Friday, December 29, 2017

Let’s Create a New Vision of “Me Too” in 2018

Looking back at 2017, it’s impossible not to notice how issues of gender inequality, harassment and sexual violence were in the forefront of our consciousness throughout the year…culminating in mid-October with a viral #MeToo twitterstorm that was a rallying cry against gender based violence. #MeToo didn’t emerge from a vacuum… for several years there’s been a steady increase in our society’s awareness and concern about sexual violence. The accounts of sexual assault, harassment, groping, and discrimination have garnered headlines. The names and stories of respected men who are also perpetrators remain in our consciousness because we’ve given these issues more attention than ever before— Ray Rice, Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, Jameis Winston, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Brett Ratner, Louis C.K., US gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, Bryan Singer, Kevin Spacey. Concepts like “locker room talk”, consent, intimidation, power and privilege have migrated from HR offices to boardrooms, to locker rooms to water coolers and to the family dinner table…and the magnitude of this problem is shameful. 

The voices of courageous survivors sharing their experiences has made it clear that sexual victimization is more pervasive than we’ve ever acknowledged. It’s not the occasional perpetrator who ‘behaves badly’. We’ve got people in positions of power in sports, education, politics, entertainment, tech-everywhere- who routinely commit acts of gender based violence…. and we look the other way. There will always be people who choose to victimize; our problem is that we are a society that tacitly condones these behaviors when the person committing the acts is well-liked or important or talented or successful. Where we go from here?

The solution lies with all of us. We have the power and responsibility to change the norms that allow sexual violence to continue. As these public figures have been exposed for harassing, intimidating or perpetrating sexual assault, it’s also come to light that their colleagues were often aware of these behaviors… but rarely confronted them. Even if they personally abhorred these behaviors, their silence condoned them. Imagine if instead, they’d confronted or exposed the behaviors….there might be far fewer individuals responding with #MeToo. Imagine if fathers, coaches, and friends gave voice to the importance of respect and consent. Most men do not commit acts of sexual aggression… yet we tolerate a social norm of toxic masculinity that reveres the conquest. What if instead, men and women fostered positive social norms that celebrated equality, choice, and communication as hallmarks of masculinity?
One of my favorite symbols of hope in the path toward social change comes from a recent rape case. Brock Turner, better known as the Stanford swimmer, was in the process of sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster. Two men on bicycles saw the act, interrupted it and chased him down. The young women who survived his assault sleeps with a drawing of two bicycles over her bed… a reminder that any one of us can be a hero for someone.

Together we can end relationship and sexual abuse. The MeToo I’d like to see in the future is not the voices of more courageous survivors telling their stories… but a commitment from each of us to say “Me Too” in taking action to end sexual violence.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

To the god of doorways... and noticing the silence

The Roman god Janus was the god of doorways, transitions, and new beginnings. It's fitting that the our first month was named in his honor, because we spend those first days of the new year contemplating where we've been, where we'd like to be and sometimes making resolutions to help us achieve those goals.

Looking back at 2016, I'm struck by how much the issues of sexual harassment, domestic violence, and sexual assault have dominated coverage of news, sports, Hollywood, politics, even the tech world. These conversations aren't totally new; 2014 seems so long ago when Ray Rice's infamous act of domestic violence was captured on video, doesn't it? Yet, the cadence and depth of covering these stories seemed to increase significantly in 2017, culminating with the #MeToo campaign that went viral with thousands of women disclosing their own stories of sexual harassment or sexual victimization. 2017 was a year of reducing the silence and stigma of sexual victimization, and recognizing the strength of survivors who are willing to tell these very personal and traumatic stories to help us understand the magnitude of the problem, so we can create change.
In fact, Time's person of the year is a group of women whose courage in discussing their own experiences of victimization, opened the floodgates on twitter as other women told their stories. MeToo isn't new; Tarana Burke created the MeToo campaign back in 2007. What's different is the willingness to tell these accounts, to listen nonjudgmentally, and to accept that we all are a part of the problem when we don't notice, speak up, or intervene. So Time is heralding the courage of those voices create change... but look closely at the bottom right corner of the magazine cover.  Did you notice the elbow? Melissa Chan of Time explains,  

"It belongs to an anonymous young hospital worker from Texas — a sexual harassment victim who fears that disclosing her identity would negatively impact her family.
She is faceless on the cover and remains nameless inside TIME’s red borders, but her appearance is an act of solidarity, representing all those who are not yet able to come forward and reveal their identities."
And that's the doorway we are all standing in. We've brought the issue of gender based violence into our consciousness...  many survivors still are haunted by their victimization... but the fear that constrains them today is what would happen if they gave voice to their stories of victimization. Those who nod knowingly, but who don't tell their own stories outnumber the many who have said #MeToo. May 2018 bring us out of the doorway to a place where They Too can feel safe.
If you or someone you know
has experienced relationship or sexual abuse,
or if you or someone you know is struggling because of the media coverage of sexual violence, talking to an advocate can help.
Call Wellspring's hotline at 518.587.8188