The scope of the wreckage left by men like Harvey Weinstein, men like Bill O’Reilly, men like Bill Cosby, is vast.
I see it in myself, about 12 years after being violated by Harvey Weinstein, and over 25 years after being violated by my national soccer team coach.
The scars of these encounters do not define me, no. But they are there.
These past few weeks have been really hard. To see these stories told over and over and over again in great detail in the national news is both affirming and disruptive. I feel triggered all over again. And, I know I am not alone.
Sometimes the scars are more visible than other times. Sometimes the scars actually open and swell, making it hard to deny their existence.
I find myself entering familiar patterns of shame and self-punishment. Eating unhealthy foods late at night when I really should be in bed, trying desperately to comfort myself with something, anything, other than self-love. And, I’ve observed myself so out of body - neither present nor engaged. Anxious is a great way to describe my current state. It’s very lonely inside my head right now.
I am 43, a CEO and filmmaker, a wife, and a mother of four, but I feel like a vulnerable young woman all over again. Yet, I know I am not alone.
My scar is swollen and it’s hard to move. And the people who depend on me are no doubt also paying a price.
How many mothers are having trouble being there for their children? How many students find themselves unable to pay attention in class? And, how many people are distracted, unable to perform at work? I wonder what the cost is in economic terms. This wreckage is vast.
Even if I could remove the scar, the wound is embedded in my DNA now. It’s embedded in the very fabric of our communities.
We must confront this issue with the fierce urgency of now. Not by asking women to be braver in coming forward, but by holding men accountable for their actions. It’s impossible to make a world where no man will ever hurt a woman again― there will always be bad actors― but we can make a world where this violence is not common or mundane, where this violence is punished swiftly and with the full force of the law, and where we can all feel comfortable coming forward with our stories― knowing that we will not be victimized all over again.
So let’s begin by understanding where this behavior comes from in the first place. When and where do certain men learn to believe that they have the right to a woman’s body? That she was asking for it? That it’s more important to stand with other men— their “bros”— than with the victims of violence? And that women aren’t to be believed? This is learned behavior, reinforced by not holding these men accountable for their actions.
In my documentary film The Mask You Live In, which looks at the dangers of toxic masculinity, Jackson Katz says bluntly that “we have a rape culture. What that means is that individual rapists aren’t just crawling out of the swamp, they’re being produced by our culture,” a culture that knowingly devalues, demeans, and objectifies women and girls. A culture that tells men that their masculinity and the validity of their identity is tied to their sexual prowess and physical strength. A culture that normalizes “violence against women,” nearly erasing the male perpetrators. A culture that values money and power above all else, privileging a man’s success over his crimes. A culture that tells us to just “shut up” and preserve the status quo.
We must change this culture, our current culture.
The wreckage left in the wake of predatory men is vast, and we’re all affected by it. So we must take responsibility for our role in changing it.
To that end, we must raise our boys to be healthy, whole men. We must model healthy masculinity for our children. And, we must challenge toxic masculinity in the culture at large - as both consumers and citizens, online and in person. It is not ok to be a bystander. It is not ok to participate in the wreckage. Only when we recognize our interconnectedness will we begin to heal as a nation.
Yes, we may have scars― and they may be deep― but we are not broken. For there is strength in our vulnerability and strength in our stories.
We are, in fact, strong women, with strong allies. We are fighting for space for women’s truth to be recognized and we are fighting for space for women to heal. And, together, we are fiercely fighting to make the world a better place. Join us.