I have been trying to find a way to tell my story for years. Over the years it has come out in snippets. I have found words for it a bit at a time, but never had the right combination of courage and language to get it out properly – to string the pieces together, to really say what it is I want to say. Honestly, even as I sit down to write this I’m not 100% sure what the right words are, what that thread is that will bring it all together, or what it is exactly I want to say. What I do know is that over the past 24 hours, following last week’s breaking NY Times story of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault of countless Hollywood actresses, the internet has been flooded with women’s accounts of their own stories of sexual harassment and assault, ranging from what have come to be regarded as everyday experiences like cat-calling to the more violent and egregious acts like groping or rape.
Today, my Facebook news feed was almost entirely filled with women posting “Me too” followed by their own stories of assault, harassment, and shame. Filled with what felt like a loud break in the silence of so many years and so much internalized shame. And while I knew on some level that this is daily reality for most of us (women), to read it again and again, one story after another, gave life and light to it in an entirely new, real, painful and powerful way. The truth is coming out of the shadows. Women are speaking up. We are no longer willing to remain convinced that our silence is necessary to confirm our worth – that our compliance is the best way to get by, or that we have to stay small and silent to be safe. We are realizing, it seems, that the power of truth telling is greater than any of us could have known.
And so, I am going to try. I’m going to try to start putting the pieces together, to tell the story as best I can because I believe it will be my redemption. It will be painful at times, I'm sure, but nothing is more painful than silence, and I have come to believe that whatever pain and suffering we go through in this life is worth nothing if it cannot be used to help someone else. And one of the surest things I know is that I have not suffered alone, and that we are being called to use our collective voice to speak truth to power, to cast light into all the dark places of our own souls and the soul of our society so that each of us – man and woman – can step more fully into our truest selves, the selves that God made us to be, imperfect but full of love.
As a woman, I have been objectified for years - led to believe that my most valuable asset(s) are my physical ones and that my self-worth comes from perfecting and displaying those at any cost. That was my greatest, most valuable currency to please others so I could get what I was after – love and connection -- and be seen. It was the only currency I knew, the only solution I had.
This caused me to stay silent when I wanted to say, "No." It caused me to spend years chasing after love, acceptance, and belonging with so much desperation that I allowed myself to be led into dark, scary places physically, emotionally, and spiritually, abandoning and betraying myself again and again. It was like a whirlpool. I didn’t know its power until I stepped into it, but by that time it was too late. So, whenever I have heard talk of sexual harassment and assault I have shut down. I have carried so much shame – been convinced that I really did “ask for it,” as they say, that I was the central force behind my pain and powerlessness, not the men who paraded me around like a trophy, pushed my head down between their legs, rubbed their crotches up against me in the club, stalked me and exposed themselves to me at The Cloisters only to wave at me later like nothing happened, left bruises on my back and on the inside of my thighs, or were so much bigger than me that alone, a teenager in the back of a minivan in a remote field, saying “No” did not feel like the safest or smartest option.
This is not to say that I had no part to play in the whole thing. Perhaps the most insidious thing about all of this is the way we women internalize it, buy into the whole system and sell ourselves out, diving head first into the whirlpool, convincing ourselves that we must stay small and pretty and silent to protect ourselves, only to come out years (or decades) later full of self-loathing and shame with no idea how to love anyone, especially ourselves. And it is not to say that the men have an easy time of it, either. Their story, their pain, is different, but I have known for almost as long as I can remember that the men and boys I have been surrounded by since high school are suffering in deep, dark, painful ways that they certainly do not have words for. As Glennon Doyle says so beautifully, we all find a way to tell our truth somewhere. We will always find a way to tell the world “I am not fine.”
But I can say now that it was not all my fault. This world we live in teaches men to see women as their objects. Not to ask before they reach down our pants, push up against us, use our bodies as playgrounds, and speak about us – to our faces and behind our backs -- with unkind, unholy language, as though we are countries to be conquered and won, pillaged for their own personal gain. It teaches us women to take it on the chin. That “boys will be boys,” and that even in the most violent and traumatic of these events, we are likely to be told that we had it coming. I did not have it coming: not when I was 13 or 23, and I would not have had it coming if it happened today. Nobody has it coming. God created us noble, and no matter how imperfect we are, that nobility is a standard we can all be held to. No one is beneath it. Boys will not "be boys" unless we continue to hold them to standards far lower than those God intended for them. Boys will be noble children of God, and so will girls, if we raise the clarion call that love is the answer. Be brave. Open your hearts. Ask the hard questions of yourself, your friends, your parents, children, and loved ones. Have meaningful conversations about what it means to be a man or a woman in this world and about how we can help each other to do a better job of it. Speak your truth, so that in ten or fifteen or twenty years our children do not have to use the hashtags #metoo or #ihave.