4 June 2018

Feeling uncomfortable? Me Too.

In a conversation recently, a friend said that she was finding the whole #metoo thing a very discomfiting experience. She noted that every time somebody spoke out, spoke publicly about the abuse they had experienced, or outed one of her celebrity crushes – she felt incredibly uncomfortable, and hated that her first reaction was quite often ‘oh that can’t be true’.

I don’t think she is alone. In fact, I know she’s not. I sometimes feel like that too. And it’s not just about #metoo. I have had friends personally tell me their experiences of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and even war, and initially it always feels unreal. How is that this person could have experienced all this and I didn’t know? How is that they can have experienced all this and be able to talk about it? How are they so normal?

And when you see people like Asia Argento stand on a stage in Cannes and state publicly that Harvey Weinstein raped her when she was 21 – you can acknowledge her bravery and the power that comes with telling your truth, even if it makes others feel a bit uneasy.

Women of a certain age, and that’s pretty much everybody born before the year 2000, were raised to be quiet. We were raised to know that if anything happened to us – the shame was ours. It would change what people thought of us. If violence of any nature was inflicted upon us – well then, who was ‘really’ at fault?

But one of the powerful positives of mass communication is that it has given a voice to people who didn’t otherwise have it. People are no longer isolated from other people’s experiences. Slowly, around the world, women, and many other marginalised groups, have been finding that they are not alone.
See - it's not just me that thinks that! 
Everybody has a unique experience. What has not been unique is society’s response – ignore, minimise, reshape. And so people started talking. They gathered their courage. They spoke even when their voice shook. They overcame all the things they have been raised to believe about their position, about their worthiness, about their shame, about their responsibility and they have spoken.

And finally society is listening. They are listening in India, they are listening in America, in the UK, in Australia, in every country around the world – change is happening.

But to listen, to truly listen, is discomfiting. We have to challenge our own internalised processes. Our own perceptions of people we know. Our own understanding of people we may have admired. We have to reconcile what we now know, with what we thought we knew.

And the hardest of all, is we have to truly look at ourselves and think about what we have internalised. What unconscious bias exists in our own perception of the world and the things that happens to it? Are we judging without listening? Are we making assumptions without evidence? Are we holding people accountable to standards that we would not hold ourselves to? What are we doing as an individual to support the voices – both the quiet and the loud? The ordinary and the famous?

I think it is good that we are uncomfortable with hearing other people’s stories. I think the fact that we find oppression, cruelty and violence to be unbelievable at first speaks to the inherent goodness that is in most of us. Often, what we find most unreal is that these things have happened to people we care about, people we love. We find it discomfiting that people we have looked up to have abused others and are not who we believed they are. This is true of celebrities, it’s true of other people’s fathers, it’s true of people’s priests and ministers, it’s true of people’s teachers.

We don't need to be comfortable with messy fucked up internalised and societal expectations of how women should or should not be behaving, nor do we need to be comfortable with hearing women's stories of the violence they have experienced, nor do we have to be comfortable with challenging our own thinking.

Because ultimately - comfortable is important for sofas.

But completely irrelevant for change.


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