2017: Silent No Longer

11/30/2017 11:34 EST | Updated 11/30/2017 12:27 EST
Representation Project

As I reflect on 2017, I am curious as to how we will remember it.

Is 2017 the year of covfefe and twitter declarations of nuclear war? Is 2017 the year that will be measured in 33 Scaramuccis? Is it the year of alternative facts, otherwise known as lies? The year of Charlottesville? The year of shootings at a country western concert in Las Vegas, a church in Sutherland Springs, a neighborhood in Tehama County??? How are we going to remember 2017?

Certainly, 2017 is the year that we got punched in the gut over and over by the news. But, it is also the year that we punched back. Because 2017 is the year that sexual harassment and assault were finally taken seriously. It is the year that survivors grabbed the mic and said we’re not gonna take it anymore-- we won’t take the abuse, we won’t take the shame or the blame, and we won’t take more silence.

In fact, we’re reclaiming 2017.

I have been floored by the sea change in both public opinion and public response. Serial perpetrators are being held accountable for the first time and I am grateful because countless women will feel more comfortable as a result. It feels more safe to come forward because there is evidence that we just might be believed and there just might be very real consequences for the perpetrators when caught.

And for the first time, the conversation is happening on a national scale-- and it’s not about how women can avoid harassment or assault, but about how men must be held accountable for illegal behavior. It’s about how each of us can do a better job of listening to women; It’s about listening to women of color, low-income women, trans women, etc. who are historically even less likely to be believed. I’m so inspired by this change, but I know we have to keep pushing.

So the question now becomes, if 2017 is the year survivors took the mic, will 2018 be the year we sustained the momentum and broadened the movement’s impact?

Because real, lasting change needs to happen in private spaces. If we want the progress to move off the pages of the newspaper and into the lives of real women, we have to change how we talk about this at home AND at work. We have to change what we do when the perpetrator isn’t famous and when the news won’t care.

Here are 5 things that all of us can do to make 2017 the year things changed for good, rather than a blip on the radar.

1. Have Broad Conversations about Masculinity: In your children’s schools, at your places of work, and most definitely at home - have conversations about what it means to “Be a Man.” Watch and discuss “The Mask You Live In" about the causes and consequences of toxic masculinity. This is a great place to start.

2. Have Conversations Specifically about Consent with Youth: Research shows that serial rapists are enabled by a culture that looks the other way. So when we are all on the same page about the definition and importance of consent, the bad actors become even clearer — and our culture will more readily punish them. Let’s start talking about consent with our kids as early as possible; it doesn’t have to start with a conversation about sex, it can be about respecting other people’s boundaries including one’s own bodily autonomy.

3. Practice Speaking Out and Standing Up for Others: If you hear someone saying something sexist (or racist!) say something. A non-confrontational way to do this is to ask them what they mean by their comment. “Why is that funny? What were you trying to say?” We must call out those who are reinforcing toxic norms while celebrating those who are modeling healthy ones.

4. Make Changes in the Workplace: Evaluate your workplace policies to ensure that there is adequate protocol and support for reporting harassment. Also, make it a priority to hire and promote more women into leadership. The number one predictor of a safe working environment without harassment is equitable leadership and employment numbers.

5. Be Wary of Backlash: The pendulum is swinging in the right direction, but the power balance is still off -- meaning that men still hold more of it, NOT women. That means that if you hear someone talking about how it’s “dangerous” to be a man right now -- remind them that the facts don’t support that argument. The victims of this epidemic are NOT the men who face consequences. The victims are the victims, end of story.

I really believe that when we do these things, we will find ourselves in a healthier culture. Where anyone who is the survivor of sexual harassment or assault can come forward, speak their truth, and know that they will be supported, their claims fairly investigated, and that perpetrators will face consequences. I also believe we will find ourselves in a world where less sexual harassment and assault happen in the first place. When we do these things, we will find ourselves in a safer world - for everyone.

So here is to that world-- here is to 2018!