A couple of days ago, my Facebook feed started to fill with a simple phrase: Me too. Instructions followed to post “Me too” if you have ever been sexually harassed or assaulted in order to bring attention to the magnitude of women affected. A flood of “me too” continues to stream past as I scroll, some with stories that tug at me with their sadness, anger, confusion, and pain.
I have a hard time imagining there is a single woman in our country who has never, ever been harassed or assaulted, though I suppose there are a few. So why have only maybe a quarter of the women I know posted “Me too?” After all, the posts draw not just attention to a huge problem that our society needs to address, but also support from friends, commiseration, and praise for bravery in sharing their story.
The silence of so many women does not comfort me. It is the silence that has torn at my heart these past few days even more than the deluge of “Me too.”
In the silence is the little girl whose big brother held his hand over her mouth and her wrists in his other hand while rubbing his hard-on against her abdomen. She was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it.
In the silence is the barely–pubescent girl whose step-father put his finger in her vagina while her mom was at work. Thirty years later, she still hasn’t told her mother.
In the silence is the girl whose visiting grandfather stuck his tongue in her mouth when he kissed her goodbye. Who would believe her that this sweet old man who everyone loved would do that? And so she never told.
In the silence is the wife who has no interest in explaining to her husband or teenagers (who are also on social media) what happened when her friend left her alone and drunk at a fraternity house party in college.
In the silence is the mom who still lives in fear of the man who will come home to her after work today and continues to pray that whatever he does, he does to her and not one of her daughters.
Are these girls and women not brave because they are silent? That’s ridiculous. Is it their job to inform the world that sexual assault is a huge problem? No, it absolutely is not. Her job is healing her own heart. She has zero responsibility to upend her life with a “Me too” just to inform a misdirected world that we have a problem. Any peace, normalcy, and equilibrium she has gained looking at abuse in the rearview mirror was undoubtedly hard-won and still tenuous at times. She owes no one a Tweet, a Facebook post, a story, or an explanation.
I am NOT knocking the “Me too” movement. Not one bit. Awareness, solidarity, and support are all worthy and important goals. Still, these posts on your screen are only the tip of the iceberg. We have a huge problem, and the long list of women in my life who have volunteered their status among the abused and harassed have made me feel sad, angry, depressed, and scared for the world where I’m raising my children.
I’ve been grasping for some hope in the horror stories of this week, and I found it in an odd place—the men’s restroom at McDonald’s. As I ran into the ladies’ room, the changing table sign next to the men’s entrance caught my eye. They are everywhere now, in restaurants, businesses, libraries, and amusement parks. When did dads start being annoyed when there isn’t a changing table available for their convenience? Certainly not when I was a kid. How did this change happen? How did much of our society make this small but monumental shift? Here’s how I think it happened:
It was the MOMS.
It didn’t happen overnight, but instead of expecting grown men—their husbands— to change, moms took matters into their own hands and transformed the attitudes of a generation of future men. Moms started teaching their daughters to expect husbands to be an equal partner in parenting. Moms started teaching sons that their job as a parent was just as important as their job at work.
What happened? Everything changed. McDonald’s got a changing table because dads were just as likely to be changing the diaper as a mom. You see, moms teach so much more than good manners and when to brush our teeth. Moms teach us what to believe, what is true and right, how to be in the world. It might take a generation or two or three, but
WE ARE MOMS.
We have the power to shift our entire culture by what we teach inside our homes. What we say, do, and model for our children can change everything. We have to decide to do better.
So, moms—it’s you and me. How are we going to fix this? How do we make this world better for our both our girls and our boys (because this is not healthy for either of them)? Whatever we were taught—men and women of our generation and before—is clearly not working. We need to take a good, hard look at the lessons we learned and do better for our kids. What can we change today?