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Monday, October 16, 2017

Me, One: Sexual Harassment and the Single Voice

I am disquieted by the “me too” campaign that is going around social media. It involves people, mostly women, repeating a statement that they, too, have been subjected to sexual harassment or abuse. The apparent purpose of the “me too” campaign is to show just how pervasive sexual assault and harassment are. Another purpose is to lend support for, and, I suppose, credibility to the women who share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.
Public testimony is an important element of having a message heard. But why must so many say what one voice should be able to say just as forcibly and believably?  Yes, it happens all the time. I wrote about sexual harassment in the workplace a few years ago in a blog post titled Clarence Thomas, Bill Cosby, and the Absence of Memory. And though the personal episode of harassment I wrote about occurred many years ago when I was a law student, that was only the first of many such experiences. Me, one.

On the topic of the "me too" campaign, I find instructive a series of Tweets by Ijeoma Oluo:

<
You don't need my "me too" and I don't need yours.
I believe you. Even if it's only you.
It's not only you. But you knew that. I knew that.
Because we believe women. If others don't, they need to start. Not because it's 100 women. Not because its 1 million women. Not because it's 1 in 5 women. But because it's each woman who says she was. Each one.
[....]
One woman should be enough.
[....]
The gendered history and weaponization of sexual assault aims to silence and shame you. It aims to keep your numbers from even being known.
[....]
I'm not coming for what y'all are doing. Or to force anyone to justify why. I'm saying you shouldn't have to. Again.>>
I’m with Ijeoma Oluo.
I will also add to Ms. Oluo's comments that, sadly, some women are complicit in this culture of silence around sexual assault and harassment. I have seen and experienced having sexual harassment used as a weapon by women who perfectly well know that it happens, but choose to ignore it, not out of fear, nor out of not knowing what to do, and not out of having no power to act. Rather, some women use sexual harassment  as a way of hurting or marginalizing other women. For some women there is a grim satisfaction when the monster with the potential to harm us all catches one of us that is disliked or devalued by others. So it goes sometimes.
Perhaps worse yet are the allegedly sympathetic friends who "want to believe you" when you tell them, but they have doubts, because "he's such a nice man,"  and "he never did that to me." Only when they see it for themselves, or when it happens to someone they care about, does it dawn on them that you are a truth teller.
I wish us all the best in this campaign of shining light on the problem of sexual harassment and abuse. However, I think that we may need to consider some reframing of this notion of needing the voices of so many to show what one voice should be amply able to show. Because me, one.




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