October 19, 2017

#MeToo

I am at a loss at how I am to begin this blog post.  Since this twitter trend began I have been thinking about how I would address my own experiences.  It wasn't until I started teaching a workshop on sexual harassment and assault that my own story even started coming into my consciousness.  Up until that point, I never thought that my experiences could have any influence on my behaviour, attitudes, beliefs, or emotional health.

My first experience with sexual assault happened in a public pool when I was 11 or 12.  To put my story into perspective, this was at the end of the 1970s when, what I can remember, sexual assault was something families pushed under a rock in the backyard, at least mine did.

I review this Gender Violence Pyramid step by step in my workshop.  Each time I receive push back, sarcastic comments, and people (both men and women) who believe a joke is still just a joke.  We have a lot more work to do.

I was at a public swim with a childhood friend when we met a man in the pool who appeared friendly and kind (albeit his penis was dangling out of his speedos). We were curious kids and had no clue that we were in the presence of a sexual predator.  Instead we started rough housing with him in that pool. Although I cannot speak for my friend and what she experienced, I was sexually assaulted that day and proceeded to go home and tell my parents.  I don't remember thinking anything about this.  I don't remember feeling violated, or ashamed, or scared.  I left this pervert in the pool after he told me he would be back next Saturday. My parents told the police and the police asked for my help in setting up a sting.  I was to go back to that pool to meet my perpetrator and point him out to the authorities.

I did just that.  The police marched in, took him by the arm, sat him down in a room near the pool and.....told him never to come back. Could you imagine if this happened now? Back then it was just a stern talking to. I never thought of that until now.  I remember hearing a news story about something similar in that same pool only a few years ago.  After that day my parents never spoke of it again.

Since that day, I've been strangled by a boyfriend twice, flashed a few times, catcalled at nauseum until the point of never wanting to walk on the sidewalk by myself. I grew up fast, I attracted the older men, I thought this was a good thing. I believed my value came from my appearance.  I never thought these experiences had any influence on who I was or how I felt about myself as a woman in the world.

Since picking up a few things over the years, I now know that, for many years, I accumulated my sense of self worth through the attention I received from men.  I put myself in terrifying situations to prove I was worth it.  I get that now. I also see this behaviour in the young girls and women these days.  Nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is people are talking about it more and maybe (just maybe) that pervert in the pool will get more than a wrist slap.

This is another way of presenting the Gender Violence Pyramid as it relates to the ripple effect.  Sexist attitudes and the objectification of men and women can influence the violence.  Once we understand how it all connects, maybe then we will start taking jokes and sexist comments seriously.  
Sexual assault and harassment continues to be a woman problem.  When will men start asking what they can do to support girls and women? It has been my experience (and I have taught over 500 men in my workshop now) that if they aren't a perpetrator of this behaviour, they don't have to talk about it.  It takes balls to stand up to friends and family when a man hears a sexist or demeaning joke against women.....but we need those men to stand up. We need men to understand that a joke isn't just a joke; that joke has a social ripple effect. It keeps the stereotypes alive, it gives men permission to continue to treat women like objects.  It makes this behaviour normal.

It's great that women are beginning to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment but it won't do a thing unless men start standing with women and not against them.  When men start understanding that this is a man's issue (and not a woman's), perhaps we will see a decrease in this behaviour. I am certain it will not be in my lifetime nor my niece's.  So when?

I feel a little exposed and hope I haven't over shared, but there you have it.

K


2 comments:

  1. Hi Kathi,

    I think my comment glitched the other day but I wanted to make sure how much I (and many others I am sure) appreciated your post. I put a link to it on my post on Sunday (saratmd.com if you want to check it out). So glad you are back in the blogosphere.
    Best,
    Sara

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  2. Hi Sara;

    Thank so much for taking the time to respond to this post. As much as I support and believe people should tell their stories, I felt a little uneasy writing that one. It's one thing to have experienced it and lived with it and another to say it out loud. Thank you for linking it. I will check it out on your blog. All the best to you too.
    Kathi

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