Speaking Up/Speaking Out

Special Editorial

[Poem by Georgia McDade]

Sometimes speaking up, speaking out can be hazardous, too hazardous.

Time-consuming

Frustrating

Confusing

Embarrassing

Frightening,

Costly,

Devastating

Paralyzing

Deadly.

Yet, despite the hazards, speaking up, speaking out can be liberating.

And we need to be liberated.

We must, therefore, get in the habit of speaking up and speaking out.

And soon.

This poem is the result of the #Me Too Movement. For several weeks my mind has swirled with instances that could be “me too” in my life, the lives of those I know, persons in the news, movies, dramas, art (Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”), the many maids/caretakers during slavery—and afterwards, all women during times of war, students from elementary to graduate level, women in prison, and women in “male” professions such as law enforcement and politics. And then I saw the film “Marshall” one day and Arthur Mitchell’s drama The Crucible the next day.

More and more, I’ve come to believe that the most desired, sought-after possession is power! Power seems to give those who have it whatever they want or desire. Because so many men generally have greater physical strength than women do, some of these men have abused women and men whom they deem weaker. Not surprisingly, some women want that power, or some of it, and have paid dearly to get or attempt to get it.

I have tried to recount the Me Toos with which I am familiar. The earliest was my sister’s friend who tried his best to get me to go in the restroom at my house. Next was a cousin, as much as twenty years my senior. I had my learner’s permit and this cousin was always willing to let me drive for as long as I chose. After several weekly trips—and I was miles and miles from home—he suggested we have sex. Appalled, I said I couldn’t do that. Further pushing, he said he knew my dad and I did not get along and that not liking my dad was a sin so I might as well commit the sin of having sex too! I convinced him to take me home despite his other disgusting reasons I should succumb to his wishes. I spent a lot of time wondering what I had done; never told my parents or sisters. Years, years later, when I was an adult, I told one sister and discovered this cousin had approached all my sisters and several cousins the same way! The summer I took swimming lessons reminds me of yet another occasion. I got a terrible stomachache and the swim teacher said I could go in his office where he could rub my stomach to make the pain disappear. I wanted only to go home. As an adult, I recall having to shift my body to keep a doctor from touching my breast. I really thought he had inadvertently done it until it happened a second time! Regardless, he could easily have said I was mistaken had I accused him.

In each of the instances, I instinctively knew I was in danger. Countless times I replayed how I could have avoided the situation. “If I had not..., then he would not...” At the time of these events, I was sure I had in some way erred. Of course, I know better now, but when each of the incidents happened, I blamed myself, did not tell anyone. My sister probably would have ended her friendship. I have no doubt my daddy would have hurt if not killed my cousin. The teacher might have been fired. Only one of my abusers is alive now, and he is very old. I often think he probably did to other women what he did to me, but as far as I know, no one told, so he escaped. Perhaps he is wondering if a woman will out him, sooner or later, and what price he will pay.

Ages ago the experiences stopped being a constant memory, but ever so often something triggers one or the other. They do cross my mind.

The #MeToo Movement has brought all these incidents to the forefront simultaneously, a first. Would others have spoken up in similar circumstances? The more I read, the more I am convinced that they too would most likely have kept quiet. My guess is fewer have spoken than spoke. Perhaps more will speak. No one can know the negative impacts of the many experiences, how many lives have gone differently because of one encounter. Conversations have probably taken place all over the country. A great many women exhaled after telling someone what happened.

These situations also reminded me of my tenure as a juvenile parole counselor. Girls often accused their mothers’ “boyfriends,” relatives, stepfathers, fathers—yes, biological fathers—of sexually harassing or raping them. Never did I meet a mother who took the child’s part. The girls, regardless of their ages, were always denigrated by the mothers, sometimes put out of their houses. Prostitutes’ first sexual encounter was often with a family member.

I want to join the chorus of those who say they understand. I know questions posed about assaulted women: How was she dressed? How tight/short was her dress? What was she doing out so late (or so early)? Why was she in that part of town? Wasn’t she asking for it? Why did she go there?

The results of the encounters vary from person to person. Perpetrators are known for telling victims that no one would believe them or, for younger victims, something terrible would happen to them or their families. No one was told for decades; nothing was ever said to a perpetrator. But I understand why some women wait so long or never say anything. I understand why women often “submitted.” Unfortunately, many of us women are distressed about inadequacies, real and perceived. Feelings of inferiority on many counts make some of us perfect prey, make us believe whatever a man tells us, especially when we believe or know he is powerful. (Note that Harvey Weinstein did not try this on Meryl Streep.)

I hope this threshold is the beginning of the end of persons using their power to intimidate, hurt others. These responses are certainly healthier. All of us must call out anyone who perpetrates this abuse anytime, anywhere. And we must not let this be a spurt in history. This must be the end of such abuse, forever.

~Georgia S. McDade

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