Trigger warning: this piece contains discussion of sexual harassment and sexual violence.
The floodgates have opened on the reality of everyday experience for American women.
Sexual harassment is a daily occurrence, and the number of women who have not experienced sexual assault is vanishingly small.
In the circle of women who are most dear to me, several have been raped.
I myself had what I would describe as a semi-consensual sexual experience in college that had deep repercussions for me.
And with regard to sexual harassment, the reaction of most women I know to men who are asking, “Is it really this prevalent?” is, “You mean you didn’t know?”
There are few of us who do not have strong emotions about this cultural moment.
I have talked to straight male colleagues who are frightened.
They are examining years of their lives in retrospect, wondering if they ever crossed a line somewhere and will find out about it on the front page of the local paper.
I have talked to male colleagues who react with scoffing dismissal, insisting these accusations are a fad and a bandwagon for every opportunist holding a grudge.
Other male colleagues have reacted with sensitivity, solidarity, and commitment to being part of a solution.
The female colleagues I have talked to have had a range of reactions as well.
Some have had to shut down all news and social media in their lives because the constant barrage of sexual harassment allegations has triggered their own memories and swamped them with PTSD.
Some who have not dealt with outright abuse or assault have felt guilty or privileged compared with those who have.
Many are deeply cynical that any real change can occur in a nation that elected as president someone who freely admitted to sexual assault in what he called “locker room banter.”
And this doesn’t even begin to address the additional levels of harassment and assault experienced by those rendered even more vulnerable than those in my dominant milieu of middle class white women.
People of color and LGBTQ colleagues I’ve spoken to have shaken their heads as they’ve affirmed that my privilege has shielded me from additional layers of poisonous harm that bombard them from the outside world every day.
I think one of the questions everyone is asking is, “Why now?” Continue reading