In October of 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted a suggestion to all women ‘if all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’. Hundreds of thousands of women have since shown the world the magnitude of this problem in the hashtag #metoo, trending up to this day. During that time, this hashtag has taken down some of the most powerful men in industries such as film, the arts, politics, academia and more recently the writing world.
This is powerful stuff. I agonized over picking this as a topic for my blog but felt after months of deliberating that I needed to speak up and say my piece. I wanted to encourage and tell women, that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that finally, we, as women, are being listened to. Enduring in silence, shaking our heads in resignation at yet another wolf whistle, or lurid comment about breasts at work or the pat on the bum would be a thing of the past.
Some women would speak out, accusations against their own kind about dressing inappropriately, or speaking out of turn, incurring the ire of men, cast in the role of gods that were benevolent when in a good mood, but turning nasty when caught in the wrong moment. Mayim Bialik, child actress, was one. (see her op-ed in the New York Times here) She wrote in an article soon after Milano’s call-to-arms, that she had never been harassed because she took self-protecting steps to prevent this - always dressing appropriately, ensuring that she was never in a position to be harassed. It took some detailing and constructing to manage that, but she did it.. It’s the reality of the situation, she opines. In a perfect world, women should be able to act however they want. But, it’s not a perfect world.
Anger surged against her for blaming women rather than men for the sexual harassment. Would it have been different if we took care not to entice the men? I don’t agree with what she says. Studies have shown that the sexual assault has little or nothing to do with sex, but everything to do with power. But I understand where she is coming from.
For years I did the same. I dressed ‘decently’, wasn’t too overt in my behaviors, I played the Chinese card well - shy, retiring, obedient. When I did speak up and stood my ground, I was treated with disdain by the powers that be (always men) because I had dared step out of line. The rules were drawn by men, and the rules stated that you shut up and put up with it. I was not being rewarded for calling them out. I learned quickly enough that in order to progress in the world, standing up and fighting your ground was not rewarded. I was protecting myself every day, intentionally or not.
Could I have searched for a better environment? Get out of the one that I was in? It seems not, from the #metoo trend. It pervades every facet of our lives, every industry, every job prospect.
Now, what, you ask? Great that this is all coming to light but now what? Now, the healing can begin. Not just for women, but for men. We have to re-write an entire order of how things are done, how behaviors are accepted. Men are asking, is it ok to ask a woman out? What constitutes sexual harassment? How do I approach a woman without being called out in a #metoo twitter post?
It’s time for women to take the mantle and LEAD in this call-to-arms, to show them what we are made of and what we want. It is time to teach our children the right way to behave, to grow feminist boys and strong women.
We don’t want a world like this one, but with roles reversed. I hope we as a gender aren’t like that. I certainly don’t. What I want is an equal role between men and women, that we regard each other as human beings, not gender specific traits we presume to know and to take advantage of. A friend once said, “I just want to be selected because I am the best person for the job, not the best woman for the job, the best person.” Once upon a time, I thought that was not possible to be gender blind. And given that men are almost always the one determining this, how do we put on the blinkers and make it fair?
There is still more to be done. The cultural changes in certain institutions will not come immediately. But what a great start! The world is sitting up and listening, and we need to stand in solidarity and speak. Where do we begin? Right at the beginning. Ask yourself, what do you want? And what could you do? We need to keep the momentum going, not let it fizzle out. I’ve recently started a local women’s group, where we can get together once a month to talk about the issues faced by women. A kind of a bookclub without the books! We talk about everything from gender roles at home and at work, to raising children, to recipes, career options, to best resources for work, play, family life. Maybe it is long overdue, but the sisterhood is perhaps a group we as women all need. To get it going takes effort, but if we keep on at it, we build each other up, and not tear each other down. In time, we also talked about including the men in the conversations we have, so that they don’t feel alienated, resentful and unheard. We too felt all those things when we weren’t included, and we certainly don’t want history repeating itself. I see it as building a different world, to better our lives now, but also for our future generations – boys and girls.
I hope this helps a little for those who are struggling to make sense of all of this.