2017 Has Been Quite A Year For Women–Both In Therapy And Out
Reflecting on the past year and thinking ahead to the new year, 2017 has been quite a year for our country in a number of ways, especially for women. As a therapist in NYC, I often find myself helping women navigate some sticky situations in order to be safe. My patients have found themselves stuck with the conundrum of how to put forth ideas in the workplace, since being too forthcoming and shining too bright is a threat to their male counterparts. Others have been victims of unwanted sexual advances on the job and have struggled with how to address it without putting their livelihoods at risk. Countless times, I have talked over how to deal with sexual harassment in social situations and also in public from strangers.
Women are not only victims of these crimes but they also frequently bear the brunt of the aftermath, having to grapple with the question of, “Now what?” What does one do when their boss is making sexual advances and HR is non-existent, not safe or not responsive? They often need to leave their job, even if it puts their livelihood and career trajectories at risk. This is the painful truth of being a woman in this world and a truth that has long been the unspoken norm.
The Women’s March and #MeToo Movement Showed The Power Of Women’s Voices (And Voicing Trauma)
However, 2017 has been bookended by two significant movements–the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement–that give me hope that perhaps the experience of being a woman is beginning to shift. The Women’s March was the largest single day protest in U.S. history, which included at least 408 reported protests all over the world. While it is challenging to identify concrete legislation or change that came from the movement in itself, there was incredible power in the sheer number of participants. The number of marchers and locations communicated to legislators and those in power that women’s voices are powerful and need to be listened to.
The year ended with the “#MeToo” movement, sparked initially by an avalanche of sexual assault and misconduct allegations against film producer and executive, Harvey Weinstein. One of the things that struck me about the movement is that there was some safety in expressing “MeToo” through the medium of Twitter.
When a person suffers a trauma, it is only advisable to share that with people who are safe. If a person makes themselves vulnerable about a trauma and they are shamed or rejected, it is an additional trauma and only makes matters worse. Twitter is a public forum, but there was enough anonymity on this social media platform for the victims to maintain their space and safety from potential naysayers. Additionally, there was such an outpouring of people sharing their stories that there was safety in numbers.
Identifying Sexual Abuse and Assault Is Painful, But Now We Can Do Something About It
It struck me how many of the stories that are now public are similar to the ones that I have heard behind closed doors with the women I am close to both professionally and personally. Like a crushing family secret that everyone knows but does not speak of, actually identifying that sexual abuse and assault is an epidemic is incredibly painful. But now we as a nation can actually do something about it.
The perpetrators who have been named can be held accountable, if not legally then at least by the court of public opinion. The men who were unaware that sexual assault and harassment was so widespread can learn more about the experiences of others. And the men who were unaware that they have been engaging in menacing and unwanted sexual behavior will hopefully stop and take a good long look in the mirror. What our country has considered acceptable and tolerable is changing.
Already I have seen a shift in women’s experiences in my therapy practice. HR departments have been more responsive to their employees. Women who have been victims of some kind of harassment or assault (which is essentially all women) have felt validated and empowered by this outpouring of care and public attention to this experience that is at the heart of what it is like to be a woman in this world. It has also raised some fruitful conversations for women who have had more “grey area” unwanted sexual attention or encounters where they felt discomfort and shame about an experience, but held a lot of doubt that there had been anything wrong with it.
I am unsure what my expectations should realistically be for women in 2018 but I am excited to see what happens next. My hope is that the sheer number of participants in the 2017 Women’s March and the #MeToo movement changes what is socially acceptable to us. Perpetrating and turning a blind eye to harassment and assault is an old normal, we are ready for a new normal.