I can't help weighing in on the news cycle over the past few weeks. The number of men being finally held accountable for sexual harassment and assault is making me dizzy and ecstatic (with respect to those women who are being triggered, I know from personal experience that can be pretty intense and awful). I wrote about sexual harassment in the workplace in 2011 on the blog in this post, and why it is easier to speak out when you are finished training than when you are in training. I haven't had any encounters with harassment in the workplace since then, but I can't help but think it's my professional standing and reputation that prevents me from this behavior - my word could be a lot more damning at my hospital than many women around here without as much power, at least in society's perception.
Every day a new scandal erupts. The quiet woman's network that tries, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing to warn each other of predators finally seems to have a voice worth listening to. One day Hollywood producers, next the local legislatures, television journalists, magazine editors, the art world, movie stars - the momentum against misogyny is at an all time high. I hope it continues. No workplace on the planet should hide and condone this type of behavior yet it is ubiquitous. I like to think there are a lot of serious offenders out there shaking in their boots, waiting to be called out and fired, dare I hope also prosecuted for past misdeeds.
I have a lot of female friends and I've heard a lot of stories of assault and harassment over the years. Some subtly angering me, others shocking me to tears - all whispered in confidence. Every single one left scars and doubt and shame. I have a 14 year old daughter who makes me proud. She is so much more confident than I was at her age, but I still fear for her. Enough to tell her not to drink anything that is handed to her at a party - it has to be a container she opens or brought with her. I warn her about sexual abuse and harassment and talk about the buddy system. I want her to enjoy her teenage years but I also want her to be on guard and to know what actions by men are not normal, and that nothing she tells me about alcohol or drugs or men or any situation she might fall into at any point in her life will make me love her any less.
The news cycle is giving me hope that society will protect my children (I know there are female perpetrators and male victims but their numbers are much less) in a way that many generations of children and women have not been protected in the past, only hushed and shamed. Every day I breathe a sigh of relief that women are continuing to be heard. I hope having to summon bravery to report this type of behavior will someday be a thing of the past.
I read a story in the New York Times years ago by a woman from another country who was telling a story about being a victim of sexual assault. It happened to her (gang rape if I recall) and when she told her family they hugged her and cried and asked how they could help her. It happened also to a girl down the road whose family shamed her and labeled her an outcast. She became a respected professional in society with a family. The girl down the road committed suicide - she burned herself to death. That story had a profound impact on me. If we just listen to the women around us, believe them, how much higher could we lift them up?