Tuesday, October 17, 2017

I Believe You

The first person that I saw post "Me too" yesterday was a close female relative. The second was also a close female relative. And then, as the day progressed, it seemed that every woman I know posted "Me too," indicating that they had been sexually assaulted or harassed. These are women from all walks of life: young and old, wealthy and poor, liberal and conservative, and of every racial, religious, and ethnic background. I believe them.

I've not been ignorant of the problem, of course, I know the statistic that nearly one in five American woman have been raped in their lifetime, and I have no doubt that when one includes harassment the numbers approach five in five. My female relatives and friends have sometimes shared their stories of harassment with me, some ridiculous enough to laugh at, many terrifying, but most conveyed with a kind of world-weary shrug, as if it was just some commonplace inconvenience around which one must navigate, like puddles on the Seattle's sidewalks in mid-winter.

This means that a lot of men have assaulted or harassed women; men I know, men I might even call friend. As a mature adult, I have had the courage and morality to stand up to men who speak of women in sexually degrading ways. I have even intervened when I could tell a woman was feeling intimidated. I doubt that I've changed anyone's minds, but at least I've temporarily shut them up or shut them down. The disheartening truth, however, is that I haven't always done so, especially as a younger man. For that I apologize to every woman I know. 

And as hard as it is to confess, I have no doubt that some of my own behavior during my days as a single man crossed the line. For that I apologize to every woman I know.

Most of the people reading this are women. Most of the people I work with on a day-to-day basis are women. I have heard your "Me too" and stand both chastened and re-committed to doing everything I can to stand with you. As a preschool teacher, I work every day to help the children understand the importance of speaking up. We practice saying, "Stop!" when others are doing things that hurt us or make us uncomfortable. We make agreements to treat one another not as we would like to be treated in the spirit of the Golden Rule, but rather how they would like to be treated, which requires really listening to them, a habit that is obviously alien to far too many men. We talk about bullying and we talk about consent.

I hope I am sending these children into the world with the tools and attitudes that will protect them from being victims or victimizers, but even if every preschool teacher consciously does what we do, we still cannot expect the children to change the world. As with anything, the world must change first and that is the responsibility of us adults.

This morning, I'm finding even more "Me too" posts on my social media feeds: it's overwhelming as was intended. I am not offering solutions this morning, and I am not expressing my anger or sadness even as I'm feeling it, but rather waiting now for women to tell me what they want me to do. I'm not writing this for thanks or praise. The goal of the "Me too" effort is to raise awareness and I am writing with that intention as well.

But mostly I'm writing to let you know that I have heard your "Me too" and I believe you.

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