For those of you playing along at home, the Napa Women’s Circle met last week to tackle the topic “What do we do with #MeToo?”
The #MeToo Movement bears the heavy weight of collective trauma. Women who shared their stories publicly were attacked, discredited, and shamed. Women who chose not to reveal their trauma stories were accused of perpetuating a culture of silence. The breadth and depth of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and gender-based discrimination was slowly unveiled and it became impossible to ignore the suppression of women in the workplace. The visibility of sexual violence spread past the public sphere of the workplace and into the private sphere of personal lives. It became, to a thinking person, impossible to deny the pandemic of violence and discrimination that denigrates women.
Bringing #MeToo to the Circle was challenging for Alex and I as facilitators. We knew the success of the conversation hinged upon neutralizing a violent subject in order to maintain the safety of the Circle. We needed to find a way to harness the power of the movement in a way that addressed trauma with action. We wanted the women who chose to sit down and talk about #MeToo to feel empowered and mobilized. We asked our Circle to consider the following questions:
How has the way you talk about women changed?
How have your relationships with women changed?
How have the boundaries in your workplace and relationships changed?
How do you empower yourself and empower other women?
What resources or tools can you share with the Circle to help all of us continue the energy of #MeToo in positive ways?
The women who joined this Circle spanned ages 18 – 60, have diverse professional backgrounds, some are married, some have children, some are divorced, we hold different religious beliefs and represent the fluidity of sexual orientation. We were, however, united in our dedication to change the way we speak about women. All of us admitted that #MeToo forced us out of the habit of jumping to judge other women. We are working past gendered language, gender stereotypes, conversations about women’s appearances, and gossipy musings about what women do to get themselves into difficult situations. Gone, erased, nada mas. We agreed that pushing past societal programming is an overwhelming challenge but a necessary first step in changing the narrative about women.
In addition to all of that, I am working to develop a more nuanced understanding of feminism and of the various ways people identify as female. I was confronted with the limitations of my worldview at a recent feminist pop-up art installation where a trans recording artist, LaFemmeBear, performed a short set. My eyes more or less burst out of my head, not because this was the first trans woman I’ve met, but because I was ashamed of how shortsighted I had been in my categorization of the female experience. It’s a wide wide world, y’all.
Many of us believe #MeToo has strengthened our bonds with the women in our lives. We talked about how deeply honored we feel when a friend chooses to share her trauma story with us. We have found that these moments of vulnerability have deepened our friendships. We also talked about how discovering the prevalence of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in the workplace has, in some ways, leveled the office playing field. We’re all in this together.
Though I agree with the women of the Circle, I also found that some of my friendships suffered as #MeToo became an unavoidable topic of conversation. My understanding of sexual violence aligns with that provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Injury Center. I’ll wait here for a minute while you give it a read.
This definition includes many acts that fall under the category of “gray area rape.” I have struggled with maintaining friendships with women who do not believe sexual violence extends into the gray area. To them, rape is sexual violence while virtually everything else is simply bad behavior. Due to their belief that rape is the only type of real sexual violence, they also believe that false reporting rates are significantly higher than the actual statistics. Which is between 3 and 5% depending on your resource, by the way. It was, and still is, challenging for me to maintain friendships with women who believe false reporting aimed to “take men down” occurs frequently, or those who categorize women as “too sensitive” when they report sexual violence outside of the traditional understanding of rape.
Which brings me to boundaries!
My boundaries have changed in that I no longer allow gender stereotypes and men in the workplace to tell me who and how to be. I unapologetically take up space without dulling my passion, my skills, or my intelligence. In my personal life, I’ve become the “that’s not ok” friend. As seen above, I will happily serve as an educational pamphlet on sexual violence in the United States. Though I’m wandering around with facts on my side, many people are deeply enmeshed in what our society and our culture teaches us about women, sex, and violence. I have been less than compassionate towards those people in my life.
A friend of mine said the biggest change she’s made with her personal boundaries is that she now chooses to walk away rather than engage in vitriolic disagreements about sexual violence. WHAT?!?! If only we had talked about #MeToo a year ago. How much easier does life become when the option of walking away is on the table?
As a whole, we are empowering other women with our voices, our votes, and our dollars. We choose to stand with women who report sexual violence and gender-based discrimination. We’re also placing our own self-care first. With so much focus on stories that may closely mirror our own, we are feeling the pain of our own traumas multiply exponentially. Nourishing our spirits is a critical element of preserving the energy it takes to empower ourselves and other women.
After alllll that talking, our Circle shared digital resources that provide opportunities for learning, healing, and more informed content consumption in the wake of #MeToo:
MeTooMvmt.org: Resources for healing and advocacy as well as current statistics on all forms of sexual violence and workplace harassment.
Rotten Apples: A search engine of movies and TV shows that gives a Bad Apple rating to the projects that have cast or crew member implicated in sexual harassment, sexual violence, or gender-based discrimination.
I always walk away from our Circle discussions with a more nuanced understanding of the topic at hand and a deep sense of connection with the women in my community. What Do We Do With #MeToo left me feeling deeply grateful for the solidarity this movement has created and stoked a fiery in my belly. You can expect more feminist rhetoric to follow.