Almost chorus like, women are using their voice to speak out about sexual abuse and harassment. And I’ve never been more excited for a movement in history.
This has been a long time coming. From Weinstein to Schwahn a long-hidden secret of working women is coming into the light. It’s important to note that this behavior isn’t specific to high powered Hollywood heavyweights, but runs rampant in all industries where men hold positions of power. It’s also important to remember that speaking up comes with a price. Women grapple with personal shame, fear of retribution and the horror of being accused of lying. These are the things that have kept us from coming forward for decades.
This is a time in history I’m hopeful for. The stories being shared, the action being taken, can shape the future for women in the U.S.
But as these stories come out I’ve seen a wide range of different reactions. Some of them from fellow women who don’t realize that the things they say hurt, not help, victims feel brave enough to come forward. Or more importantly, keep telling their stories.
So here they are, five deeply hurtful ways to respond to a woman who just admitted to being abused.
I never saw him behave that way…
That’s great, Lena Dunham. Consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Here’s something people need to understand; men capable of abusing women, sexually or otherwise, are also deeply manipulative. They can bend and mold their personality to their current audience. Maybe you were in a position of power yourself, maybe you were closer to them, who knows what the reason is. But just because you didn’t see it, just because they’ve been an upstanding member of society in front of you, doesn’t mean they don’t possess the ability to hurt other people. We all have the ability to hurt others. Some of us do it in small ways and some in much bigger ways.
To write off accusations with this phrasing is to tell a woman that she’s being over-dramatic, or worse, that you don’t believe her at all. Before you say something like this think about the signs you might have missed. Think about how other women never came to confide in you. There’s a reason for that, not one that necessarily puts any blame on you, but one that showcases you were in a vastly different position than they were.
That’s just men being men.
You know what makes a good man? One that respects women. Who knows what no means. That doesn’t touch someone, uninvited, in a room full of people. Or make sexual jokes towards a woman in front of her peers. A real man is a man that’s raised to treat everyone kindly, to think about their actions, to control their desires like the god damn rest of us do. To say that “locker room talk” or lewd come-ons are just men being men is to demean everything those good men stand for.
As women, we can raise our young boys to exhibit respectful behavior. We can draw a hard line in the sand between what is and isn’t acceptable. This excuse is sad and unfortunate. It paints men as accepted predators when all of us know there are good men out there. Stop accepting this behavior as a gender specification and call it what it is; harassment and abuse.
That’s just the way it is.
This is one of the reasons so many women, particularly in the entertainment industry, don’t come forward. I started my career in the music industry where, as a woman, you’re basically groomed to be a chill, cool girl that doesn’t cause a fuss. Seriously. At one of my very first jobs, I was pretty open about the fact that I don’t like to be touched. It became something of a game with some of the people in my department to try and surprise me with a hug or a squeeze of my shoulders.
At 20 years old I distinctly remember having a conversation with another woman who said the music industry wasn’t a place where you could complain about sexual harassment. I was young, hard-working, and definitely didn’t want to lose my chance to work in the industry I’d gone to school for. So, I played along. But now, I hate that I did. Now, I hope other women can see that it doesn’t have to be that way. We have a voice and a right to be comfortable in our workspace. No matter what industry we work in; we went to school, we worked hard, we deserve to be there and be respected the same way that men do. This is not the way it is.
Why didn’t you speak up sooner?
The hardest thing for a woman to do in these situations is speaking up. Why? Because of all the reasons listed here. We are ashamed, we are judged, people don’t trust us, and sometimes, our industry will ostracize us for causing trouble. I can actually affect our careers and relationships with people we love. Do we wish we could? Absolutely. But each of us is fighting our own internal battle with abuse.
I was in an abusive relationship for almost two years and didn’t tell anyone until after the fact. Even then, it was a few close friends. Only now, 15-some odd years later, do I have the confidence to speak out about it. And you know what kills me? I know that speaking up way back when might have saved someone else. I don’t know what my abuser went on to do to another woman. Maybe he’s still doing the same thing. Maybe he got worse. You don’t need to mention this to people that have been abused, trust us, we know. But just as there are many reasons to tell, there are a million reasons not to, and until you’ve felt the weight of it on your shoulders this really isn’t something you can judge.
Can’t you just forgive him?
I’ve seen this thrown around a lot lately. It’s a response that seems to come exclusively from men. Which shouldn’t be surprising, considering many of them have no idea what it’s like to sit at a desk or be in a relationship where you’re terrified of what might happen next. They say this because they see the allegations as a witch hunt. They think that someone losing everything they worked for is too harsh a punishment.
You know what’s too harsh a punishment? Living the rest of your life distrusting the men you work with. Being unable to have healthy relationships because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Flashing back to moments where you lacked control over your life and what was being done to you. Being sexually abused or harassed stays with you throughout your life. It’s a burden you carry, even when you’re doing well. Even when you’re successful. No, a man finally being called out and accused, finally getting his due justice, is not too harsh a punishment compared to the lifelong battle of the abused.
There are a lot of women out there who finally feel safe enough to come forward. Rather than throwing these accusations around, asking these unhelpful questions, let’s continue to be supportive of their battle. As women, especially, we need to come together. Now is not the time to look at others with uncertainty and judgment. Now is the time to have the hard conversations and understand each other better.
I want to see this change. Across all industries. For the young women just coming into the workforce and starting to build new relationships with men. We all deserve to feel loved and safe, and on the flip side, we deserve to feel like other women will be there to help us when we don’t.