It’s not too late to join the movement.
Predations by men have finally emerged into the daylight bringing anger, frustration, and retribution. Yet, I find myself wondering how these significant exposures, reports, speeches, and conversations about male predators will influence behavior, relationships, and institutions.
Except with time and continuing action, these complex unknowns cannot be easily predicted now. So, I’d like to start this discussion at a level that respects the meanings of this terrible issue and offers some opportunities at the individual level, too.
I think the accumulation of valid, unwanted intrusions in privacy, grievances, misdemeanors, and crimes exist on a continuum.
They reflect individual perceptions, values, and reactions — not to mention the times in which these situations happened.
For example, when my beautiful mother was molested by her cousin as a teenager, I sense that the act influenced the conservative way in which she dressed for the rest of her life. Maybe it even led to her choice to court my good father, whom she married at 17, and knew she could trust.
Likewise, as a teenager, I rode the New York City subway alone back and forth from work and experienced all the body pressing and touching in crowded trains (not to mention the exposure of penises). Those experiences helped make me pragmatic. Perhaps learning how to shoot a rifle from my father when I was five years old and my own wanderings in the woods alone as a child also helped armor me with self-sufficiency and a fighting spirit.
I knew to move away from the predators and to carry a large, firm-sided tote to place strategically between myself and others. I later wrote my doctoral dissertation on how people can express their capacity for courage as a more productive echo of experiences.
Most every woman has a story to tell, whether a personal experience or something she’s heard or seen.
Where does that leave each of us now, though? While I appreciate the value of having more women in positions of authority as many such as the gutsy, articulate Gretchen Carlson recommends in a recent PBS video, the organizational pipelines will take a while to fill.
Another consideration is the zero sum game. More women in power probably means fewer men at the top in many situations, at least while the economy improves only modestly. I also doubt if there will be a metamorphosis of comfort and collaboration among the women and men in the organizations that will likely remain hierarchical with clear sequences of control and prestige for the foreseeable future..
And not all women agree about how they feel about these realities and what should be done.
For example, actor Catherine de Neuve in a letter in Le Monde signed by 100 other established French women contends that #MeToo and Time’s Up have misused social media, limited sexual freedom, and gone too far by publicly prosecuting private experiences; they think a totalitarian climate has been created.
Less publicly, my friend, recently molested on a major, downtown street during the day, thinks women have been making too much of what she dismisses as a lifelong professional struggle. She seems to believe it is to be expected.
Given these complex realities, what can we as individual women and men who want to contribute to progress do now?
Here are some suggestions for what you can do to take action and move forward today:
1. Start with yourself.
This is where you have the most discretion and influence. First clarify your boundaries. What intrusions are you willing to address, and what will you ignore?
To prepare, develop some scripts for what you will say. On what occasions must you protect and stand up for yourself? Be ready for specific action related to problematic situations and people.
To help yourself move well through these matters, perhaps write about your experiences and how you felt about them. What were others doing and what were you doing at the time? How would you describe the longer-term setting, culture, and relationships? As a record and emotional release, maybe keep a journal for the present and future.
2. Identify ways to protect yourself and hold others accountable.
When I was a volunteer equal opportunity counselor, I learned that most of the discrimination grievances evolved from lousy management practices, avoidance of conflict, and poor communication. In the parade of predator situations these days, I notice that many of these men are/were abusive in their use of power and relationships, both in general and over long periods of time.
While these people are usually not malleable, there may be ways that can be held accountable. If you find yourself in the company of such a person, make sure there are witnesses when you are with them. Keep specific notes on what happens, and ideally, avoid future contact. This leads to my next suggestion.
3. Develop and nurture both male and female allies.
Identify people you respect, like, and trust with whom to communicate and build relationships. Consider a range of ages, levels of prestige, and backgrounds. Then, even before and when occasions warrant, you will be more likely to have supports and collaborators.
Conversations about challenging and difficult situations will flow more easily with these allies — especially when there has been previous give and take, including mutual problem solving. Decide on how to use your talents to assist them in ways they would appreciate.
4. Get help from knowledgeable people.
Talk to, read about, and observe people who have experienced similar difficulties. Find out how they have handled them within themselves and with others.
You might also explore legal and therapeutic assistance after getting worthy referrals that match your personality and needs. Look for resources that you may not have, such as grants, pro bono services and other assistance.
Finally, be aware about when connecting with human resource professionals is safe and productive.
5. Acknowledge the “me and you” aspect of #MeToo.
In addition to actions you choose to do related to #MeToo and Time’s Up, don’t forget to add the “me and you” aspect to the equation. That process can add value to your life, regardless of predator attacks and other intrusions. You and your allies will benefit from open communication and collaboration, in general.
Consider the value of these suggestions above and how you would adapt any that appeal to you. What ideas and actions will you add?
Ruth Schimel, PhD is a career and life management consultant and author of Choose Courage: Step Into the Life You Want and Related Handbooks, who writes about personal and professional development. In person, Ruth consults with individual and organizational clients in the Washington DC area, encouraging them to access their own courage and other powers. She also works by phone and email throughout the US and abroad. Contact her at [email protected] or 202.659.1772.