I was happy to see TIME Magazine’s 2017 “Person of the Year” cover, honoring the incredible women who spoke out against not just their individual experiences of being violated or harassed, but about the larger systems that create an environment where harassment can occur. (Though if I’m honest, I also felt a little skeptical, given TIME’s choice for 2016 and their choice for this year’s runner-up. Are they kidding? More on how they handled this year’s choice, too, below).
Nonetheless, I honor the incredible courage of all women who come forward to tell their stories. I can’t imagine there’s a single woman alive who hasn’t been on the receiving end of, at the very least, street harassment, and of course predatory behaviors only scale up, from there. And, as anyone on the receiving end of this kind of oppression knows, there are consequences for speaking out: being discredited, disbelieved, even threatened.
But what’s resonated with me, the most, is the fact that it was a critical mass of community that helped foster the courage for more people to speak out.
When abuse happens, isolation perpetuates it. Every woman knows that if she alone makes a claim of assault or abuse, her story will likely be discredited; if there are multiple women saying that the same person has harassed, assaulted, or abused them, there’s at least a chance that her story will be given some merit (current U.S. presidents and Alabama child molesters running for office being dogged and unfortunate examples of how much farther we have to go before women will be truly respected in our culture).
Reach out and Create Community
This website often talks about the courage to go after personal dreams. You’re not wrong to do the internal work that makes your individual life, better. I believe that is because when someone’s integrity and their deepest desires are aligned, more good is created in the world.
But the courage to be a silence breaker is all about making sure that others can live better lives, too.The courage to be a silence breaker starts with one small, individual voice, and then gains momentum in community.
It’s the community that gets the job done to effect real human change.
It’s taking the personal experience of one woman, and showing the world how this abuse, this manipulation and harassment and assault, is actually the experience of every woman—somewhere on the continuum, every.single.woman. experiences some kind of violation. For some, it’s as (relatively) simple as street harassment and cat-calling, and for others it’s as horrific as human trafficking and sexual slavery.
Bottom line: we’ve got to reach out and create community, if we want to see a better world.
Speaking of Lone Voices
The power is in the collective, in reaching out and creating community. Momentum can build, from that place. But the person who truly gets things started? The first one to throw a hat into the ring, and risk being discredited, being ridiculed, being physically harmed? I offer a deep bow of respect and recognition. And frankly, TIME’s choice not to include Tarana on the cover is another reason for my skepticism about their publication.
One Last Thing
Momentum is building, in large part because people are starting to question one tiny-big thing: who we choose to believe, and who we don’t.
When we don’t believe the people who come forward with their stories, and when we place an incredible burden of proof upon them, and when our institutions discredit people based on the circumstances of race, gender, social class and more, the people who are the survivors of assault are often forced to remain isolated.
Ages ago, I was a rape crisis counselor. Embedded into the framework of our training was that we always believed survivors—no matter the story—because that was our job as people in a support role. “After all,” I remember our training facilitator sharing, “There’s an entire world out there who won’t believe the people who report what happened.”
Let’s make it our job to believe people when they tell us their stories.