I am a fairly apolitical person. I don’t generally watch, read, or listen to the news in order to avoid the negative noise. But, the Kavanaugh situation did catch my attention so I listened to a few trusted friends. But, I didn’t really express an opinion.
Then, this past weekend, several group conversations influenced me. One was a gathering at a friend’s home. The other was a Facebook post and subsequent string comments. Yet another centered around a joke made in poor taste on the Nextdoor app of all places. I began to think about why I don’t get involved and should I?
What inspired my question was another question one woman posed at our gathering: “Where do you belong?” she asked. The pattern I saw emerge from the answers was many of us felt left out and disconnected when we didn’t have shared experiences. For one, she didn’t have kids and felt like an outsider around others who did. For another, who was in the corporate executive suite, she felt looked down upon for having kids when most other executive women didn’t. For yet another, it was not aiming for the top rung of the corporate ladder and “settling” for a director role. There were more examples. The conversation also included our need to be perfect at everything we do. Even the perfection discussion could be viewed as a version of this pattern: “If I am not perfect at ______________ , I am not good enough to be counted or included.” This is other-ness of our own making.
So why is it as women, do we need to share experiences to feel connected (or to not feel disconnected)? For me, I can see that I put this on myself. I felt isolated when I was with those who didn’t have kids with special needs (which was a majority of my friends and colleagues). But, the key point I learned later was they didn’t think of me that way. It was my story. The reverse was true with my own personal harassment experience. I didn’t understand until I had one.
If this pattern is valid, then, isn’t understanding something beyond our own experience precisely what we are asking men to do with regard to sexual harassment? Many heterosexual men (though not all) do not share the experience of sexual harassment / sexual violence. Yet we want them to join with us.
How do we create a new narrative about who men can be versus hold on to the past of who they have been? How do we create that space for them and for us? Whether they were perpetuators or not. Don’t we first need to stop disconnecting ourselves from our sisters and lead by example? I see I have done that and in doing so, kept the victimization alive.
By not separating ourselves, by refraining from polarizing language and by recognizing that we are all connected regardless of whether we share the experience are starting points. What I see now based on the discourse that has followed since the Senate hearings is that these are crucial but not enough. As women of influence and privilege, I hear now: because we can, we must do more.
In order to reach more people, I contend we need to move everyone from an “either / or” conversation (either right or left, either men or women) to a “both / and” space.
And, more importantly, how can we make this conversation so much bigger than politics?
Only from a clearing that reinforces our humanness and our connectedness, can we give birth to a new construct to which all women and men are drawn to meaningfully engage.