In light of all of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse and harassment cases, many women (and men) have come forward to share their own stories of abuse and harassment on social media using the hashtag “#MeToo.”
I was so thrilled to see so many people speaking their truth and shedding light on a very serious issue; however, there was one story that truly stopped me in my tracks, which was of one woman’s reason why she felt uncomfortable posting #MeToo on social media.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t experienced sexual harassment, abuse, or rape in the past, but because she hadn’t necessarily faced the reality of those situations herself. Since her experiences weren’t of an extremely violent nature, and because she hadn’t felt “traumatized,” she felt that they were somehow unworthy of being called “sexual harassment” or “rape.”
This is an issue that I’ve seen so many people struggle with, including myself: We often try to justify other people’s actions, even when we know they’re “wrong.” We’re compassionate beings and we don’t want to believe that people could knowingly commit violent or genuinely mean or disturbing acts, and so we attempt to rationalize them, which in turn minimizes them.
I’ve listened to so many women describe situations in which they were very clearly sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped, but they don’t use those words. And whenever I used those labels, they immediately started to question whether or not their experiences can truly be classified as such.
It’s not that they had difficulty communicating their experiences to others; the difficulty lay in calling it what it was, and admitting the reality of the situation to themselves. Sometimes it can be just as difficult to admit the truth to yourself as it is to communicate that truth to others (whether that “truth” be related to sexual assault/harassment or any other trauma/hardship).
We create emotional blockages in order to protect ourselves and hide from the truth, and sometimes they run so deep that they genuinely blind us from recognizing the “wrong” in a given situation. We have these false belief systems surrounding unwanted or unsolicited sexual comments or contact, and society often perpetuates them. Most women (and many men as well) have probably experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault, from fear-inducing catcalling to unwanted grabbing of body parts in bars.
In my opinion, this stems from a deep-rooted, systemic issue regarding our sexuality, one that makes us blind to the ways both men and women are sexualized and exploited in the media, and one where we as women don’t even flinch sometimes when we’re in a crowded club and men squeeze our behinds. To a certain degree, sexual harassment and assault are normalized, especially in certain industries like the entertainment sector, and that’s not okay.
In discussing the “#MeToo” hashtag and the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society, I found the following series of videos. Based on a series of true stories, these short films take you through some examples of sexual harassment, from unwanted sexual contact by doctors to inappropriately sexual photoshoots.
Celebs Create a Series of #ThatsHarassment Videos
The following videos were designed to increase awareness surrounding the prevalence of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment occurs so frequently that we’ve stopped calling it out for what it is, creating almost a veil of protection over it.
These videos illustrate precisely what sexual harassment could look like in a number of scenarios. Israeli-American director Sigal Avin wrote and directed these five short films, and with the help of David Schwimmer (who played Ross in the TV show Friends), they distributed the videos in the U.S. in hopes of increasing awareness surrounding sexual harassment.
Here’s one “That’s Harassment” video featuring a doctor and his female patient:
Here’s another titled “The Coworker” that plays out a scene between two people working at a bar:
Here’s another titled “The Photographer” which depicts harassment in the modelling industry:
Here’s one more called “The Politician,” starring a journalist and a politician:
You can check out more of their videos on their Facebook page here.
What was perhaps most disturbing to me personally about these videos is that, as I watched them, I kept asking myself: “Is this really sexual harassment and/or sexual assault?” I recognized that I had, at least in part, become so indoctrinated by society’s warped view of sexuality that I myself had difficulty using these terms.
Then, I proceeded to think about times in my life when I felt that some form of sexual comments, contact, etc. were clearly not okay, but I just internalized and justified them to myself. Though these experiences made me uncomfortable, I pretended or assumed that the individual(s) involved didn’t mean to offend or scare me, and so I brushed it off.
If something genuinely feels wrong, then listen to your intuition. Have you ever experienced a “gut feeling?” That’s your soul giving you a clue about what’s going on in your life. Pay attention to those cues, and don’t doubt your judgement or second guess your initial feeling, because your feelings are valid. The fact that you are feeling your feelings is “validation” enough, and you don’t need anyone to distinguish what’s right or wrong for you.
If someone is touching you inappropriately without your consent and it’s making you uncomfortable, whether or not you’ve said the word “no,” then that’s not okay. If someone is saying extremely sexual comments to you that’s making your skin crawl, then that’s harassment.
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Why Do We Have Difficulty Addressing Sexual Harassment and Assault?
Society often pities rape survivors, deeming them as damaged or even blaming them for what happened. Women are told their skirts were too high or that they must have somehow “been asking for it.” We don’t exactly create an “open space” for women and men affected by sexual harassment, assault, or rape to come forward, which is perhaps why so many people refuse to either come to terms with their experiences or share them with others.
It’s also rare for rapists or those who sexually assault or harass others to own up to their actions as well, in part because they’re ostracized and dehumanized, as society has so little compassion for them. No, these actions are never okay, but that doesn’t mean these people aren’t human. If we demonize them and treat them like they’re some sort of monsters, how can we ever get to the root cause of this problem in the first place?
It’s not like it’s this tiny problem that’s going to go away without some serious effort being put forth by society. The fact of the matter is, 1 in 16 men are rapists, so odds are that you’ve met someone or are even friends or related to someone who’s a rapist. Not to mention the fact that females can be rapists too, and that there are far more people who have sexually assaulted or harassed others.
Why do men and women feel that they have a “right” over another person’s body in the first place? Why do we try to rationalize our own actions or the actions of others when they hurt other people? Why are we so afraid of addressing our inner turmoil?
These questions cannot be solved if we do not face them head on, take responsibility for our actions, and call these acts exactly what they are. In my opinion, souls that succumb to violence are simply lost, so instead of judging them for their actions we need to help them see their actions for what they truly are. Although I’m not a fan of labels, it’s important that we call sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape exactly what they are in order to increase awareness and shed light on these serious issues.
These videos reminded me of an article I wrote earlier this year on a man and woman who gave a joint TED talk together. This TED Talk was a profound dialogue between the woman, a rape survivor, and the man, her rapist. Despite the horrific experience they shared with one another, they were able to come together and share their experience in order to create awareness about sexual violence.
Thordis found peace in forgiving her rapist, and her rapist, Tom, was able to truly come to terms with what he’d done by discussing it with Thordis and trying to forgive himself for his actions. The woman, Thordis, expressed how easy it is to blame yourself after being raped.
As Thordis points out, “the only thing that could’ve stopped me from being raped that night is the man who raped me.” At the end of the day, you cannot control another person’s actions. Yes, you have the power to manifest and create your own reality, but so does everyone else. There’s no point in over-analyzing or regretting your actions because the victim’s actions are ultimately never the cause of rape.
As Tom says, “Far too often the responsibility is attributed to female survivors of sexual violence and not the males who enact it. Far too often the denial and running leaves all parties at a great distance from the truth.”
You can read the full article and watch their TED Talk here.
Although I believe it’s important to call these experiences out for what they are so both the perpetrators and the victims can come to terms with it, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not defined by one experience.
If you have been affected by sexual harassment, assault, or rape, know that you are so much more than just a “victim.” You should not have to wear your perpetrator’s shame, because it is their shame to bear, not yours. You are a human. You are a soul. You are deserving of love, compassion, and inner peace.
That being said, rapists and those who have committed sexual assault or harassment are humans as well. They too house souls, and they too deserve compassion. I am not justifying their actions by any means, but I am suggesting that one despicable, inexcusable choice should not have to define us indefinitely. I encourage you to reflect on why someone would ever choose to inflict harm on another, and how that must reflect the extreme inner turmoil they’re experiencing.
Whenever we feel that someone has “wronged” us, often times the best way to get over this experience is through forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the best ways to overcome anger or sadness, as it allows you to find the light within the dark. Even if you don’t think your perpetrator deserves your forgiveness, recognize that you deserve it.
Of course, this is easier said than done, and perhaps forgiveness is not a necessary part of everyone’s healing. I believe that one of the most important aspects of forgiveness is extending that compassion toward yourself, and so if you cannot forgive someone else, at least be gentle with yourself in knowing that you deserve forgiveness.
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