#MeToo and Voices That Share
You don't need to be immersed very deeply in social media culture to feel the enormous magnitude and impact of the #MeToo campaign. Millions of women, and indeed many men as well, have begun a global dialogue on issues that are intense, hard to share, and, in some cases, life-changing. It is my personal belief, that this dialogue is only the beginning, and that we will see many movements, activities and impactful events that will emerge in the years to come.
It has been both difficult and meaningful to listen to the voices that are emerging and the stories that they are sharing. This is not a paradox: medicine is often hard to swallow, but we still need to take it in order to heal. Years from now people will draw academic conclusions about the events of these past few weeks and what we can ultimately learn. For now, I would like to share some personal observations about why I feel that the stories that are emerging from the millions of voices, are impacting us so personally and so greatly, as well as, a few lessons that I would like to press on myself to learn:
There is nothing more real than your own voice
Authenticity of voice is paramount when telling a story. When the voice feels authentic, then the story becomes real, alive and meaningful. Over the past few days the #MeToo campaign has exposed me to voices of women that I haven't met and will probably never meet, but the voices are, for the most, impactful, real and resonate with a sense of identity and selfhood. When I close my eyes I can picture my sisters, my friends, my neighbours and my colleagues sharing their stories. People that I know. People that I love.
Speaking from your own experience
We have been told this a thousand times before, 'write about what you know'. Some experiences have been shared factually, some have been descriptive, some have been an outpouring of pain and anger, and some have been startling in their simplicity. What is common is the experience was real for the person who tells it, and that 'realness' translates to a sense of 'having been there' to the receiver. Sometimes that realness hurts. I don't always want to listen. I don't always want to believe that what I hear is true.
Stories without time restrictions
The amount of time that is spent on the question: why now? is, in my opinion, moot. It takes courage to share. It takes guts to release something to the world and to wait for a reaction. If that something is a painful, humiliating experience, then it is even more challenging.
Up until now, as a (new) writer, I have made up stories - not written purely from personal experience - and let them out into the world reluctantly, like a mother on her child's first day at school. So I can only imagine the difficulty facing someone coming forward with a painful narrative that is all about her. One would hope - for the sake of our own personal mental wellness and inner harmony - that our difficult experiences are shared, integrated and worked out... but if sharing requires that 'boiling point' be reached - so be it. There should be no timer, no statute of limitation, and no judgement. The impact of stories without time restrictions is tremendous - not only catharsis for the voice that shares, but also the opening of the door for others to find their voices and to begin their own healing.
Stories take on a life of their own
If you do share a story, be aware, that the act of sharing puts the story in the public domain, and once released, it takes on a life of its own - for better or for worse. It may be the source of inspiration, the trigger for others to share as well, but it also may be subjected to critique, ridicule, negative feedback and other expected or unexpected reactions. The experience described by the voice will always be yours and no one can take that away. However, the story, as it is told, will be read backwards, forwards and sideways - in other words - 'differently' depending on who the receiver is and why they have chosen to receive your story.
The victim versus the victimiser
I have no statistics or empirical evidence to support what I am about to say. It is my gut feeling, based on what I have seen that there are significantly more stories being shared by victims than there are by victimisers. This would stand to reason, because to share about painful, hurtful experiences as a victim generates sympathy, empathy, identification and support. To share about inappropriate or predatory behaviour by a victimiser is to open yourself up to ostracisation, ousting and maybe even, in some cases, legal proceedings. However, the narrative of the victimiser is also relevant and significant. How else can we learn? How else can we teach? How else can we heal? Maybe, during these complicated times, there lies an opportunity for someone who has internalised that his or her behaviour has been inappropriate (to say the least) to do some healing of their own. It doesn't need to be broadcast to the millions. It doesn't need to be with fanfare or self-flagellation. It can be a simple one-on-one encounter, where amends can be made and bridges can be rebuilt.
The power of the community
Lastly, consider the impact of stories told around the campfire, stories shared between friends, stories reaching over six degrees of separation from their starting point. There is no question that the global community is far-reaching and powerful, and that power begins bottom up. When stories are shared at the grassroots level, their impact cannot be underestimated. Each one of us has the ability to share forth and be an ambassador of whatever impactful message is being relayed. We should use this power to make positive change.
Up until now, I have spoken about the emerging voices and the stories that they share, but I would like to add one final observation. To the rest of us - the readers, the listeners, the receivers, who are coming face-to-face with the emerging voices:
Some people are shocked by the sheer numbers of people coming forward to share their experiences. Personally, I am not. There are vast differences in the types of experiences that women (and men) have gone through, but my own rule of thumb is, that if you are in a situation wherein you feel uncomfortable, anxious, or threatened, I deem this as meaning that a line that has been crossed. I have yet to meet a woman who hasn't had an experience of this kind. For me personally, one such incident involved a shopkeeper coming out from his store to tell me very enthusiastically what he would like 'to do to me', if only I would be a good sport. Twenty-something-year-old me ran away as fast as she could, in tears.
My point is that when a person decides to share her story, we should relate to it with empathy and with the understanding that the experiences may vary, but the nucleus is universal: violation, humiliation, pain, vulnerability, exposure, fear - who has not experienced this in some form or another? The humane thing to do is to be there with empathy.