©2017, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.
Let me start off by saying that I'm sorry. I wish I had answers for this, but I don't. I'm not even sure that I can have answers. Or that I should be allowed to propose potential answers.
I am doing something that's unusual for me. I'm writing about something as it is happening. Well, that's not entirely true. It's been happening for a long, long time, but now, it's at a sort of groundswell that might not have a precedent.
There is a person whose name I will not mention, because I'd rather not honor him with any more notoriety. He has been accused of numerous, many, an untold number of incidents in which he has attempted to take advantage of women, and frequently succeeded, apparently. He has played power off against innocence, coercing them to do what he wants. I say "accused" only because there have not (yet) been actual criminal charges pressed at this writing. But the number of cash payouts he made, to buy silence, has me convinced well beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of what it is said he has done.
And this has set off a cascade of women coming forward about him and other men. Some are sufficiently famous to warrant attention. They are encouraging those who are not known outside of their own friends and family to come forward as well, and be strong, and brave, and tell their stories.
They are using a "hashtag," something that wasn't even an idea when I began my writing decades ago. That hashtag is #metoo. As in, it's happened to me, too. I've been harassed. I've been intimated. I've been presented with choices I should not have to dignify with an answer. I've been abused. And worse. I'm an actress, I'm a lawyer, I'm a government official, I'm a member of the military. I'm a waitress, an assistant, a coach, a writer, a teacher, a scientist.
There are women I know of from their being famous who have used #metoo. And there are women I actually know who have posted #metoo. And, sadly, there are even more women that I absolutely know can use #metoo who have not. Overall, the number is growing.
I wonder whether this new story will get pushed off the headlines and out of mind—again—by another crisis, mass shooting, or useless celebrity gossip. It shouldn't. I'm afraid it will be.
And I suppose that you might be wondering whether there is some Big Reveal coming about my life. There isn't. Yes, I was bullied as a child, as were many others who grew up smart in a place that didn't know what to do with intelligence. I had to run home from the bus to stay ahead of those who wanted to do me harm. There were unflattering things written on the street in front of my house. Authorities largely turned a deaf ear to my parents' concerns. It wasn't fun. It hurt.
But saying that means I know how women feel about the way they are being treated? No way. That's like saying I Know What It's Like To Be Pregnant or I Know What It's Like To Have Cancer. I don't. I won't pretend to know.
It also seems completely false to me to point out that I try my best to not act like the men who are being outed as predators, ethically if not legally. Saying "I'm not that way" is incredibly self-righteous, self-congratuatory, and tone-deaf. I would not blame any woman for not trusting any man at this point. Talk is cheap, dude. Prove it. And consistently. Not just once for the cameras.
I don't like how this has been hidden under the rug for so long, with the occasional exception of a Major News Story; which then goes away quickly as the Next Big Thing kicks it back down the chart. I am reminded of being back in high school, when our class read classic novels. During the inevitable analysis discussion which followed, what was brought up as a theme was "Man's Inhumanity To Man." And then we moved on, as if that was some sort of sterile, immutable concept, oh, well, that's they way it goes.
Then there was what may be an absurd opposite extreme. Back in the previous century, I received mandatory instruction on "Sexual Harassment." The central message I got out of it was "You cannot do or say anything to anyone, anytime." This is offensive, that is offensive, this creates a hostile work environment, that is going to get you fired. It didn't matter what this and that were—just don't do it. Don't compliment, don't criticize, and especially don't even smile. This allowed certain of The Powers That Be to check the box and do what they felt like anyway, while being able to point out that They Had A Policy and were Therefore Insulated from the Actions of Employees.
Is having a policy better than not having one? I'd like to think so, but I'm really not sure. At the place where I received training years ago, I didn't see any violations. I was fortunate to be on good teams most of the time that respectfully focused on the work at hand. Sad to say, there are courses like this in many companies and governments, and they don't seem to have had the wide impact that was—I hope—positively intended. Yet, that instruction kept me from saying a kind word at the right moment… no, wait, here I am being self-righteous again. Stop it already.
Change happens a little at a time. Ever since this latest story broke, I have been trying to figure out what I can do. I know I won't have any world-altering answers.
But, maybe, I can listen, without judgement, without prejudice, if someone wants to talk.
And I can respond, with three and only three words, which have now also become a hashtag:
I hear you.