She Speaks: At last women are done being silent

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This past week we learned about a 34-year-old Bracebridge man who’s been sentenced to seven months in prison for sexual interference and sexual assault with a weapon against his stepdaughter and her three friends, all under 14-years-old. We learned about a 23-year-old Huntsville man arrested on charges on child pornography after being released from prison on charges of sexual interference.

And on December 6th we remembered the 14 women slaughtered by Marc Lépine in 1989 for the crime of being women attending university. We also held space for the more than 40 women killed this year (so far) in Ontario by the men in their lives. 87,000 women around the world were murdered by someone they loved in 2017.

In the background, there are grumbles over the retiring of the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (it’s just a song, snowflakes!), and the persistent huffs about the #MeToo movement going just a Bit Too Far.

It’s never just a song. It’s never just a sexist comment. It’s never just a ‘domestic dispute’. These issues are all interconnected, woven together by millennia of culture. Steered by the church, the government, or just the strongest cavebro in the cabal, men have used countless means to make might right. The nuclear family led to the dissolution of the ‘village’ that used to raise a child. The seemingly neutral claims of ‘he said/she said’ ushered in an environment where she didn’t dare say. And the Freudian failsafe of ‘she was asking for it’ meant that even children could not lift their hand to accuse without being scrutinized.

Finally, we are seeing this shift. Finally, we are collectively deciding that strength, money, and tradition isn’t enough to keep someone in charge. Finally, we are seeing empathy, communication, foresight, and self-reflection become desirable traits in those who claim leadership positions and the power that goes along with them. There is an expectation of accountability.

Some seem to think this conversation has gone on long enough. Some are exhausted by the idea of having to change their behaviour, their language, and their policies and procedures. Some definitely want to put the lid back on the #MeToo box, as if it were the speaking of the facts, and not the facts themselves, that caused such a commotion.

But we aren’t done here. And if you’re tired, or bored, go have a nap, because the culture of shame and stigma is being duly handed over to those who deserve it: the perpetrators. And we’re all going to have to confront it, together.

We are going to have to listen and believe our children when they tell us they are uncomfortable; when they spot a ‘creep’. We are going to have to start talking about incest, something that happens to 1/3 of child sexual abuse victims/survivors, and something that has made the headlines in our community over and over. We are going to have to talk about pornography, how easily accessible it is, the impact it has on developing minds, the escalation of extremeness in what viewers seek out, and the way it impacts how boys see and treat girls, and how girls see themselves. We’ve even sanitized the concept of recorded child rape by calling it ‘child pornography’.

With every stride forward, there is a backlash. Those attempting to silence or sideline women’s rightful rage at the continued unequal and abusive treatment are now coming up against the brick wall of solidarity. The idea that those speaking out are just as bad as those committing these injustices is being seen as the distraction that it is.

I was at a conference called Survivor to Thriver a week ago, hosted by Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, an agency that works with local women who’ve experienced sexual assault. I’m a ‘Survivor Mentor’, which means that I am paired with ‘mentees’, women who need someone to talk to about their experiences. At this conference, we collectively created a Slam Poem, each table writing a few lines about how they felt about what happened to them. In that room, I saw the collective rage, and healing, of more than 50 women. No shame or self-blame, no one turning away, no one telling us to keep it to ourselves. Some spoke hesitantly, words uttered perhaps for the first time. Others spoke with fire, strong in the knowledge that it wasn’t their fault. And I saw something so beautiful I wish I had language to do it justice: women are done being silent. At last.

If you managed to get all the way to the end of this piece without wondering about the men, then maybe you don’t need this next part. But I know that many are questioning what role men play in all this. And I’ll tell you one thing: it isn’t calling for the death penalty for pedophiles in Facebook comment threads. That isn’t activism. We need you to act. When your friends make iffy jokes about women, call them on it. Yeah, it’s awkward – I know, I’ve been doing it since I was 11. When kids tell you someone is hurting them or making them uncomfortable, believe them and do something about it (the holiday season is the perfect time to let your kids establish boundaries around who they want to hug). If you hear that someone in your family or friend group has hurt someone, their partner or kid, shun them.

Make it so uncomfortable and so alienating to be abusive that abusers actually think twice about it. It’s not enough to be neutral – indecision is a decision. The fence isn’t going to be comfortable any more. We need men who say they are good men to act.

Listen, things aren’t getting worse. They’re just getting louder. And so the attempts to drown out the truth increase in volume as well. We all get to decide who we hear, and who we don’t. No one is saying it’s easy. But for me, at least, it’s simple.

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Photo by Kai Rannik

Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.

8 Comments

  1. Women standing up and having a voice is a first step.
    It is encouraging that men are giving voice now as well.

    Once corporate, government and all societies ensure equal pay, opportunities for advancement and zero tolerance for harassment and or sexual abuse we will ‘actually’ move the needle in North American or first world countries.

    With this strength we can help women’ advancement in Third Word Countries on their priorities.

    Thank you for raising your voice..we are listening and driving for change as well. 🙂

    Anne Larcade
    Co Founder
    WITH ORG
    Women in Tourism and Hospitality

  2. I applaud your activism in favor of the protection of women and children from violence and sexual exploitation. However, I fear that you will not be successful, beyond mere token words, without a real examination of the origins of the problem–the evil objectification of women and children. This is a grave societal problem in the western nations. As just one example, a friend confided to me how shocked she was to see a New York City store that was dedicated to the “sexification” of little girls. Why shouldn’t women express their rage toward these types of enterprises?

    Women themselves often collaborate in their own objectification (or the objectification of younger females in their charge) by agreeing to wear or supply clothing that is extremely immodest (a la Hollywood) creating an image of raw sexuality, rather than chastity. Children should always be portrayed as pure and women should be portrayed as chaste. That’s the way it was in the past when western nations were much more free of sexual predation. Decry “paternalism” if you will, but it was a way that men chose to protect the women and children in their care. The vast majority of them were good Christian men who would have given their lives to protect their women and children and put a very short end to pedophiles and rapists. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that “love protects”. A nation is judged to be moral/immoral by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable citizens.

    As another example, today, the clothing retailer, “Victoria’s Secret” presents its “collections” with great fanfare. Yet, one guesses that the images it presents would be quite at home in a brothel. In the past, the purveyors of such merchandise would have been relegated to the back pages of questionable publications.

    I wasn’t at all surprised at the whole Harvey Weinstein debacle and feel that it is probably only the tip of the iceberg that was exposed. According to Corey Feldman, who was himself a victim of repeated sexual assault, during his time as a child actor, child rape and sexual exploitation is rife in Hollywood. Those who would attempt to justify such things wish to make it appear that women and children are somehow responsible for their exploitation. As a consequence, gone are the wholesome images of women and children from the 1950s. Where were the protests when Hollywood began to sully those images? Why do we still as a culture continue to permit such fare–let alone celebrate it to “critical acclaim”?

    • Karen Wehrstein on

      Um, no. There was no pleasant rape-free or incest-free past where women and children were safer — not in any male-dominated culture. While women and children were considered property, their male owners could do whatever they pleased with them, perfectly legally. Rape and child sexual abuse are part of what preserves male dominance.
      .
      What there was — prior to the early 1970s, when the feminist movement established rape crisis lines and women’s shelters — was a time in which these things were happening plenty, but were not *talked about.* That was the real taboo: speaking up.
      .
      Have a frank conversation with some elderly women.
      .
      Excellent article, Kathleen.

  3. Three comments, Kathleen:

    1) Further to Marc Lepin’s actions; it wasn’t only that the young ladies were attending university, it was that
    they were studying to become engineers (a non-traditional female career).
    .
    2) CBC Radio aired a very disturbing documentary this week on Canadian imports of child sex dolls from the
    Orient. They were available in various ages and both genders; with functional sex organs, instructions for
    lubrication and cleaning, and artificial skin indistinguishable from human skin (that would actually bruise).
    .
    3) I will certainly think twice before I submit another article to this publication. You have set the bar very
    high with your exquisite prose.

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