I’m a woman, I’m a survivor of abuse, and I’m proudly an empath. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve had a lot of feelings about the news the last few weeks. I’ve heard coworkers, podcasters, and writers ask and answer this loaded question again and again: “Why do survivors delay or fail to report incidents of sexual abuse?”
We often don’t speak up for a variety of reasons such as: shame, fear of being blamed or attacked, not having “evidence”, and having panic attacks. Many of us unconsciously block out abusive experiences, perhaps during childhood, and have memories painfully resurface months, days, or years later.
But there’s something else. There’s a huge reason we’re not talking about.
Instead of focusing on why we hide horrific experiences and memories of sexual abuse or attacks, let’s look at the everyday experiences of women. It’s in these stories that we’ll find super common, arguably innocent, easy-to-brush-off examples of disrespect, sexism, and simple gross ignorance. It’s these everyday experiences that help create a culture of the silenced and the silencers.
Women are treated as less, silenced, disrespected every day, all the time. We often don’t speak up or even share our experiences with other women (be it something as awful as sexual abuse or something as minimal as being interrupted in a meeting). We’re silent because it feels so normal, unavoidable, and relentless.
I took a quick survey of women in my life this morning and asked for their normal examples. I encouraged them to include anything funny, light-hearted, and silly, but I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that what I got back was a lot of quick replies in the tone of serious, sad, and angry.
Read these stories. Share your own stories. Talk to your wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, sisters. We need to be heard. Saying nothing distorts reality.
We are constantly told we should smile more.
“Gas stations are tricky. You are vulnerable because you’re pumping gas and can't really leave the area fast, so if someone is checking you out or approaching you, your only defense is to look unapproachable. I have had some scary experiences, so now I am really picky about which pump I pick based on the surroundings.”
“I was introduced to a guy at a co-worker's going away party, and he asked if my job was to "fetch the tea.”
We all hate getting stared at while we sit at stoplights.
We scan driveways and sidewalks before getting in our cars. We look over our shoulder constantly.
We are interrupted and talked over in meetings.
“My senior VP said they’re using me as a secret weapon to negotiate with an important client because the client finds me attractive.”
We get followed down aisles and gawked at in stores in our workout clothes.
“I hate when colleagues talk about me while I am standing right there. They refer to me as "her/she". For example, “Is she going to follow up on that?"
We are groped or rubbed on crowded trains and buses every day.
“I was in a meeting that was starting late and the commander at the time told me to get up on the table and dance.”
We are often greeted first by our chest and second by our eyes. It still happens when we’re wearing turtlenecks and sweatshirts.
When we share our ideas at work, they are often called stupid or pointless and then our colleagues talk over us, steal our ideas and claim them as their own. “It took a bit for the men at work to respect me as far as my technical opinions. When I first started, I could send an email saying my opinion and it would be shutdown. My mentor would send an email saying the exact same thing I said, and the team would acknowledge him.”
We are viewed as weak for showing vulnerability, sadness, frustration, and empathy.
“A guy at my office kept coming to my desk (essentially cornering me while I was trying to work) and talking to me even if I said I didn’t have time to talk. He’s married with a baby, but asked me to a bar everyday for weeks until I told my manager.”
We are called bitchy, bossy, or a dictator when we stand up for ourselves or simply give others a clear direction of our expectations or boundaries.
We are judged as bad mothers for staying home. We are judged as bad mothers for working.
People assume we don’t know how to fix or assemble things around the house or can’t use tools. They say that things break more because women use them. “The women in my family assume that my dad is the one who does all the work/repairs in my house. They cannot fathom that I know how to fix things/use tools.“
We’re always expected to be the ones to accommodate. “A male colleague of mine doesn’t turn in his work on time or respond to emails. When I brought this up, I’m faced with, “Can’t you just stop by his desk and talk to him about it or tell him the deadline is earlier so when he’s late, he’s actually on time?”
“Every time I meet someone when I am traveling for work, they ask me who is watching my kids (I am not kidding...every time). How many times has this happened to my husband? None.”
“I was told that if someone goes out to lunch with me it will look like "oh so and so got a hot new girlfriend" versus a business lunch.”
We are women. This is our normal.
We. Are. So. Tired.
We are Professors, Managers, Engineers, Leaders, Mothers, Analysts, Directors, Designers. We are good people and we deserve respect.
We know that the level of inequality, abuse, and disrespect is still much much much worse for others. We all need to keep sharing our stories.