One of the experiences in my history that stands out the most today is when I worked with a man who thought it would be funny to get into the elevator and jump up and down to watch my breasts move. At that time, I got incredibly angry over the harassment because it was also a time in my life where I was riding the subway for an hour or more each way on my commute. And it seemed, at that time, that nearly every ride was an opportunity for some man to rub his parts on me. Under those circumstances, my coworker kind of got more than he bargained for on that day. I told him that if he did something like that again, I would choke the life out of him. You might be thinking that’s kind of an extreme response and I might be agreeing with you. What it has left me wondering today is how are all the me toos showing up in the world after experiencing sometimes daily harassment or even worse?
I’ve watched lots of different women be harassed over the years and I’ve seen the gamut of reactions to this harassment. I know a woman who makes a joke of it and laughs it off. I know another woman who, when catcalled on the street, uses the opportunity to strut her stuff even sassier. I also know some women who flat out pretend it doesn’t exist. They write it off as part of the way things are and that there really isn’t anything wrong with it. When I have the opportunity to have real conversations with these women away from the fear of harassment, all of their bodies say the same thing. Their bodies say “we’re tired of it and it’s a heavy burden to carry to be scared all the time.” The fear is real. When my coworker jumped in the elevator that day, I wasn’t scared of him. I wasn’t necessarily scared of the guys that were molesting me on the train. What I was and remain scared of is the world in which we live that allows this to happen and to persist despite the clear evidence that it is wrong and causes significant harm. I am scared of the guy or guys out there who take it to the next level. The one who goes from rubbing himself on ladies on the train to exposing himself or to feeling emboldened enough to sexually assault a woman in a more violent fashion.
What toll is this ongoing fear taking on us? Fear is sort of like a gremlin. If you give it nourishment it will sprout and grow into many other baby gremlins. They’ll be gremlins in your bed and gremlins in your kitchen and what started as a benign fuzzy little thing will become an evil entity seemingly out of your control. Fear is that intrusive in its ever present-ness. Similar to carbon monoxide, we often times are not aware of it until it’s too late.
There are things we can do to take care of ourselves, to take care of other women and to take care of our girls. Here’s three of the top three things I think we can all (not gender specific) begin to do to combat this particular societal gremlin.
1 – Talk and connect about it. The me too movement has given us the perfect opportunity to create community around this issue. We can talk about sexual harassment/assault/abuse in our families with our friends and in our communities. We can visit the library or similar community gathering spot and see if they have space to have a group weekly or monthly where women come together to tell their stories. There’s so much power in telling our stories. This group may begin to problem solve and start to create a community that may be even slightly safer. This kind of coming together brings forth awareness and any therapist will tell you that all change begins with awareness.
2 – When you see it happening, don’t let it happen. This action is the most personal of the ones I’m suggesting. Not letting it happen is different for everyone and it truly depends on where that person is in their own journey. For me not letting it happen is showing up as prepared as I can for the traumatized women that trust me to help her. For someone else, not letting it happen may just be that they make an anonymous tip to the harassment line at their work or say a silent prayer for the victim or for themselves. Every little bit of doing helps to shrink the problem.
3 – Raise our girls and our boys equally. Raising our children in an equal way is where the real change happens. Raise them in homes where mom takes out the trash and dad is the stay at home parent. Raise them in homes where the gender terms are more neutral and the colors are less distinct. Raise them in homes where you, as the parent, have the hard conversations about the realities of what the world expects of them as a boy or as a girl and how what they should expect of themselves to be decent humans may be quite different.
Even though I remain scared, I am also optimistic. We as a nation and as a global community are beginning to no longer pretend these things aren’t happening. We are having me too moments on Facebook and women’s marches in even the smallest of cities. I also have a great deal of faith in how lots of us are raising our children to recognize and put emphasis on what is similar between us instead of what is different. When we begin to habitually notice what we have in common across gender, race, culture and sexual orientation, we are bound by our common humanity and so much less likely to hurt each other.
Lydia Kickliter, LPC
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