I haven’t wanted to write about Harvey Weinstein. Not because I don’t care, or don’t believe the accusations, or have nothing to say, but because I’m tired. I’m not shocked. I’m not surprised. I’m horrified, of course, although that reaction is dulled by too many repetitions of the same story.
But with #MeToo trending on Twitter as I write today, I feel the need to say something. It’s not going to be something profound. It’s not going to be the something that suddenly changes things for women. But it’s one more something on the mound of stories and arguments and pleas that, maybe, someday, will grow into change.
When I say me too, I know I’m one of the lucky ones: I’ve never been sexually assaulted. Just harassed. Just made to feel uncomfortable, just grateful to the friends — men and women — who’ve looked out for me over the years, walking me to my car at night, warning me about the too-friendly professor, watching my drink at the bar.
In other words, just a typical woman.
And that’s the problem: I don’t know any woman who hasn’t experienced harassment in some form. It’s everywhere, but that also means it’s nowhere. Invisible.
Something like the allegations about Harvey Weinstein break onto the scene, and everyone is horrified. For a while. But we all know the pattern, because it happens so often: we feel outrage, but it seldom translates into an examination of why this keeps happening.
We start to distance ourselves. We chalk assault up to Hollywood culture. We have a hard time reconciling a genial figure peddling pudding in dorky sweaters with a habitual user of date rape drugs. We dismiss crude language about assaulting women as locker-room talk.
We wonder why women don’t speak up about their experiences sooner, or louder, or somehow better. We read op-eds that suggest this sort of harassment happens to pretty women, less conservative women, women with less protective parents. We make this a liberal problem (Weinstein) or a conservative one (Roger Ailes), a worldly problem (Hugh Hefner) or a religious one (Bill Gothard).
As women, we are told and we tell ourselves that we’re too sensitive, we can’t take a joke, we’re imagining things, we should be flattered by the attention. If we’re careful enough, if we smile and nod, if we wear the right things and say the right things we’ll be fine.
Besides, how often does that sort of thing really happen?
And before we know it, we’re back to normal — and maybe a career has ended, but more often nothing much happens and nothing much changes.
If we want this cycle to change, we must confront the fact that, as a society, we value women less than men. We find their pain less important than men’s reputations. We believe them less, we subject them to greater scrutiny, we hold them to impossibly high standards.
This happens in churches and faith-based organization and in Hollywood. In academia and service industries. On the coasts and in rural Iowa. In Silicon Valley, in hospitals, in the C-suite, in factories. Women are harassed and assaulted by strangers and trusted friends, by colleagues and intimate partners, by bosses and subordinates.
And I’m tired of people being periodically horrified by high-profile instances of assault. I want people to be horrified that half the population has to deal with harassment on a regular basis.
I want outrage and official action over the professors who have inappropriate contact with their students, not just a whisper network among women.
I want the comedian who tells a rape joke to hear horrified gasps, not laughter.
I want the pastor who delivers sexist jokes from the pulpit to be corrected by his parishioners, not allowed to persist.
I want the manager who touches inappropriately to be reprimanded, not ignored.
I want the colleague who makes off-color remarks to be ostracized, not excused.
I want the phrase “boys will be boys” stricken from our vocabulary.
I want to stop feeling so damn thankful that I’ve only been harassed, not assaulted.
But until we work up the will as a culture to value women as human beings whose worth is equal to men, none of what I want will happen.