The ‘#me too’ campaign has swept social media platforms since Harvey Weinstein’s face has blotched our screens and smeared newspaper print. Women – famous, infamous and those mere mortals who go about their daily business without ruffling the pages of gossip columns – have come out from under their perceived cloak of shame and have admitted to having suffered the egregious indignity of sexual abuse and violence.
And I admire them. Certainly those who have been, in some case irreparably, scarred by such encounters.
Tarana Burke, the brave woman who started the ‘me too’ campaign about ten years ago, having herself survived a terrible experience, says, “The spectrum of gender-based violence runs the gamut – no one’s experience shouldn’t be validated.” Her premis is that we should believe in the beauty of ‘me too’ and that empathy is at the heart of the campaign.
Empathy is a word tossed around a lot and is often muddled with sympathy. Empathy can only truly be felt by those who have had similar experiences, sympathy is what we feel for those people without in any way presuming to deeply understand their emotion. All of us though can work on being more empathetic.
I think I am one of the few fortunate women unable to write ‘me too’. The couple of instances of groping or lewd behaviour I have experienced, were so insignificant I refuse to give the perpetrators the satisfaction of an instant of my time, in either thought or print.
But abuse and violence are hard and fast words which immediately conjure horrific deeds – preface those words with ‘sexual’ and another layer of horror is added.
Then I started thinking about what constitutes sexual harassment. There are the whistlers, the brickie’s light-hearted comments shouted from scaffolding high above a street, the “you’re looking gorgeous today, luv” kind of observation from the flower seller at the entrance to the Tube. Things said that invariably brought a smile to my face on a grey morning or made me laugh in the sunshine.
Men, without doubt, have to be careful with what, and how, things are said. To know that no means no. Woman have to be careful not to stifle, or become so parsimonious and self-aware as to destroy the kind of banter that is part of human interactions. Where is the line drawn?
Innuendo, as well as blatant oogling, is a two-way street. Men pay for women to strip in girly bars, and give lap dances, and women giggle coyly at men strutting their stuff in a g-string at hen nights. The entertainers are, we hope, performing on their own volition but the acts themselves help smudge the lines of what is acceptable and what is not.
Then a week ago today, I started thinking about men. Not the ratbags who, in every level of society, have given cause for the ‘me too’ campaign but the decent, kind, loving men so many of us are fortunate enough to have in our lives.
Why did I start thinking about them?
Well, I fainted last Sunday. I was walking Clyde along the banks of Buffalo Bayou, on my own. I was happy. Then I was face down on a slab of concrete, coming to with the dog whining at my side and blood pouring from my face.
A couple of concerned men shouted from the bike path above to sit down, they were calling an ambulance. Ignoring them, crying and mopping my head with the hem of my skirt, I stumbled up the bank and staggered home to the man who would make it all better.
It was at the emergency centre that it started. My husband of nearly forty years was treated like a fist-throwing degenerate – he was brushed aside as he tried to help me walk to the examination room.
I was asked, “Are you safe at home?”
“Always,” I replied.
It was deemed my injury needed a plastic surgeon and so after having a CT scan I was loaded into an ambulance and taken to hospital. John followed in the car. He was again given the very cold shoulder despite me having explained what had happened. He was upset, not only by my injury but at the thought people believed him responsible. I sent him home to check on Clyde whose ablutions had been so rudely interrupted.
The plastic surgeon, I hope, has done a good job – it is too early to tell – but his manner was brusque, offhand – not an ounce of compassion. Possibly because he stitches up numerous violently abused women. I do accept it cannot be easy to separate the good from the bad and so understand the medical professionals’ dilemma, but neither should all men be made to feel a heel.
As I watch rich and powerful men stumble on their own hubris and women come out from behind their shame by hash tagging ‘me too’, I want to shout out to those legions of wonderful men who support their wives, their daughters, their girl friends, their partners, their sisters, their mothers – because not all men are bastards.
With a face full of stitches, I doubt I will ever be the subject of a cheerful whistle again, and I will miss that!