Jaron Lanier (computer philosopher who coined the term “Virtual Reality”) recently said on The Ezra Klein Show that it typically takes about a year for a movement via social media to begin facing external, “overwhelming negativity” and experience internal fractures – thanks to the very algorithms and platforms they initially rely on for momentum. ( “Group threat” is a thing, and so is “context collapse.”)
It seems that in the instance of #metoo however, the take down has already begun. (Particularly with debates swarming around certain allegations, such as against Aziz Ansari. Although this piece offers a great argument as to why we should talk about “bad dates.”)
So before the wolves start swarming and everything that’s good and useful with this campaign is ripped to shreds in a feeding frenzy, I wanted to address you directly.
I’d like to have this conversation as two human beings beaming with sincerity so that together we can make things better. No assumptions, preconceived notions or screaming matches; just an honest, empathetic conversation.
I won’t even use the term “feminism” because I know that at some level it makes you (and others) cringe. Which it shouldn’t, but I can admit that this actually meaningful and serious word has been irrevocably soiled by misguided or malignant individuals. Making it difficult for me to barely say it aloud anymore in day-to-day conversation.
(Indulge me for a moment however, and let me remind you of feminism’s definition: The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. It’s actually pretty simple.)
OK, enough of that. Here’s what I want to say.
For most of my life I’ve been surrounded by men who are fairly respectful of women, but I can’t deny their faults. I can’t ignore the moments when they’ve used derogatory or overly-sexualized language towards other women, as if it would have no effect on me. As if it was OK. And that has always, and will always, make me uncomfortable.
But my first real brush with inappropriate behavior occurred when I was in kindergarten and the son of my babysitter tried to forcibly kiss me. Multiple times. I didn’t really know that this act was wrong but even then, I could distinctly feel that it was wrong.
Actually, we’ve all probably witnessed this type of behavior among children before, and at some level thought it was actually cute. “Oh, he likes her!” But it’s important to think about what condoning that type of behavior actually tells that little boy and that little girl: Boundaries are fluid. Boys need to be aggressively persistent. All girls like to be chased.
When in fact they’re not, no they don’t, and please, don’t make that assumption.
Another incident came when I was just in elementary school, and one of my brothers “friends” peeped on me while I was changing. I didn’t really say anything then, but I’m sure if I had my brother, or at least my dad, would’ve intervened. But what would that have done really? He probably wouldn’t have done it to me again, but what about other girls? The ones who didn’t have brothers? It was the perception of girls as sexual objects to be gawked at that made him think peeping was OK, and that would still be there.
Those two incidents often pop up in my mind, giving me a sense of dread and guilt in the pit of my stomach that I can’t quite explain. Especially because both of those behaviors are seen as “normal” because we’ve seen them over and over again in pop-culture. And to be honest, I was lucky. Many women have endured much worse as young girls.
But I think it still bothers me because I’ve never been able to answer: Why didn’t I say anything?
Only recently have I come to realize that it’s probably for the same reason I don’t say anything now. Because to some extent, I’m in a constant internal battle to determine if such behavior is “normal,” or if it’s actually a problem. If I should make a big deal out of it, or just brush it off. I’ve often done what most women and girls do, swallowed it and buried it. Morphed it into an anecdotal story to tell my girlfriends when the topic of “harassment” comes up. (Which it does, a lot).
But now, I’m telling you. Along with millions of other women (and men) that together make up the #metoo movement.
Do you not want me to?
I’m not attacking you; I’m not even “blaming” you. Instead, I’m simply asking you to recognize my experiences, and to take a moment to look at your own actions. To toy with the idea, for at least a moment, that perhaps those actions and/or thoughts have played into the once hidden world of harassment that you’ve now found to be uncomfortably shoved into public discourse.
I’m sick of feeling terrified. Of being on-guard. Of just “laughing it off” so that people won’t feel embarrassed, or uncomfortable. Of being called a “bitch” because I didn’t take it as a joke, or smile when they yelled “Hey baby” from their truck. (When has that ever resulted in a woman giving a strange man her number?)
OK, so maybe you’ve never inappropriately touched, pressured or spoken to a women (although I find it hard to believe the Aziz Ansari story doesn’t ring a bell), but it doesn’t mean you haven’t played a part.
Ask yourself one simple question:
Have you ever witnessed such behavior? Did you stop it?
If your response is “No” then I’m sorry to say, you have played a part in the harassment that I, and others, have experienced. Because I can yell, scream, write papers, and Tweet all I want about this, but if men aren’t holding each other accountable then there’s not much I can do.
Which is why I never really said anything. Why I laughed it off. Why I dealt with it. Because I still have less power and influence than you in the world of men. It’s undeniable. You know it, and I know it.
I’m not attacking you, I’m simply asking you to stand up. To support me. To demand that I’m treated the same way that you would treat me as your sister, daughter, and partner.
Because if a man was harassing me at work or on the bus, wouldn’t you want someone to intervene? If your daughter caught a boy peeping on her, wouldn’t you want her to say something?
If yes, then empower her to do so. Empower me to do so. Even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Well, that’s my peace.