For months, I’ve been edging toward writing another blog post about musings on a recent golf lesson. It was going to be humorous with a message at the end about not being too self-critical. I wish I could feel good about writing that post.
But the ice caps are melting. Storms and fires have swept away whole communities. Every week there’s another mass shooting, another black man shot point blank by a police officer. And now there’s Harvey Weinstein. And Kevin Spacey. And Roy Moore–the latest, but surely not the last of the serial predators to be publicly named.
Finally, the women reporting these crimes (although certainly not all of them) are being taken seriously.
Is there a woman out there who hasn’t experienced being exposed to, or touched inappropriately, or compromised with quid pro quo offers of sex in exchange for a promotion? A woman who hasn’t been grabbed on the subway, or silenced with threats of harm, or drugged so she couldn’t say no?
I want to meet her.
Yes, I’m angry. Don’t try to sidetrack the issue by telling me women are perpetrators too. The overwhelming majority of offenders are men. And please, don’t deny our reality by dismissing us as man-haters. Any sane, moral person—man or woman—should be angry.
For many years, I worked as a psychologist in a counseling center at a major state university. I counseled scores of victims of sexual abuse. Incest. Acquaintance rape. Intimate partner violence. I advocated for policy changes, adequate staffing, and on-going awareness education—at distinct risk to my own reputation and career. The administration, clinging to their blinders, denied the extent of the problem. They made it difficult, as legally as possible, to dissuade women from coming forward and reporting the truth. Despite the wealth of significant, well-respected research, they claimed “that happens somewhere else. Our students don’t behave that way.” Any deviations from the so-called “norm” were dismissed as anomalies.
I should be relieved that women–once again–are taking to the air waves. That they are not being dismissed as crazy sluts. That men and women alike are believing them. Every day, another woman is stepping forward to tell her story. I’m inspired by their courage.
But here’s the thing: This avalanche of truth-telling is not likely to last. Not because we’re insensitive or heartless or lazy. Or because we’ve heard from all the victims out there. Quite the opposite. There are too many victims. And we’re not emotionally or psychically prepared to take in the full extent of the problem.
It’s impossible to absorb.
So steel yourself. If we’re going to make the world safe for women and children, it’s going to take a whole lot of soul searching, and honesty and pure grit. And resources. We’re going to have to stay committed to believing all these women well past the next news cycle. And it’s not just about the famous ones. We’ll need to believe our children when they come home telling us about the swim coach. Or our co-worker when she reveals the boss grabbed her next to the water cooler. We’ll have to take to the streets, tell our stories, form a human chain of conviction.
And that’s not all. Each of us will have to resurrect our own pain—the time Uncle Stanley groped you under the Thanksgiving dinner table. That Saturday morning your cousin chased you around the house trying to pull down your panties. The guilt, the shame, the fear will feel limitless.
Men, good men, will have to come clean, too, and admit the ways they’ve been complicit. Bystanders who could have said something, but didn’t. And then there are the offenders. That’s a whole lot of pain to unearth because most abusers were abused themselves.
While all this is going on, let’s try to be kind to each other. Because what we’re trying to do will be painful and jarring. And sometimes we won’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning. Or going to Thanksgiving dinner because it’ll mean facing Uncle Stanley. Or turning on the TV. And what happened to believing the women who accused our President of similar abuse? It’s no small task, creating a world that is kind and true. And safe.
The country we’ve known will come apart at the seams. That’s when we’ll have a chance to rebuild in a way that treats us all as individuals deserving of respect, free from violence and abuse. A world where there are still floods and fires and earthquakes, but we’re all working together to heal.
When I hear all those women speak up, that’s what I’m praying for.