I have been feeling very heavy these days. Not because I'm eating junk or because I'm not exercising (although those happen from time to time), but because of the media bombardment around the sexual assault and treatment of women.
I admit I may be particularly sensitive to this discussion. Not because I, myself, am a survivor of violence (I'm not, so I can't pretend to know how a survivor feels), but because I do a lot of work with people who know and counsel, and who are survivors of sexual assault as the chair of the board of the New York Asian Women's Center. NYAWC is an incredible organization that, for 34 years, has been at the forefront of dealing with issues surrounding violence against women.
I will not get political in this post. Politics are not what's important here. What's important is that despite this being 2016, with women having won the power to vote generations before me in 1920, with women comprising the majority at many institutions of higher learning, and with women making up at least half of the workforce, it is still unclear to some how women ought to be treated - in the workplace, in social settings, and even in courts of law.
Over the last year, we have witnessed outright misogyny and violence against women in our communities and beyond. We have watched in horror as men, who have achieved and learned through education and vast experience in the workplace, and who have the largest platforms to be heard, get away with unfathomable behavior. We watched in horror when a judge was presented with clear cut evidence of sexual assault, he let the perpetrator off with the lightest possible sentence for fear of ruining his life. (To be clear, that was not a one off.)
For generations, women have laughed off jokes and advances that have made them uncomfortable. They have skirted and endured physical affronts to the safety and security of their own bodies. They have remained silent or gone along with the "joke" for fear of their character being besmirched, their university administrations idly standing by, or their career potential threatened. It was just easier to attempt to navigate the boys' club this way.
I know many women who have experienced violence and whose lives are forever changed. Equally, I know women who constantly rebuff advances, unwanted physical contact, or disrespectful comments from family members, their colleagues or even strangers on the street. This I know.
And all of us, given the barrage in the media, are feeling it all over again - whether it was the worst invasion of sexual violence, oppression at home or in the workplace, or feelings of vulnerability because of a complete stranger. That a political candidate and news commentators feel at liberty to discuss women as objects, to talk about sexual assault like it's just typical male behavior, locker room talk, feels like a violation all over again.
And, too, it discredits all of the respectful and empathetic men in our communities who would not dream of talking or acting this way. Because there are so many of those good people too. In fact, I would venture to say that they are the majority. I have to believe they are the majority.
If there's one positive thing that's come out this election cycle, it's that people - men and women alike - are talking actively and vociferously about what behaviors are acceptable and what must not be tolerated. I am finding that men are genuinely surprised at how often and how much women have to contend with disrespectful, oppressive, and worst, of course, violent behavior. We are talking to our sisters and daughters about shutting this behavior down. This is organic advocacy! But that's not enough.
As I said, it is heavy. It is exhausting, and even traumatic for some, to hear the constant discussion about this. It's much worse, though, to know that these types of behaviors persist in 2016.
I make myself feel better by acting. By doing. By doing something. I would ask you to do the same. Violence against women is wholly unacceptable. Many men have come out to say this too. Not just because they're the husbands or fathers or sons of women and girls. But because women are people. We cannot stand by and tolerate the continued existence of violence against women and the cavalier attitude toward it.
Men and women alike, speak up. Join together. Listen to one another. Do not tolerate what makes you uncomfortable. Demand to be treated with respect and dignity. Teach each other how. Teach your sons. And your daughters. Advocate for and support one another. Find an organization that you can support that is working hard to effect real change. Each one of us can make a real difference.