Sometimes a picture paints a 1,000 words but sometimes 1,000 words are needed to paint the picture. If you’ve met me or ever read anything here, you know I’m a pretty passionate person. And those passions run not just for the good, fun and exciting things in life, but also allow me to rail against the bad, the unjust, and the evil in the world when needed. THIS is one of those railing moments.
If you’ve been on Facebook recently you’ve seen the mass posts of “ME TOO”. This is a social awareness effort by women to show how pervasive sexual attacks and harassment is in our society. And it’s working.
At first I thought the numbers would be pretty low – those willing to be vulnerable and real. But as I’ve watched, more and more of my friends, coworkers and strangers have stepped forward. And then more. And even more. And then came the one that really hit me – a friend of my daughter.
This is a girl I watched grow up. Sweet, silly, loves music and art, friendly to a fault and all around fantastic. A woman who is only 22 and trying to live her life. And she posted “Me Too”. What the hell, world?!
And then fear gripped me. What if that had been my daughter to post that? What if it had been my son’s 16-year-old girlfriend? What if, heaven forbid, someday it’s my future granddaughter? And I screamed “NO MORE!!”
Inside I was screaming as I painted this. Slashed and threw paint. Painful colors. Colors to represent women of different ages, of different skin color, of different looks and sizes. It was the angriest I’ve ever been in front of my easel and yet it isn’t enough. It cannot be the only thing I do. I want to scream and cry and throw things. My chest hurts with the rage and pain inside. And every time I look at this image, I scream again.
NO MORE NO MORE NO MORE!!
Too many women have stayed silent for too long. We’ve let our attackers get away with what they did. We blame ourselves. We internalize the pain. We think we’re unworthy of anything different. We change how we look, how we dress, how we act to avoid the harassment and degradation from men. We think we are the ones who need to change… but we don’t. And it’s time we tell men…
It’s time to take up our power. It’s time to strike back. It’s time to stand up and say “You will not do this any more!”
I watched a scene unfold online this morning as a friend publicly shamed a teenage boy for the way he broke up with her daughter (in truth, it was REALLY bad). Part of me cried at the “bullying” tactic by the mom.
“He’s only a boy!” I thought. “He can change.”
I didn’t think it was fair as an adult that we should call out a child for his behavior in such a way. But, if not like that, how do we handle it? And what will truly make him change? Even when caught out by this parents for his behavior, his apology was half-hearted and narcissistic. He was still laughing about it and bragging to his friends on social media how he treated that young girl. Maybe public shaming is the only way to get through to him…and to others.
Unfortunately, I can’t publicly shame all those that have hurt me. I can’t let my children read the things that have happened to me over the years or who did them. I can’t put my job at risk or my art business. I can’t put my life at risk. I’m simply not that brave.
But, I can be vulnerable. I can be real. I can be honest about my life since sexual assaults – yes, multiple. The first when I was 11. I can share what these acts do to a woman. What they did to me.
Since the first time it happened, I questioned my worth as a female…as a human being. I began to think sex was the only thing I was good for. That I had no worth on this planet if I wasn’t putting out. That thought still swims in my head to this day, over 30 years later. I still fight with being a (beautiful?) woman and thinking that’s all I need to be to be accepted in the world. How smart I am, how good I am at my job, how well I write or paint or sing – none of that matters if I don’t also look good. If I don’t appeal to men. If I don’t flirt and make them feel wanted and feed their egos, none of what I actually do or think or am will ever amount to anything. That I have to play the game of cat-and-mouse and being direct is a bad thing. That I have to accept the way men talk to me, the way men look at me, the way men treat me, in order for my life to have meaning.
That without their approval, their blessing and their acceptance, I am nothing.
And it’s not just me. This is what many other women are subjected to as well. And worse. Physical scars. Emotional scars. All things we will never completely overcome.We can grow stronger. Harder. Colder even. But completely healing – overcoming – forgiving and being at complete peace? I don’t know that it’s possible in a world where so many women are crying out “ME TOO”.
So what do we do?
I have no damn idea. Not a freaking clue. I know I personally can try to raise two good solid gentlemen. Men who see women for their worth, not their bodies. Men who would rather hurt themselves then ever see a woman they know in any sort of pain. REAL men.
But as the world around them shows them “real men” who degrade women, who are praised for being rude (“it’s just a JOKE, mom” is a common phrase in my house) and who get away with assault and harassment, it’s damn hard to convince them to be otherwise.
I go back to that incident this morning. I’m going to guess that boy’s parents never directly told him that his thoughts and actions were acceptable. But, did they tell him he was wrong? Did they model what WAS acceptable through their own words and actions? Did they turn off the TV when the actors are doing inappropriate things? Did they explain why someone should NOT have gotten away with rape or domestic violence or even harassment when it’s on the news? Did they do all a parent could to raise their son “right”?
Sometimes just combating society’s views before my children feels like a full-time job. The constant barrage of anger and violence and hatred makes me want to pack them off to a deserted island. And to hear them casually spout off the word “rape” in a conversation (not about sex) rips a hole in me. And makes me feel like another form of failure. Because I can’t stand the thought of my own sons ever doing something to hurt a woman. I would feel like a failure to my gender.
So what do we do?
I don’t know. And I wish I had the answer.