While it’s the day before American Thanksgiving, and I know I am supposed to say how grateful I am to have you in my community (which I am), wish you a happy holiday (which I do), I also need to be honest and say my heart has felt like it’s been cut open for the better part of the last month.
When the hashtag #MeToo went viral on October 15, 2017, I, like 5 million plus people, wrote a social media post within the first 2 days commenting on my sexual assault experiences. While my jaw continued to drop as I saw #MeToo pop up everywhere I traveled to over the last month, and in almost every conversation I have engaged in (with my clients, at live events, and with friends from coast-to-coast), I haven’t actually felt better after most of these conversations.
Sometimes I was left feeling frustrated—like when someone used #MeToo in reference to the time a coworker hugged her a little too tightly (after someone else in the conversation had just vulnerably shared about being raped by a close friend).
Other times I felt downright sucker punched by what I was hearing. While the statistic is that 1 in 5 girls experience childhood sexual abuse, in one group of women I was recently a part of (and please don’t try to guess which group, I’ve been a member of at least a dozen groups of women in the last 30 days), we discovered the stat was actually 5 out of 5 for us. (Yes, in a group of 5 kickass entrepreneurs, every single one of us had been sexually abused before the age of 18.)
And most days, especially over the last two weeks, I’ve been terrified to read or listen to the news—for fear that some other celebrity, politician or athlete would be “outed” by someone from his past for a sexual wrongdoing.
I want sexual harassment and sexual violence against women, men and children to end. I want those of us who have experienced sexual victimization to heal and thrive. And I want those of us who see ourselves in #MeToo not to compare ourselves against others, and yet be sensitive that there is a spectrum of experiences that have been enmeshed under this hashtag.
I am worried about where we go from here, because I think that #MeToo may be creating community and belonging and… also contributing to sadness, depression and anxiety (and potentially false accusations that will only be tried in a court of public opinion).
While I wish that I could report otherwise, I’m not sure #MeToo is making me, personally, feel any better about the sexual abuse I’ve experienced and felt at peace with. Actually, I know it’s not. In recent weeks, I’ve been having nightmares and flashbacks I haven’t seen the likes of in years. My daughter is almost the same age I was when I spoke up and told my mom about my sexual abuse. Sometimes, often times, I find myself looking into her eyes and must quickly find a reason to leave the room because the thought of her going through what I did, and the concurrent thought, “Oh my God, what if she already has?” makes me feel like I’m going to suffocate.
I’m more than a little nostalgic for life before #MeToo. And yet, I realize for many, this has been a historical moment of hope and healing. And if this has been your experience, I truly am grateful.
When social activist Tarana Burke first launched “Me Too” ten years ago as a grassroots movement, her goal was to, as she says, provide “empowerment through empathy” to survivors of sexual abuse, assault, exploitation and harassment in racially diverse communities that didn’t have access to rape crisis centers and counseling. She did not intend for “Me To” to become a hashtag, or to go viral, which it most certainly did after actor Alyssa Milano, in response to allegations of sexual assault emerged against Harvey Weinstein, tweeted for other survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault to speak their truths.
How we got to #MeToo matters—as does where do we go from here.
I want people who have committed sexual assault and/or harassment to be stopped and held accountable. I want survivors from marginalized communities to receive the counseling and healing resources they usually do not—as Burke envisioned when she first uttered the words “Me Too.” (And as Burke has recently advised, we must keep talking about how these issues impact women of color, our queer sisters and brothers, the disabled, and especially Native Americans—who have the highest rates of rape in the country.)
I want HR departments and the court system to yield appropriate justice for egregious acts that have been committed. (Yet, I also worry that some people across industries and sectors are using #MeToo as an excuse to call out others for their deeds at the expense of choosing to be brave, remorseful and responsible—and seek help for their own behaviors.)
I want those who self-identify with #MeToo to speak their truth in a way that supports their deepest healing and growth. For some of us that’s publicly, and for others, it need not be. As Brené Brown has so artfully said, not everybody has earned the right to hear our story. Speaking that which we are still in the throes of processing to a public audience can stunt our recovery big time.
And what I want, more than anything, is for all of us to come together and be a part of ending the friggin need for a hashtag like #MeToo.
To advocate for and fund programs across the lifespan that teach girls and boys, and grown women and men, how to: make responsible sexual choices; ask for and provide consent; report acts of abuse; hold those who commit sexual wrongdoing responsible; and cultivate the emotional intelligence to understand the long-lasting impact of our sexual behaviors on others. (This last piece has had a powerful impact on rehabilitating sexual offenders. Yet, too often, we prioritize shame, blame and the threat of (re)incarceration—which has actually been proven to increase recidivism).
I dream of a day where much of my work becomes irrelevant.
Where the overwhelming majority of my clients do not self-identify with #MeToo.
And I don’t have to provide a pathway for truth tellers and change makers to turn their stories of heartbreak into transformational talks or healing retreats—because incidents of sexual harassment and assault are an anomaly rather than the norm.
I know this has likely been a difficult post for you to read—because #MeToo is either about you (or about someone you love). It impacts all of us, and yet up until very recently has been a subject we have conveniently passed over.
I am grateful to you, my precious reader, for sticking with me, for reading and holding space for my words.
I am grateful to have a platform to speak up and out about this issue which, more than any other, has defined my life.
And I’m grateful to those of you who have opened your hearts and shared your stories with me. I see you. I believe in you. In us. In our capacity to rise. Lead. And use our power (our moxie!) to create a better world for all of us to call home.