
So, I asked to see his gun. He told me to shut up. I repeated, “Show me your gun.” He said “No.” I said, “You don’t have a gun.”
Driven by adrenaline, I jumped up, picked him up and held him against the wall. It turns out the powerful, menacing shadow in the middle-of-the-night darkness was actually a skinny teenager, probably 110 pounds dripping wet, who’d likely taken something to give himself courage he should not have had.
Unfortunately, I lived by myself, though. Once he was up against the wall, I had nowhere to put him. So we scrambled and scuffled toward my front door of my small apartment, and he pushed the screen door open and escaped.
I called the police, then woke my neighbors up. The 90s New Orleans police were not particularly sympathetic. They actually laughed and told me “You should have beat the shit out of him.”
He and his buddies came back that night, slowly driving up and down the street. In the early morning hours, they slashed my neighbor’s tires.The police did not come back. They were a busy bunch, and, as I’d seen, rather indifferent.
So, I moved to Metairie ten or so miles away, to a secure apartment complex. I finished my time at Tulane commuting instead of walking.
#MeToo: the consequences
That incident changed me. I reflexively lock my doors now. I know how to use a handgun. I am wary.
But I am not afraid. I was lucky because the violence I encountered was not overpowering enough to rise to a level I could not overcome. Thousands of women have endured so much worse.
I was also lucky because my parents raised me to assume I could resolve whatever difficulty I encountered. To not to be afraid. To defend myself. To overcome. To always be thinking about solving the problem.
To avoid situations that put me at needless risk – advice I did not always follow when younger, I’m afraid. Many of us have to learn common sense.
Even with that confidence and eventual common sense, though, the main reason I am not afraid is because I have not yet encountered a situation I could not resolve. That is just the luck of the draw. Which is why #MeToo is important.
Great parents and subsequent good judgment provide tools for a woman’s defenses and her ability to assess whatever happens to her from a healthy perspective.. They do not, however, stop sexual violence. They do not stop sexual harassment.
We need to address the impetus that drives some men to act this way. (And some women – I have seen the men saying #MeToo.)
Men, wonderful men
I’ll close this by noting that I respect and adore men. I treasure the deep connections that are my most sacred relationships in addition to my bond with my mother: that of husband and wife, son and mother, daughter and father, brother and sister. I have spent my life surrounded by extraordinary men.
Old-fashioned strength, protectiveness, gallantry are honorable and precious things. #IHearYou – they say, and they really do hear us. They listen. We should not throw them out because we want to get rid of the toxic behavior of violent men. The puerile behavior of immature men. The predatory behavior of sociopathic men.
The dance between the sexes is an essential treasure worth preserving as well. The subtle, sensual mutual admiration that is flirtation at its best: respectful, mischievous, complimentary and harmlessly entertaining. It is an art worth keeping.
We can have all of that and still fix this. So, with a focus on solving the problem in addition to just calling out the scope of it, and with an abundance of love and respect for the fineness of the men and women in my life – #MeToo.Read More