It’s another tough conversation today, my friend. This one’s about inappropriate sexual behavior and language, much of which has been all over the media lately.
I’m sharing from my own experience and perspective, and I am not looking to blame or shame either side. Do I have a solution toward making it better? Well, I may have a step toward a response…at least one that is working for me in my relationships. It’s a response that I believe respects me and the men in my life. I know it’s going to take conscious effort and courageous communication from both sides to create change, but my belief is that it will be well worth it.
Sexual assault, abuse, harassment, jokes, locker-room talk, and objectification of women…it’s finally hit a boiling point.
A “silent-no-more” and “#MeToo” movement has been ignited. It’s not surprising. When high level “leaders” of our nation and popular sports and entertainment personalities are continuously being called out for inappropriate sexual behavior, the epidemic has been exposed. That said, it’s easy to see why many women are saying, “Enough is enough.” What we are now experiencing is a number of them publicly speaking out.
A question we always hear is, “Why have they waited until now?” They are the only ones that can answer that. Possibly, because these are men of “power,” the women might have a fear of reprisal, fear that they won’t be believed, fear that no action would be taken, or fear that they would be annihilated and re-traumatized publicly.
It took a long time for me to talk about my military sexual trauma as well. There was a deep fear of reprisal. There was also shame attached to speaking out. Hearing statements such as, “What’s her problem?” or, “She shouldn’t have put herself in that position,” only intensifies that shame.
There is a culture of unacceptable behavior that has been accepted.
It’s been justified, overlooked, dismissed, and defended. I personally don’t know one woman who hasn’t had some sort of unwanted sexual experience, whether it’s rape or a catcall, both of which are violations to very different degrees. Whether we want to believe it or not, women are often objectified as sexual objects.
Respect and change has to occur from both men and women.
So, I believe we have a great opportunity here. Can we change what has happened in the past? No. Can we learn from what has happened if we use open communication to create a better future? I believe so. Should we yell and scream and label all men as creeps and sexual predators? No. But some men, “Yes.” As the saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”
Holding perpetrators 100% accountable is absolutely the right course of action.
Penalties and consequences that are enforced for those convicted will assist in creating change. But, with the viral-nature of social media and the news, I also believe we need to be careful publicly condemning and convicting anyone before they have a chance to a fair trial. Doing so is not fair to them and goes against their basic human and civil rights.
Because not every man is a rapist…not every man disrespects and objectifies women…many men are wonderful and are as horrified about what they’re seeing in the news as the rest of us are.
Lumping them all into the “You’re a creep” category and stereotyping them is simply not the right thing to do.
Yet, one of the biggest problems is that many men were taught at a young age that locker-room talk was male bonding and that objectifying women was normal. Normal. So, how do we reverse that belief? How do we talk to the man who says, “Boys will be boys”, or who jokes, engages in locker-room talk, makes catcalls, uses sexual innuendos or unwanted gestures, or talks about women as if they’re sexual objects? How do we tell them that, in that disturbing moment, those of us who have sexual trauma in our past are trying to assess whether or not we’re safe with them?
Because their language and behavior sends the message to us that we aren’t.
How do we tell them how that feels, why we don’t think it’s appropriate, funny or amusing? Why we’re “overreacting” and don’t laugh along? Do we publicly shame them? Do we tell them to “F Off” and quit being their friend? Do we shrink, shut up, and stay silent while they keep engaging in offensive behavior?
I’m going out on a limb here.
If we care about our them, we have to gather the courage to talk to them.
We have to be honest and tell them,
“Because I care about you and our friendship, I’d like to share something with you. When you make sexual jokes about using women, I feel attacked. You see, I’ve had sexual trauma in my past. I’m going to ask you to be mindful of that. Actually, I’d like you to know that every time I get looked at like a sexual object, and every time I hear a man joke about sexually using women, a part of me feels small and traumatized all over again. That isn’t your fault and I don’t need you to do anything other than be respectful, and to know that I’m not the only woman, or man by the way, who has this happen. I’m not the minority. So, when you’re making these jokes, you might unknowingly be re-victimizing someone, someone like me.”
If you are a man that engages in locker-room talk and thinks it’s okay, here are some questions I’d ask you to consider: If you heard someone talking about your wife, daughter, mother, or sister the way that you talk about women, any woman, would it be okay? Would it be okay if someone groped your wife? Your daughter? Would it be okay if you heard she couldn’t get promoted unless she gave her boss oral sex? Would you be okay with that? If not (which I hope is the case), then it’s not okay for you to do it either.
And women, please start being more honest with the men in your lives. If something crosses a line, tell them.
Although we think they should know how it feels for us, they don’t know and they aren’t mind-readers. If they hear you and keep crossing the line, you have a choice to make. You need to feel safe and valued in your relationship with them if you want to stay in it.
Being resentful, silent, and simply brushing it off as “boy-behavior” will lead to your re-victimization and essentially a poor relationship with them.
Respectful communication…discussing the tough stuff….expressing your values AND your boundaries…it’s necessary for honest relationships. If you have a person in your life with whom you can have a heartfelt conversation about this type of stuff, consider that a gift.
Tell him you care enough to be honest with him. Tell him that his behavior is not okay. His jokes are not appropriate. That women’s bodies are not objects. Tell him how it feels for you when he sexualizes women. Tell him you’re trying to create a better relationship.
Maybe he will be grateful for the awareness and for your honesty. Maybe it will make a difference. Maybe talking about it will empower you, even if you’re scared. For me, these conversations have helped me to take back the power that I thought had vanished, and have given me back my voice, when for a long time that voice was silent, afraid and ashamed.