Not all women are groped or harassed regularly at work (especially as we grow older and less attractive). But all of them are interrupted by men in meetings. Many think carefully before taking credit for a good idea--or reflexively, deflect the credit elsewhere. We guard how we speak, careful to be tactful and indirect--and if we're not doing that consciously, it's because we've been so well socialized that we do it unconsciously.
This morning I read an article that articulates what I've been trying to home in on: "This Moment Isn’t (Just) About Sex. It’s Really About Work" by Rebecca Traister at New York magazine. I hope you'll read it, especially if you're a man who is trying to make sense of the #MeToo movement.
Here's the sentence that made me say, "Yes. Exactly."
It’s not that we’re horrified like some Victorian damsel; it’s that we’re horrified like a woman in 2017 who briefly believed she was equal to her male peers but has just been reminded that she is not, who has suddenly had her comparative powerlessness revealed to her.
You really should read the whole thing, because Traister lays out the many shades of how sexual harassment demeans women's work as well as their sense of autonomy and power.
Many women I know, when placed in a situation that makes them feel angry and powerless, tear up and cry. And then feel humiliated because they now look even more powerless, when in fact they are righteously angry. There are many ways beside sexual harassment that women are confronted with the realization they whatever their skills and intellect, the men around them see mainly their sexuality and gender and value them for their looks, the way they care for men's feelings, for their gracious manners, or their usefulness as status symbols.
I think back to my days in college and graduate school. There was the conference with the professor I had for Old Testament. I was there to talk about a paper. He believed in using this opportunity to get to know students, so we're chatting, and I say something that identifies me as a feminist. Oh, how he shamed me for that. Don't you want to have a family? Don't your parents have a good marriage? (This last question was especially offensive and prying, since my father was his colleague.) There was also my realization that the young women with easy-going supportive friendships with professors were the women who were flirtatious and attractive. Smart was way down on the list of desirable qualities if you were a girl student.
All of this is not to say that men and women cannot have three-dimensional, mutually respectful relationships. But women have learned that those kind of relationships can never be assumed.
The world shouldn't be this way--and this moment in our culture is an opportunity to become woke to more than just sexual harassment. It's time to understand how far our patriarchal culture still must go before women are valued as full human beings in every dimension.