I’m still processing, still reeling.
All of those women, and a few men, coming forward to say they too had been touched by the foul hand of sexual harassment and assault. Each of their lives tainted with no regard for their autonomy or bodies.
My wife has suffered the horrors of sexual assault multiple times through her life. Not just harassment, which she’s had on a near daily basis, but full on assault and abuse. I’m certain she’s not the first woman in my life who’s endured such indignities, but she is the first one to talk openly and candidly about them to me. It sickens me every time the specter of those living ghouls resurface, ripping open wounds we so badly wished had permanently healed. Alas, gashes of the psyche rarely remain in slumber, they prefer to make their presence known just when they’ve been forgotten.
Perhaps that’s the most damning thing about the atrocities women face: the reliving of their ordeals, over and over. The fear and pain all can come flooding back in the merest of moments. For many, it is a permanent state of mind – the torture of knowing that when, not if, a man forces his desires upon them that society willfully will look the other way. Worse, it actively seeks out ways to blame them rather than the fiends that prey upon them. It is little wonder why so many women remain silent preferring a silent purgatory to a public one.
That’s the easy part of my processing. I am more fully aware of the overwhelming prevalence of the depraved notions of so many men. My eyes, previously shuttered because I wanted to believe in the goodness of men, have been opened. I can see its insidiousness more plainly, so I can step in and step up to combat it.
The hard part of my processing is the self-evaluation. The review of all my interactions with women, the dissection of my actions and words. While I’ve never raped anyone, I’m certain I’ve at the very least been coercive and persistent – traits I had inherited from the social norms and queues of my youth. I’ve cajoled, insisted, persisted. Even when it was clear, by actions or words, that my advances were unwelcome, I kept inveigling myself, believing as I had been taught that if she would just see what a great guy I am that she would at last be wooed.
As bad as that is, it is not the only way I’ve been ignorant. I’ve witnessed men clearly following women walking and said nothing. I’ve heard innuendo said in a meeting countless times. Behind closed doors, I’ve heard gross declarations of what men would “do” to various women they see, fully expecting zero pushback.
I was complicit in my silence. By not standing up for my fellow human beings, I allowed this festering boil to remain and allowed women’s fears to be realized. Through my inaction, misogyny kept its stronghold, and women were forced to accept their mistreatment and groping against their will and wishes. They were made to feel less than, inferior, powerless, and at fault. And I let it happen.
I admit my personality veers towards the non-combative. No longer can I lean upon that as a reason for cowardice. This is far bigger than me or my trepidations; this is about empathy and standing up for people when they may not have been able to fend of the slathering of a man. It’s not because I have a wife and daughters; it’s because women need our support. They need us to be their allies, someone who believes them when they sound the alarm and do not search for ways to push the blame onto them. They need advocacy, not doubt. I intend on being there for anyone who needs a hand and a voice.
I am deeply sorry for what I’ve done and what I’ve not done. I will do better from here on out. I will teach our sons to be better than I have been, to help them become advocates as well.
I see you all. I stand with you. I cannot change my past, but I can help shape the future, not only through my actions, but through my children.
We have work to do, men. Let’s get to it.
Photo credit: BlackDoctor.org