By now, whether you’re a news junkie or not, you’ve likely heard about the Me Too Movement, whereby people who have been victims of sexual harassment or other unwanted sexually-related behaviors have been posting their experiences on social media.
When this movement was kicked off by the Harvey Weinstein accusations, I fell into the camp who believed it was quite likely that the bulk of these Me Too stories were overblown complaints made by overly sensitive women. And because I did not know precisely what constituted sexual misconduct or how such data was collected, I admit to thinking that rape/assault statistics were largely inflated.
Three things happened which have since changed my thinking.
First though, it is important to explain that I come from a background where I was never a victim myself, nor was anyone in my family. Since reaching adulthood, I have met three girlfriends who experienced sexual misconduct either themselves or within their immediate family, and in all three cases it involved rape/assault by a family member. I tended to believe that this type of deviancy was more the exception than the rule, and that belief carried over into other areas of sexual misbehavior.
Since the Me Too Movement, I’m still not sure what precisely constitutes sexual misconduct (the gray areas-not the obvious) or how such data is collected. As a result, I cannot help but retain a good deal of my natural skepticism with regards to sex crime statistics.
That being said, what three things happened to change my mindset about the Me Too Movement?
One, I was shocked (perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but I was) by the number of Me Too stories that were being told by people I personally knew. These were not women I found flighty or given to exaggeration. Typically, they were strong women with strong family ties or in other words, they were not women I would have ever thought of as stereotypical “victims”. This made me realize, it could happen to anyone – and indeed, by all appearances, it had been happening.
Second, I was out to dinner with a group of lady friends, several of whom were near or around age 70. One of them made a statement that struck me with the force of a hard slap across the face. She said, and I quote: “If you’re our age and you worked, then you were sexually harassed.” No one at the table disagreed. It’s now inconceivable to me that I watched every season of Mad Men and never once made the connection to the actual prevailing tendency of harassment in the workplace, even today.
The third and undeniably the most profound thing that happened to change my mindset with regards to the Me Too Movement was that, for the first time ever, a member of my family became a victim of sexual harassment. My 33-year-old daughter has worked almost her entire career in male dominated fields, and never once, in all those years, has she ever been made to feel uncomfortable and dirty. Until a few weeks ago.
What I learned when she shared her experience with me was her feeling of helplessness at the time of the incident, her feeling of her anger (not at him, but at herself for failure to act forcefully in order to forestall the unwanted behavior), and her feeling of confusion about what to do or not to do. Was she really a victim or was she overreacting? Was it really so bad? Maybe it would just be better to forget the whole thing.
What shocked me even more was that to a lesser degree, I experienced all those same feelings right along with her – with the exception of the direction of my anger. What I will say about my fury is it’s a good thing I’m only a writer and not a member of the Soprano Family or there would be one messed up bastard out there who would definitely think twice before he pawed and groped someone I love and care about. Instead, this prick will be regulated to a fictional character who will most assuredly be castrated in one of my books! Whew! Sorry about that. Had to get it out.
Anyway, so great. The Me Too Movement and personal experience has softened one person’s thinking on the number and legitimacy of sexual harassment complaints and complainants. That’s all fine and dandy, but what has it to do with writing? After all, Write or Consequences is a writing blog.
As I’ve been stewing and stewing and stewing on this, I have come to understand that like so many issues raging through our real lives, sexual harassment is a topic often explored in our works of fiction. And I believe that we, as authors, have a social responsibility to treat the women in our stories – who find themselves at the receiving end of such undesirable behavior – with kindness, with authenticity, and ideally with researched guidance on best to deal with recovery.
Even more important, let us strive through our prose to instruct women of all ages how best to react to such a situation as it is happening while also hinting to the good men out there (and there are plenty of them) on what is permissible and what is not in this new age of respect for all.
In that regard, I pledge, #MeToo.