I just read a post by a woman who essentially challenged the “Me Too” posts that have been appearing all over Facebook in the past few days. She mentioned situations where she said women were offended by comments, like honey or sweetie, and flirtations made by men that she thought were freaking out over nothing. She mentioned being in work situations with customers who made these comments and flirted with her and she was able to tell them no, and that she trained them how to treat her. At the end she said she wasn’t downplaying it for women who have been in an uncomfortable situation or felt threatened. Reading this post, as an adult male, made me feel uncomfortable. Here’s why.
First, the fact that the comment about not downplaying was one sentence at the end didn’t calm my feeling that she was downplaying what has been happening, and continues to happen, to women every day. If you really want people to believe you aren’t downplaying it, make that comment up front and probably repeat it a couple times. But …
Second, the way that final comment was worded left me feeling like she was downplaying it. Using “uncomfortable situation” and “felt threatened” doesn’t begin to get at what the “Me Too” postings are about. This isn’t about discomfort or feeling threatened, it’s about feeling powerless. With customers, you are at least on equal footing, if not in a power position. What the “Me Too” posts are about is not fending off customers or guys you pass on the street. They are about dealing with bosses who hold your livelihood in their hands. Not every woman is able to say no to a boss who may fire them. A single mom who is barely making ends meet can’t afford to stand up to a boss who may well fire them. I have known women in these circumstances and have heard many other stories. The posts are also about being in a situation where you know the man, and have felt safe with them before, only to have them turn on you with beatings and rape. I have known women in those situations as well. These posts are about women who have been in a vulnerable state of mind for any of several reasons, only to have a safe man take advantage of them. Those are just a few examples of what “Me Too” is about.
I’m glad that this woman has never been in those situations! I’m glad that she has felt strong enough to handle the men in the much lighter situations she has been in. And I really mean that! But the women who I have seen posting “Me Too” are not snowflakes who are just easily offended. They are strong, intelligent, wise women who have had their situations forced on them through no fault of their own.
There’s a third reason why I felt uncomfortable reading the post. I believe her when she says that she wasn’t trying to downplay the real assaults that happen. But the way the post was worded made it very possible for men, men who are perpetrators of these assaults, to say, “See, here’s a woman who agrees that it’s no big deal.” I felt the same way reading this post as when I read articles about an individual Black man who says there is no problem with racism and racial injustice in this country. I’m glad they have not had the experience of the vast numbers of other Black men. His post may be very real, but it is being used by White people to maintain the status quo. And his one experience certainly doesn’t negate the experience of the vast number of others. I think this woman would be upset if a group on Facebook used her post to negate the experiences of women who are assaulted by men. But I feel like that door was opened.
A male friend of mine posted “I’m Guilty” today to acknowledge that he hasn’t spoken up enough about harassment and assault on women. I’m guilty also, but today I speak up!