I started writing a book a few months ago. It’s about my spiritual development journey, each chapter focusing on a different spiritual learning I’ve gained over the last couple of years.
One of the chapters centers around power and oppression. It’s definitely the most difficult chapter to write, and I often find myself closing my laptop, overwhelmed at having to revisit my past.
I’ve had no shortage of experiences with oppression over the course of my life.
It seems that simply coming into this world as I did, I was already set up to experience oppression on multiple levels — as a woman, as a visible minority (specifically, a person of Asian descent), and, for many years, as someone on the lower rung of the socioeconomic ladder.
Of course, with all of the #metoo posts being shared on social media, following the slew of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, it’s men’s oppression against women that is specifically weighing on my mind right now.
And while I’d like to close my laptop, overwhelmed, I feel compelled to write.
Deep breath. Okay, let’s dive in.
For those of you who don’t know, the recently gone-viral #metoo movement started on Sunday, October 15 with actress Alyssa Milano’s tweet:
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
(FYI – The #metoo movement actually originated with activist Tarana Burke.)
I have watched as several women I know have shared their #metoo’s on their Facebook pages over the past few days.
And I have thought back to my own experiences where men have sexually harassed me. Here’s the first three that I could immediately recall, off the top of my head:
- The time a man masturbated openly on the subway train while staring at me, and then got up — presumably to follow me — when I got up to exit at the next stop. (He left the train as I pretended to, but then I stayed on as the doors closed behind him.)
- The time a man who was in a position of authority over me made sexual advances, including touching and grabbing me without my consent, and continued to persist after I said that, no, I wasn’t going to have sex with him. (Because I had no choice but to still be in contact with him over the next several days, I had to ask some of my friends to make sure that I wasn’t left alone with him, since he clearly didn’t know the meaning of “no.”)
- The time when the guy who lived across the hall from me in a rooming house tried to push his way into my room after I declined to have a drink with him. (I had to throw my weight against the door to get it closed and locked, so that he couldn’t come in and do God knows what to me.)
What those men did (and what others have done) made me feel everything from shock to anxiety, to feeling like I had a lack of control and choices, to feeling anger, vulnerability, to just outright fear.
Furthermore, there was nothing in me that felt empowered to defend myself, to speak out, or to assert myself in the way that I actually wanted to.
What happened, instead, was that:
I hid. I avoided.
I called another man to come help me.
I removed myself from places I had every right to be in, and wanted to be in.
I disconnected from people around me when I was out in public.
I became hyper-vigilant. (Even after I moved multiple times after leaving that rooming house, including to neighbourhoods where people would probably feel safe enough to leave their front doors unlocked, I still always kept some kind of weapon in my bedroom. Just in case.)
I relived traumatic memories in my mind, even if, physically, I wasn’t in danger at the moment.
(Tellingly, I had a vivid nightmare the morning after I started working on this post. The nightmare was about me being sexually assaulted, running away from someone, and trying to shut myself in my room with a door that barely locked. Go figure.)
The impacts of sexual harassment, of sexual assault, and of men’s oppression against women in general, aren’t just contained to that one specific experience a woman goes through.
Those impacts don’t go away when the man goes away, or after she’s able to leave the scene.
No, the impacts extend far past each violation. They accumulate, and carry on years later, and affect every part of of a woman’s being, and her sense of safety and self-worth.
This Piece is for Men
In some ways, I didn’t want to publicly share any of my experiences of sexual harassment.
I didn’t (and don’t) want other women to read those stories, only to have to shelve them into their already over-stuffed mental repository holding all of the other innumerable accounts of men’s oppression against women, simply to weigh those creaking shelves down just a little bit more.
I, myself, didn’t want to dig any further than those experiences, because I knew I’d find countless more, and those three alone still make my stomach churn, and my heart turn a little bit colder, to think about what they, and every other experienced or witnessed instance of men’s violations against women represent about humanity.
But this piece is only for other women insofar as letting them know that they — you — are not alone in your experiences.
And to let you — my dear sister — know: It’s not us. It’s not our fault. And no, we are not overreacting.
This piece is only for me insofar as addressing some urgent force inside me that chose this specific time to speak up. I had to listen.
In every other way, this piece is for men.
Men who may be noticing all the #metoo posts on social media, and actually want to know more about a woman’s perspective.
This piece is a reminder to men that contributing to our very prevalent culture of men sexually harassing and assaulting women isn’t just about whether you, yourself, force your body onto a woman or call her obviously lewd names to her face.
It’s also about what you, as a man, may be doing to keep that overall system of oppression against women — of which sexual harassment and assault are only one facet — alive. A system that is fed and satiated through everyday, often unmindful acts (or omissions to act).
- Like when you talk to “your boys” about your female partner when she’s not around, or about women in general, in a disrespectful, demeaning way. Or when you stay silent, or laugh, when hearing other men speaking about women in that way. (I can’t even begin to tell you the things that I’ve heard over my time, hanging out with guys when there have been no other women present, that have shocked and saddened me, but ultimately, led me to believe that this was a normal way for women to be treated. Women are not objects. And they are not inferior to you. They are beautiful human beings who make your lives better.)
- Like when you dismiss what a woman is trying to express to you, because, in your mind, she’s “just being hormonal” or “irrational.”
- Like when you cut a woman off when she’s speaking to a group, or “explain” to everyone that “this is what she’s trying to say.”
- Like when you ignore a woman who is asking you a question, until she gives up and leaves you alone. (I hate when I see this happen. I have seen many men do this to their partners and to their mothers. It’s like you are sending her the message that she is so unworthy of your response, that she is invisible.)
- Like when you don’t let a woman just walk down the fricking street without making her feel like she’s an object to be called after, eye-raped, or followed. A woman should never have to walk in public with her head down, eyes averted, or feel forced to cross to the other side because of your disturbing presence. It’s her street, too.
- Like when you are “handsy” with a woman who hasn’t invited you to touch her. (This happened to me recently where a man I barely knew — but who apparently thought that my general friendliness equated to an invitation to invade my personal space — placed his big paw on my shoulder and gripped it, leaving it there while he said whatever he wanted to say. I felt completely uncomfortable, but also paralyzed, as he crossed my personal boundaries with zero regard. I did not give you permission to touch me. And you just did, forcefully, as though you had some kind of right to my body. You don’t. So, fuck off.)
- And so on.
It’s about being aware that some of the actions and words that you have normally taken for granted as acceptable — because they’ve never been questioned, because you’ve “always” seen other men behave in that way, or because women don’t explicitly tell you how much you’ve hurt them with your actions and words — can actually have a profoundly harmful impact on the way a woman perceives herself, and how she experiences every relationship that she’s a part of.
No doubt, that this has been the case for me.
All of my own personal experiences of gendered oppression, including sexual harassment — as well as witnessing those of other women — have had a tremendously negative impact on my life.
Because, as a result, what I have learned is that I often have to think twice about where I want to live, where and how I want to travel, what I want to wear, where I want to sit, what I want to say (oh, don’t want to give him “the wrong impression”), and who I want to talk to.
(And many times, the outcome of that thinking is that I don’t feel free to do what I want. Even though I have every right to. And even though I am in no way asking to be harassed or oppressed by doing any of those very basic things.)
What I have learned is that trusting a man to genuinely respect me is not the rule of thumb. It is the exception.
What I have learned is that my voice won’t be taken as seriously as a man’s. Even if I’m smart as fuck.
What I have learned is that I have to fight against the completely false, but insidiously internalized, message that my body is not mine to fully control and own.
What I have learned is that I will continuously have to think twice about the safety of my mind, my body, and my life, simply because I am a woman. I cannot expect that my safety is a given.
What I had learned was that I was not worthy enough to deserve better than men who cheated on me, sexually manipulated me, disrespected me, and emotionally and verbally abused me. (This has since changed, but only since my last relationship. And it took the first two years of being with him to believe that I was — and could — actually be with a genuinely good guy.)
Now, of course, we — women — are worthy enough to not have to endure any of this shit.
But believe me, no matter how strong, self-confident, and self-loving a woman is, she is always fighting — both internally and the world around her — to accept and own her inherent worthiness as a woman.
Why? Because she is always bombarded with, and internalizing, the messages from the people closest to her, media, social media, her workplace, and so on, that she is not worthy enough to be just exactly as she is.
And, as men time and time again, overstep their boundaries with her — and they will — she is always fighting to reassert those boundaries, and to reclaim her body and agency, oftentimes feeling powerless to do so because she has been taught, since day one, to “be nice,” that she’s “just overreacting,” that she might need to fear for her safety if she fights back, and that, even if she does try to fight back, there will likely be little to no repercussions against her perpetrator.
So, this piece is for men.
It’s an awareness call to men that it is the cumulative effect of each and every single instance of cat-calling, unwanted touching, objectifying women, talking shit about women, humiliating women, dismissing women, pressuring a woman to give more than she is comfortable with, and disrespecting your female partner, that then enable (some) men to feel that they have the power to jerk off in front of a woman when she clearly did not ask for it, or to force their body onto a woman when she said “no.”
Because all of it, at the end of the day, is one and the same: It’s about throwing up your hand and saluting a culture where men devalue women.
It’s about reinforcing a culture where men can expect to overstep a woman’s boundaries unchecked, because the control and ownership of women are so ingrained in the psyche of male privilege.
It’s about perpetuating a culture where men continue to hold privilege and power that dictates how women should behave, think and feel — even when that is not how a woman wants to behave, think or feel.
If you still can’t make the connection, here it is once more:
… sexism, male dominance and male privilege lay the foundation for all forms of violence against women. (source)
There is nothing inherently correct about men devaluing, controlling, and violating women. Nothing.
As a woman, my body is mine. I say who gets to touch it. And I choose who to share it with.
As a woman, I have a brain just the same as a man’s. And depending on the man, my brain might even work a little better. (Just sayin’.) I am contributing my intellect and talents to the world much more than I am contributing my pretty smile. Recognize that.
As a woman, I may embody the stereotypical feminine traits of being emotional, intuitive, empathic and nurturing. Those are gifts. Not signs of weakness. I bring healing, empathy, compassion and love into this world. Honour that. Value that. Imagine a world without women like that. What a shitty world that would be.
As a woman, I am also just a human being, the same as any person of any other gender. And as a human being, I have a right to feel safe doing everyday, basic things like walking down the street or living in my own home.
As a woman, I am fucking pissed off. And I will not do what is expected of me and keep fucking quiet.
I am saying my piece.
So, Now What?
Women reading this, at this point, may be thinking: “Yup. I already know this. I’ve lived this. I am living this.”
Maybe, like me, you’re feeling drained, too. I almost didn’t want to write this, because I knew what it would take out of me. And indeed, after three days of writing, I am depleted.
If you’re feeling the pain, too, I’m so sorry.
I know all of you have gone through your own experiences — some similar, and some much more egregious violations of your bodies, minds and souls.
My heart is aching for you, me, and the rest of our sisters.
Diving into this topic, as a woman — whether you’re sharing or reading — is difficult, and I’m actively seeking some self-care to counter the serious energy drain I’ve been going through.
(I’ll share at the bottom about my self-care practices, in case they might also help you).
Men reading this, at this point, may be feeling overwhelmed, motivated, ashamed, indifferent, and/or confused about what to do.
Maybe you’re even feeling upset or angry, as you read post after post about “how awful” men are. If that’s you, my friend, leave your ego at the door and keep reading. I know you don’t recognize it yet, but your reaction is a direct result of holding male privilege.
I believe that there are a lot of men out there who have been following the #metoo movement, and are wanting to do something towards positive change. I truly believe that.
If you don’t know where to start, just start with yourself.
Start with the women in your own life.
Your wife. Your girlfriend. Your mother. Your sister. Your daughter. Your female friends. Your female co-workers. Your female employees. Your female students. And so on.
Ask yourself what you might be doing in your everyday interactions with these women that might make them feel inferior, objectified, devalued, demeaned, humiliated, ashamed, violated, unsafe.
Think past those initial thoughts of, “Well, I don’t think that’s so bad …” or, “But I don’t mean anything harmful by that.”
It’s not about what you think.
It’s about the impact that your actions or words may be having on her.
If you really listen to what she’s saying (and not saying), you’ll probably pick up some clues.
Keep educating yourself on this issue, if you really care to make a difference, because a large part of this is about changing deeply ingrained perspectives — your deeply ingrained perspectives.
And if you don’t make a real effort to learn about, and open your eyes to, different perspectives, then your acceptance and expression of male privilege will remain intact.
And so, the epidemic of men’s sexual harassment and assault against women will live on.
It’s up to you to fix this. You, as a man, need to:
Accept and own our responsibility that violence against women will not end until men become part of the solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence against women. (source)
These resources are only a start. Questions will probably pop up for you. Do your own research. Ask Google. Whatever you’re wondering has already been asked and written about. Trust me.
Some people confuse “privilege” as meaning “special advantages.” This guide explains what “privilege” actually means in the context of the #metoo conversation.
No one is asking you to feel guilty for having your privilege. “But once you understand that these often invisible perks aren’t available to everyone, you can see why addressing privilege means recognizing that people of all genders deserve equal access to basic respect for our humanity.”
A comic that visualizes examples of sexual harassment and how you, as a man, can help to change the script.
“Are you a man confused on how to treat the women you work with? … This life hack will have you treating women like people in no time.” Humorous, but it makes the point.
Why it’s on you guys to fix this. In case I wasn’t clear.
Again, this is just a start. If anyone — men or women — come across any other resources you think should be shared, please let me know in the comments. Thank you.
Working on this post, which has included reading numerous soul-draining articles and #metoo experiences, has triggered something fierce in me.
I have been feeling annoyed, angry, frustrated, drained, saddened, and apathetic, all at the same time.
I do want to mention that, at this point in my life, I thankfully do know more than just a handful of men who have shown me that they are capable of genuinely respecting women.
As I said earlier, the last partner I was with was the first true example that I could, indeed, be respected by a man in a romantic relationship. Thank goodness for him. I had learned to have very low standards before him. But. Never. Again.
There are other men who are currently in my life who make me feel safe, valued and accepted for who I am, and for that, I am deeply grateful. It’s still not enough, but they give me some hope in this tiresome battle that we endure.
On sharing our stories
(As an aside, Layla wrote an amazing piece called “I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy (Part One)” that calls out a different type of continuance of oppression. You can find Part Two here.)
Although the podcast episode was geared towards female spiritual leaders, and I certainly do not consider myself a spiritual leader in any way (in fact, I am a spiritual learner in every way), it gave me some peace of mind for both writing and sharing this post.
As Layla said:
… you don’t have to wait for it to be perfect, or for you to have it perfectly figured out or understood, before you say something or do something.
I am not an “expert” feminist. I cannot speak for every other woman I know and don’t know. I’m not even sure if what I wrote here truly encapsulates everything I want to say on this topic (probably not).
But I felt the need to speak. And so, I am speaking.
That being said, if you don’t share your own story — even if you want to — that is entirely (and obviously) your choice, and yours alone.
As I commented recently on a friend’s Facebook post where she stated that maybe she wasn’t brave enough to share her own #metoo story:
“… not sharing doesn’t make you not brave. It just might mean that sharing could trigger something that you don’t want to experience (and shouldn’t have to experience). It could mean that you only want to share in private, to specific people. It could mean that you just don’t fucking feel like it. It’s an individual decision and nobody can fault you for the one you make for yourself.”
I have read from some women’s posts that women shouldn’t have to out ourselves, explain ourselves, or tell men how to fix this problem.
No, we shouldn’t have to.
But at the end of the day, sister, do whatever the hell your soul tells you to do. The people who love you will be there to support you and catch you, if you need it.
Writing this piece, and reading about other women’s experiences, has triggered a lot of memories, negative emotions, and unresolved wounds. The need for self-care has been a given.
Some of the things I’ve done to reground myself have included:
- Journaling about the nightmare I had. Putting it on paper helped me to get it out, and let it go.
- Making sure I’ve been eating well.
- Spending time with our farm dog, Olive. Animals are better than therapy sometimes.
- Taking a few minutes during the busyness of the day to chat with someone who I knew would make me smile. 🙂
- Going for a run.
- Only returning to writing this post when I felt ready to again. There is nothing but 100% of my conviction and intention behind this piece.
- Debriefing with my amazingly supportive coach, Ivy, about the impact that delving into this topic has had on my wellbeing.
- While I’ve been writing this piece, I have physically been around a lot of male energy. I have been giving myself the space I need from that energy as much as possible. And without apology.
And after I publish this piece, I will be celebrating — yes, celebrating — with a burning ritual: I’ll be doing a bonfire at the farm where I burn a printed copy of this post, as a release to make room for healing. (Thanks, Ivy, for the suggestion. I love it!)
If you’re in need of some self-care, too, but don’t know where to start, here’s a couple of articles that you can check out for more ideas:
- How to Cope If You’re Feeling Triggered by the #MeToo Movement
- Tell Us Your Best Self-Care Tips As Someone Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted (Women have shared their self-care tips in the comment thread on this post.)
Ultimately, do what speaks to you, and what makes you feel comforted, grounded and safe. ❤
Thank you for reading. And if you want to share any of your own thoughts here, please feel free and safe to do so in the comments below.
Lots of love and healing,