There’s no avoiding the headlines these days. They’re everywhere. Every day a new allegation is made, every day some celebrity is quoted for their “insightful” remarks or eviscerating words regarding the perpetrators, while others, either publicly or quietly, deal with the shame and guilt of “not doing more” or not speaking up. No one seems exhausted from the finger-pointing or tweeting just yet, but it will come, and then I have to wonder, will anyone ask or dare answer, What’s next?
Because that’s the question that needs to be asked, time and again, whenever we’re confronted with large-scale trauma such as what’s taking place in Hollywood.
The fact of the matter is that what’s going on is not new news. It’s old news. Very old news. The kind that goes so far back you would go blind having to squint to look that far — women being raped, girls being sacrificed, boys being exploited for their youth, sex being the means through which both men and women extract and wield their power, this very power that seemed so necessary to human survival. It’s ancient news.
Why it matters now? It’s finally time to let it go. Whenever anything surfaces and slaps us in the face until we wake up, it means it’s time for change.
That our consciousness is that Woke means that any kind of demoralizing, disrespectful, or despicable behavior cannot be excused or accepted any longer. And the abuses that have gone on, those we’ve wrought and brought down on each other for millennia, can no longer persist. It’s not about #MeToo, it’s about #WeAll. We all are complicit to one extent or another in what’s happened, either by our silence, our shame, or our willful blindness.
It’s the same story, just insert name and face. This is not to belittle anyone’s personal experience that has caused them deep, lasting pain and trauma. Rather, it’s to recognize that while each of the sexual assaults happened on an individual-by-individual basis, there’s a common thread running through the stories. And that is, woundedness compounding woundedness.
While women have suffered at the hands of these men, it’s also important to acknowledge the co-dependent roles men and women have played thereby damaging (or even damning) them both. When we ask how and why any man could get away with such horrific behavior for so long, let’s also ask, what was he giving in return? How was it that in this day and age a handful of individuals in Hollywood and the media could hold so much influence that no one felt capable of speaking up? That to me speaks volumes about the deep level of subjugation still being experienced by many in the “free world.”
As a society, consciously or subconsciously, we’re taught that nothing is given that can’t be taken away. This has generated the kind of compromising attitudes and behaviors we’ve blindly accepted for a long time — that to get something we must give, that everything is a trade-off, and everything comes at a price, whether our minds, our bodies, or most importantly, our integrity.
Women are often the ones to compromise and give first, in part due to our nurturing nature, but also, equally importantly, because we’ve been conditioned to do so. It’s the ostensible trade-off to be able to exist in what’s perceived as a male-dominated world, to collect the scraps of success seemingly handed to us — again at a price — and to ensure our survival and avoid being the invisible sex.
These compromises have come at the price of not just our integrity, but our understanding of ourselves. We’ve been so complicit in propping up the power of men by allowing ourselves to play their power game and succumbing to their strengths that we’ve forgotten our own comparative strength, namely compassion. By compassion, I don’t mean sympathy or empathy for those who have hurt or been hurt, but rather to be open-minded enough to see beyond the acts of hurt to recognize the many layers of woundedness that underpin the interactions in these stories. Because that’s fundamentally what this is, a story of woundedness being replayed over and over until we finally get it. It’s time to heal this so it doesn’t continue.
That’s the What’s next.
Healing ourselves one conscious act at a time. To act consciously is not to react, but to have real discussions about the why. Why were these individuals so broken? Why was sex at the center of the pain? Why was it excused for so long?
Following the Why is the What.
What can we do to ensure our sons do not become predatory or womanizing or misogynistic or sexist or entitled? What can we do to ensure our daughters don’t believe they’re too weak or flawed or, worse yet, deserving of disrespectful treatment? What can we do to heal the wounds that have hurt so many countless yet unnamed individuals?
The How can be most difficult questions to ask because they take us all to task, so I’ll keep it simple by asking the most important How. How broken are we that it’s only now, in late 2017, many decades past the floodgates that human and civil rights movements opened, that we’ve realized we’ve lost ourselves along the way — our self-respect, our integrity, our self-worth?
The answer to that is simple, we’ve allowed ourselves to believe the lies fed to us time and again through the stories brought to us by the very industries and institutions in crisis — Hollywood, Media, Government, and Religion. They are established, patriarchal constructs that have shaped our thinking, thereby influencing how we act and behave toward one another.We have Hollywood, the media and publishing to thank for all the distorted and dysfunctional love relationships we see couched as romance, violence couched as heroism or acts of survival, fear couched as entertaining horror.
“Over the last several decades, psychology has begun a serious study of how story affects the human mind. Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes and values are strongly influenced by story. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.” — Jonathan Gottschall
We’re continually feeding on a diet of false imagery that twists our view of reality, which has made horrific things such as rape, murder, and violence passable or even excusable. We’ve become that desensitized that we fail to act consciously because these terrible things have become normalized.
While it sounds overly-simplistic to point the finger at them, I believe it’s important to recognize the numerous ways storytelling has been used to perpetuate these lies: from the Bible and other religious texts, to biased historical narratives, to mythical legends about war and sacrifice, to fairy tales[i], to Disney princess everything[ii], to myriad relationship and dating books like The Rules, to immature pop culture shows and music, and last but not least, to most of the insipid Romance books out there that teach that a woman can have a man if she’s sexy or serves his needs, or that a man can own any woman he wants if he’s hot, rich and powerful (the former being relative in real life)[iii]. Our consciousness has been so shaped and warped by the storytelling of old that it may just take something as big as this to finally get us to say, Enough. Enough of the stories, enough of being the “Second Sex”, enough believing that I have no power.
What’s next is up to us women, not men.
We’re the ones who will have to process any hate, anger, or aggression first in order to model compassion for men and boys who are in need of healthy role models. Many men need some safe place to land. We cannot assume that they will change or shift in attitudes or behaviors if they’re shunned or shamed into submission. It’s the very shame and hatred that warped them in the first place. And hate met with hate gives it greater power. It takes full awakening and understanding of all our experiences in order for true change to occur.
To stomp our feet or scream at the lack of injustice is one way to be heard, but not the way to ensure the kind of positive, impactful change that will persist over a long period of time. Rather, that requires us to display the compassion and love that we so wish we’d been shown by gently but firmly showing these men that power doesn’t come from money or avarice or hate, but compassion, love, and the ability to stand in one’s truth. To love and forgive someone who hurt you is the truest form of power there is.
If it feels impossible to have compassion for men you know who hurt, then consider the boys that could potentially follow in their footsteps. We cannot afford to condemn another generation of males to the same fate of those of our generation and their predecessors by negating them or upholding a narrow definition of what masculinity is. We cannot perpetuate the belief that being sensitive or having emotions is wrong by telling boys to “grow a sack” or “not cry like a girl” or fear any displays of emotion because violence stems from unexpressed fear and pain. Nor can we afford to raise another generation of girls to believe that they are inferior to men or that they must sacrifice part of themselves in order to survive in the world. Our children will suffer if we cannot model what we most want for them — to respect and honor himself or herself first. We are only capable of having a respectful relationship with another if we have one with ourselves.
As a parent, consciously raising children is not an easy task. Most of my parents’ generation will say they had it easier because they weren’t conscious of any of this. Ignorance truly is bliss, but also damaging. Thankfully, we’ve been gifted something precious, which is that our truth can no longer remain buried.
Truth is our power, but second only to our capacity for compassion. No one needs to have compassion for a particular individual, but rather compassion for the many ways in which our own ignorance, willful silence, and blindness have allowed the crimes to persist and for such individuals to wield such power and influence for years.
For anyone who believes that this current crisis is particular to one gender, I submit that it involves us all. To be a holistic individual means to have the balance of the masculine and the feminine energies, the yin and the yang. If one is in crisis, then it means the other is too.
We’re on this planet and in this life to achieve something beautiful, which I believe is a truly lasting, loving relationship with one another. That can only be reached when we’re whole and loving beings ourselves. It means each one of us finding the balance of masculine and feminine within. If one part of us is in pain, then the other must step up and lead. Ladies first.
[i] See my article, “Biting the Poisoned Apple: Women and the Snow White Syndrome” (https://medium.com/panel-frame/biting-the-poisoned-apple-women-and-the-snow-white-syndrome-28daf3d4e3af).
[ii] See my article, “Disney’s Broken Record: Beauty and the Beast Just Another Glass Cage for Women” (https://thecoffeelicious.com/disneys-broken-record-beauty-and-the-beast-just-another-glass-cage-for-women-533a9a01eeae).
[iii] See my article, “50 Shades of Wrong: How Twilight and 50 Shades Have Set Back Yet Another Generation of Women” (https://medium.com/panel-frame/50-shades-of-wrong-how-twilight-and-50-shades-have-set-back-yet-another-generation-of-women-31dd01c2296b).