How is the #MeToo movement and the issues it brings up affecting you personally and professionally?
Every year in Boulder, Colorado, there is an impressive Conference on World Affairs (CWA). This year I attended a panel, The Power Behind #MeToo: What’s Next, by a number of expressive and wise women. A summary and some of my takeaways follow, with actual quotes italicized.
There were moving stories. There was a woman who spent her growing-up years thinking—no, believing—rape and psychological abuse were the way it was supposed to be for women. A woman whose rape experience was devoured by so much shame that she told no one until she was in college. A woman whose adult sexual life is distorted because of her too-early experiences of being abused. A woman who said, “Take me seriously. I’m done playing small.” An immigrant woman (now a U.S. citizen) who is angry and frustrated because the people she talks with are great listeners but “action, zero.” A woman who said, “Male domination has made me so strong. As a woman jazz musician, I really had to fight for my place.” A woman who painfully admitted that after hearing, “Either you’re in a relationship with me or you don’t work here,” chose to take care of herself by signing a nondisclosure agreement.
Tough stories. Tough to tell, tough to hear.
The women on the panel also talked about their sense of what the goals of the #MeToo, #Enough, #NeverAgain movement are. They said:
- To know in our guts that we, women, are not alone. Moving abuse experiences out of the secret dungeon of shame into the light of shared experience is empowering in itself.
- To understand that for this movement to succeed it must include, not exclude, men and boys. There are two reasons. Men and boys are sexually abused too. And when men and boys succeed in changing their culturally supported habits and behaviors, together with girls and women learning to say, “No, you really can’t do this,” the systems of oppression will change. The system that has allowed these harmful misuses of power will be disrupted. This disruption will bring liberation from men’s and women’s traditional roles.
- To look deeper and fathom that abusive patterns are so deeply entrenched in society that it will take a tsunami to truly succeed. One woman categorized the current environment as “go along to get along.”
- For women to realize “you own it if you don’t say something. You own what you ignore.” Women must no longer be afraid of speaking out because of fear of the consequences.
- To have space in our hearts for the genuine suffering of many good, honest, and sincere men who are confused and hurt. One panel member reported her brother saying, “I don’t know how to treat women anymore. I hold back kind words and I don’t reach out. It’s sad to feel so restricted.” It is so easy to black-and-white the issue and lose sensitivity for the difference between genuine appreciations said without demeaning or demanding, like, “Ellen, you look really sharp today,” and sexual come-ons or violations. A panel member said there are several reasons or combinations of reasons men misuse power against women: (A) They really didn’t know their behavior was harmful; (B) they didn’t care that they were causing harm; (C) they purposely wanted to keep the woman from moving up in the power hierarchy.
The panel then talked about what’s next. Here are their recommendations.
Avoiding personal, role, and status power is not the answer. This avoidance is another form of misuse of power—under-use of power. Under-use of power causes harm too.
- Raise strong daughters who know they should be treated with respect.
- Disrupt the system that allows sexual harassment and abuse.
- Engage in conversations at all levels.
- Do therapy to heal wounds and work with shame.
- Although it’s not easy to stand up for yourself and other women, you need to stand up. You don’t have to take it.
- Move from having a “built-in forgetter” to “I’m scared and I need help.”
- You have so much potential. Do something.
- Participate in or lead sociopolitical actions.
- Connect with challenge and beauty. Challenge is a tool.
- Teach your children to respect girls and women. Teach women to speak up about inappropriate behavior.
- Reach out to immigrants. Be a support. Every human being needs respect.
- Provide quality education for women.
- Encourage each other. This is most important.
At the end of the panel, there was a sense “it’s going to be messy and (messed) up for a while as we move from chaos to a new order. We’re like a liquified caterpillar right now. It’s going to be disgusting. Get excited!”
My work gives me a perspective. It may seem power is the enemy and that kind, respectful, and well-intentioned people should therefore avoid having power. However, avoiding personal, role, and status power is not the answer. This avoidance is another form of misuse of power—under-use of power. Under-use of power causes harm too.
What is most important and necessary is to own the power you have. Once you do that, you are in position to understand the nature of power with its gifts and its perils. Once you understand the dynamics of power, you can stand in your strength while staying in your heart—connected to and collaborating with the people you serve.
If you’re struggling with right use of power in your work or relationships and want help, reach out to a trained and compassionate therapist. Therapy is a judgment-free zone where self-understanding is a universal goal.
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