The first couple of times that I saw the metoo hashtag while scrolling through facebook, I was met with the familiar shame and secrecy that used to arise in response to the sexual misconduct that was perpetrated upon my younger self. While I briefly thought about contributing my voice, my defenses unanimously decided upon a hard pass. It wasn’t until I saw EB’s #metoo, a woman from high school that I couldn’t believe had been subjected to some of the same atrocities, that I gathered enough courage to post my own.
In the months that followed I have reflected deeply, not only upon my own history (in both the healing that I’ve done and that which is still left to do), but what this movement means for the women (and men) in my psychotherapy practice.
I have always considered it standard procedure to wait for a client to report any sexual harassment or abuse, unless I sensed that the likelihood was present. However now that I have come to understand the prevalence of sexual harm in the lives of EVERY woman, I have started to routinely ask the more difficult questions, for the reality has proven that no woman who crosses the threshold of my office hasn’t been negatively impacted by society’s misogynistic practices.
As I delve deeper into this work, one of the most alarming realizations is what up until now we have ALL accepted as normal: it is normal for men to objectify women; it is normal for women to be catcalled on the street and to feel unsafe walking alone at night; it is normal for our boyfriends to report their sexual attraction to our girlfriends; it is normal for men to expect sex after they have wined and dined us; it is normal for men to pull us a little too close, kiss us however they want hello and goodbye, ogle us from head to toe, comment on our physical appearances and make us feel completely uncomfortable. It is normal, whether we like it or not.
As women, we were not only taught to brush off these ongoing threats to our self-esteem and wellbeing, but we were also taught not to be cock-teases, that blue balls were excruciating and that once sex begins it should not be interrupted until the conclusion was signaled by the male orgasm. It’s no wonder that in so many long term relationships, women tire of sex and even find it painful.
As I work with a lot of couples, all of whom are struggling with various aspects of intimacy, I have also begun to inquire into the male perspective of #metoo and quite honestly, it hasn’t been reassuring. Before I go any further, I want to be clear that ALL of these men are good and caring people who wouldn’t intentionally hurt the women in their lives, but they have also been raised on the same shitty ideas about power dynamics and sex. My first observation when raising this topic was that many men have a knee-jerk reaction to say, “I know it’s awful, but I’m not like those other men”, not wanting to be lumped into a pile with the likes of Harvey Weinstein. Other men struggle to understand the continuum of sexual harassment, abuse and violence, not understanding how seemingly innocent behaviors, like unwelcomed flirtations actually contribute to the persistence of rape culture. And finally, some men are simply quiet, afraid to say the wrong thing, clearly not knowing how or where to begin to even contribute to the conversation.
What is obvious to me is that there is a lot of talking to do. As women, we must use our emotional triggers to understand where our boundaries lie, we must use our voices to discuss when they’ve been crossed and we must cultivate clarity so as to educate men on when they miss the mark. For men, they must examine their attitudes and behaviors towards women and sex and not be afraid to join the discussion, even when it’s messy and they’re proven trapped in their ignorance. We all must examine our relationships and sex lives and rid them of the patterns that promote inequality, while working to deepen our understanding of each other.
These notes just scratch the surface of how my mind is wrestling with the #metoo movement and its intersection with psychotherapy. When I began my career in psychology, treating the severely mentally ill, I never could have imagined that I would spend so much of my day addressing love and relationships. #Metoo has greatly accelerated my understanding of the current issues that plague modern relating and while I don’t have ALL of the answers I am grateful to those who are engaging me in the topic.
I believe in the healing of women from past sexual trauma, while avoiding future harm and I believe in our men in becoming better agents of advocacy and alliance. I am committed to continuing my own work, to lead by example and to assist others in doing the same. I welcome any and all conversation that can deepen our collective wisdom and compassionate action. And finally, I am forever indebted to the courageous women who couldn’t wait one moment longer to use their voices for change. Together we will rise.