The past few days I’ve been watching the #MeToo hashtag and subsequent discussion unfold on social media, but I’ve been hesitant to join in, mainly because my experiences dramatically pale in comparison to what so many women have faced. However, I have several thoughts on this topic that keep cycling around in my brain, and I’d like to share them, so here we go.
My story isn’t one of assault, or even especially severe harassment, but one of microaggressions and limitations being put on where I can go and what I can do. My worst experience was being followed most of the way home while walking with a teammate after dark in Nepal. But I’ve had many other less dramatic instances of feeling unsettled, uneasy, unsafe. Whether those feelings were warranted or not, they spring from a constant what-if in my mind, a what-if that causes me to park close to the building when I work a closing shift at the grocery store, not run alone unless I’m in a familiar place with plenty of people around, and dutifully carry my pepper spray, just in case.
In college I strongly disliked night classes, in part because I’m a morning girl through and through, but in equal measure because a ten minute walk home becomes an eternity when you’re a female walking alone after dark. My college campus was relatively safe, but the horrors of what could possibly happen to me were always terrifying enough to make me jumpy.
One time, a female professor of mine used walking home in the dark after class as an example in a conversation with a male colleague to help him understand what women face on a regular basis. She told him to watch how his female students behaved at the end of a night class. When he did, he observed that the men packed up and left, just like they would for any other class. The women, however, took extra care in packing up, making sure they’d be prepared to run or even fight if the need arose. They then left the classroom in clusters, having carefully mapped out who was going where so they wouldn’t have to walk to parking lots and dorm rooms by themselves. As a female, scenarios like this are such a common experience that I occasionally forget that this shouldn’t have to be normal.
But then I think of all the girls in other countries who don’t even go to school for fear of sexual harassment or assault. The truly disheartening reality is that sometimes the long-term risk of them not receiving an education is even greater than the short-term risk of harassment or assault as they walk to school. And when I think of scenarios like this I snap out of my, “this is just how it is” mindset, and burn with anger for my sisters who face extreme oppression simply for being a girl.
This isn’t about guilting or shaming – not all men are monsters by any means, and calling them such diminishes their humanity – but it is about changing the narrative women have to tell. #MeToo is highlighting the real and broken world that exists here and now, in hopes that we can somehow reach for the kinder, richer, freer world that could be.
One more thing – to all the men who are showing up to this conversation, thank you. I know, both from my conversations with you and from my experiences as a member of the majority group in this nation’s conversation on race, that it can be very confusing to find where you, as a member of the power-holding group, fit in this conversation, Most of the time your role will be to show up and listen. However, there will be situations where your unique voice has power, not the corrupting, greedy kind of power, but the type of power that is a force to be reckoned with where goodness and change are concerned.
Despite all the flaws in the #MeToo conversation, I am very encouraged by the discussion that has been opened by this hashtag. I know that we cannot completely solve the problem of women being oppressed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take important steps towards encouraging their holistic well-being. So, I move forward in hope that this little blip on the radar of our advancement towards the flourishing of all human beings can be taken as a victory.