Every time I see another #metoo on one of my timelines, my heart cracks open a little more; another woman I know has come out about being sexually harassed or assaulted. And for all the women who are speaking out, I know there are countless more who are staying silent. I know, because I was silent too.
In case you missed the #metoo campaign, forged amidst the growing voices of women speaking out against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, it was the global response to actress Alyssa Milano’s rally cry on social media: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.’
I watched as wave after wave of #metoos flooded social media. But I couldn’t bring myself to join the rising voices. I was already exhausted. I understood what writer Heather Jo Flores meant when she questioned why it always falls to the victims to speak out. How ‘we are f*cking exhausted’. But I agreed more with Daryl Lindsey’s piece about the need to, at the very least, whisper.
Because silence is enabling.
We can’t all speak out. There are risks. I was almost fired on the spot once just for standing up against sexual harassment. I lost other jobs because of it. A good friend of mine is about to lose her job because she spoke up. And she’s facing a whole industry of Harvey Weinsteins. They’re not all chasing her around in bathrobes, but the ones who aren’t are protecting the ones who did.
They’re trying to make it look like a performance issue. Like she’s the problem. She’s brilliant. I’ve seen her work. But even she’s losing confidence. They’re attacking the way she speaks, the way she dresses. The way their standard issue uniforms fit her body. The depth of manipulation, of falsifying records, of corruption and deception is cutting so deep it’s sinister. She needs time to heal herself. And then to make sure she can pay the bills, to know she’s okay, before she’s ready to speak out.
But the risks run far deeper than career suicide and emotional trauma. There’s so much fear and shame and intimidation and choking threats of further harm tangled up in just the act of speaking out. We can’t all speak out. But if we can’t, we should at least whisper. Amongst ourselves, where we feel safe, if that’s all we can do at first. Let’s not ever be utterly silent.
A very powerful thing starts to happen when people start to talk: fear loses its grip. Others listen. Still more speak up. A ripple starts. A movement swells. Change happens.
And doesn’t it always fall to the victims to speak out? Hasn’t history shown us that? The radium girls, the suffragettes, the apartheid freedom fighters. What kind of hell would we be in if they didn’t raise their voices? If they didn’t create a safe space for others like them to gather their forces?
Because who’s going to care more than us? Who else can show the rest of the world how sick and twisted it really is? And yes, it’s exhausting, and terrifying, but far less exhausting and terrifying than the perpetual fear of sexual assault.
Soon we’ll all be ready to speak out. And they can’t stop us all.
Read next: To My Friend Whose Husband Beats Her