Recent revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predations in Hollywood should surprise no one; it’s a familiar story these days. Weinstein is just the latest high-profile man making headlines for multiple alleged accounts of sexual harassment and assault. In the Weinstein case, dozens of accusers, Hollywood hopefuls, as well as famous actresses, have come forward, relating tawdry (and often eerily similar) stories of harassment and abuse by Weinstein.
But in spite of its familiarity, something unusual, and frankly surprising, is happening in response to the Weinstein story. Suddenly and unexpectedly, women from outside of Hollywood, from all over the country, are speaking up about their own experiences of sexual abuse. Women who have been silent for years, sometimes for decades, are finding their voices. They’re telling their stories and supporting one another in person, in publications, and on social media. In an avalanche of feminine solidarity, millions of women have stood up to declare, “Me, too.”
I had my “me, too” moment last year following the release of the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape, which featured Donald Trump caught on video boasting about assaulting women: “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful,” says Trump. “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Soon after, when Trump is confronted by over a dozen women claiming that he had assaulted them in just the manner he describes, Trump denies any responsibility. He viciously attacks each and every accuser, and even suggests that more than one of these women is not attractive enough to have merited his attention.
Trump’s arrogance in blaming and shaming the women he likely victimized is maddening. But the public response, writing off Trump’s words as “locker room talk,” and accusing these women of being politically motivated, publicity-seeking liars, is truly evil. I have been the target of men like Trump; so have been both of my sisters, other relatives, many friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. When Americans called Trump’s accusers liars, they called me one, too. I was furious.
And in my rage, long dormant memories flooded back. Fifteen: riding home with an older boy. He stops the car, grabs me, kisses and gropes me. I fight him off and he threatens to ruin my reputation. Sixteen: I’m a lifeguard at a small private swimming pool. A resort employee (mid-thirties, married with a pregnant wife) grabs me, forces a kiss and gropes me. I fight him off and flee. Twenty: I’m a nursing student working in the hospital. A doctor (married with children) grabs me in a stairwell, forces a kiss and gropes me. I fight him off and flee. Twenty-three: a stranger grabs me and tries to force me into an elevator. I fight him off and flee.
Did I report these men to anyone? No, I never went public with any of this. Why? I was embarrassed; I was humiliated, and not really sure how these surprise attacks happened. I worried about what others would think. Would anyone believe me? If I did go public with these incidents, what would come of it, anyway? Nothing, except perhaps whispered speculation about my part in it. What was she wearing? Was she flirting? Was she drunk? Did she lead him on? Or maybe a few chuckles about boys being boys, locker room talk, and all that.
Sound familiar? It does to me. It sounds like systemic permission granted to men to take what they want; they are entitled. It sounds like systemic hushing of women; they should sit down, shut up, and above all, smile and look pretty.
It’s time we stop the toxic narrative which has intimidated women into silence, and allowed too many men to feel justified in their assaults on them. But how? The response to the Weinstein scandal is a good start. Women, must let go of embarrassment, put aside fear of retaliation, and come forward. Good men must reject the “good old boys club” wink and nod at degrading talk and actions toward women. We all need to call out inappropriate speech and predatory behavior as morally and socially unacceptable. We must also give accusers the benefit of the doubt, and reject the notion that women are responsible for the actions of aggressive and violent men. Offenders should be exposed, shamed, and shunned.
Even bad dogs get into line when confronted by the pack. Social pressure works. It’s time we use it.