Of Sexual Harassment and Sisterhood
What a week it’s been! With the non-stop coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, news about women has managed to push Washington, DC off the front page. In case you haven’t caught up yet, here’s a recap:
- The New York Times and the New Yorker both published articles containing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood super-mogul Harvey Weinstein from multiple sources.
- Within days, Weinstein had been fired from the company he founded, his wife announced her intention to file for divorce, and he fled the country, ostensibly to enter treatment for sex addiction.
As the story grew, more and more people weighed in. Female celebrities, including Lupita Nyong'o, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mira Sorvino began to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse at Weinstein’s hands. The men of Hollywood expressed their outrage and support. They were applauded for their feminism, although some caught backlash for the patriarchal way they did so at the same time that the women were upbraided, as if their silence were complicity.
Women’s silence around sexual assault and harassment is a byproduct of the oppressive patriarchy they are subjected to. It was born centuries ago in a society in which women’s virginity was a prized possession of their fathers. Rape was a weapon that men wielded against other men, both in society and in war. Women were routinely to make them unmarriageable and to render the paternity of their children suspect. Of course women learned to keep their violations secret.
As we moved into professional spaces, a new kind of violation occurred: sexual harassment became commonplace. Women learned to accept it as part of the cost of their new place in society. We were taught that it was about our desirability, but it never was. Women of every age and physical time were vicitimized.
In a facebook post on October 11, the writer Ijeoma Oluo summed it up well, writing, “So Harvey Weinstein is apparently leaving the country for treatment for sex addiction. Please understand this: it's not sex he's addicted to. Weinstein is addicted to abusing women, to humiliating women, to violating women. Weinstein is addicted to power and his ability to abuse it. Just because Weinstein uses sexual acts to inflict abuse upon women, does not mean that it has anything to do with sex. Don't allow the dialogue around Weinstein to perpetrate the harmful belief that sexual assault is about sex. It never is.” The actress Emma Thomson spoke of this to the BBC, stating, “He’s not a sex addict. He’s a predator.”
Sexual harassment has always been about men’s power over women. It’s been about keeping us in our place and ensuring our vulnerability. It was a new, less invasive kind of rape and, with centuries of practice under our belts, women learned once again to keep men’s ugly secrets. We didn’t tell our bosses, who were often the perpetrators. We didn’t even tell each other.
Finally, that’s beginning to change. A tremendous ripple has been created and women are speaking out. Across the internet, women are beginning to share their own stories on social media. Many are using the twitter hashtags #MeToo, #sexualharassment, #NOTokay, and #WeinsteinMoment.
Women know that when we stand alone we are vulnerable to attack and criticism. Together however, we are formidable indeed.
And in our diversity of age, race, religion, sexual identity and political ideology, we transcend further into Sisterhood. How does Sisterhood form? By sharing honestly, taking risks, supporting one another and claiming/re-claiming OUR OWN FORM OF POWER.
What’s your deepest story? Who else knows it? Do you know your mother’s stories? Your sister’s? Your friend’s? If not, the time is now to share and to ask!
Host an evening! Invite other women to bare their souls and, if your intuition green-lights it, make it ‘top optional.’ Our breasts are a powerful portal for bonding, so ask the women you love to join you in cultivating an environment of trust and community. And know deeply that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.