The MSNBC Hardball host, Chris Matthews, abruptly resigned recently on air after several controversies. Everyone was shocked, including me, who had avidly watched the show for years. He complimented a guest on her looks, making somewhat suggestive comments that left the her feeling violated. It should be noted that he never touched or physically harassed the guest, but in the new era of ME TOO, everyone has to be careful about comments made to women that can seem too flirtatious or sexual in nature. Perhaps the Matthews resignation was a preemptive public relations chess move to squash the current and past sexual harassment allegations at NBC as well. This incident also led me to think more about the issues related to sexual harassment, abuse and a woman’s right to be treated with respect and dignity.
Let me start by saying that we all have personal boundaries that represent who we are and what we are willing, or not willing to accept in terms of the way others treat us. The ME TOO movement has been important because it has helped to empower women who have been sexually victimized and/or harassed to fight back and demand accountability from the those who have taken their power and ability to choose what is best for them. Victims of sexual abuse should be supported. If proven guilty, abusers should be held responsible to the fullest extent of the law. Sexual abuse is a deep soul violation that results in physical, psychological and emotional damage to victims, who often already question themselves in the process. The path to healing is possible with a willingness to face the pain, shame and guilt. It also takes courage to fight back – – to continue living one’s life to the fullest. The emotional scars, however, often remain.
The effect of sexual abuse is a particularly sensitive issue for me to write about, having heard a thing or two within my own extended clan related to this subject. The repercussions are devastating. Some victims still carry the anger, guilt and shame. Their scars never fully heal, leaving behind a seemingly altered divine self. My heart aches for them, knowing that the journey to healing is often a lonely, difficult path. I have also met others who went through the healing process. My heart aches for them too, knowing how difficult it must have been to successfully make the lonely, journey to move forward. Some still hold a sadness that can be detected, ever so slightly, when sharing their experience. Their divine self is altered too (sometimes made even stronger as survivors). It is the helplessness that connects my soul to them. I also have stories to tell but most of them are not mine to share. However, the bravery of these women and men to come forward to share their experiences cannot be overstated.
The following comments should, in no way, negate my support for women in the ME TOO movement, but truthful evaluation also requires objectivity and balance.
Since we are sexual, relational beings (it’s in our DNA as humans), there are nuances to this topic as well. From the time a young girl reaches puberty, she becomes acutely aware of her budding sexuality and its impact on others of interest. I sure did, and still do love and appreciate positive attention and affirmations. We also learn very quickly how to set boundaries (deflect or defuse advances from unwanted suitors, volley back and forth, call time out or foul, and slam dunk as it pleases us to do so). Beauty is power in this world. We all know it and must be honest about our cultural obsession with placing a lot of value on outer appearance instead of one’s character. The revenue generated in the beauty industry, alone, should prove our culture’s desire be noticed. Yet, desiring admiration does not mean that one wants to be violated or forced to act in ways that cross personal boundaries. Once again, boundaries tell others what you will and won’t accept, not just in romantic relationships, but all relationships almost like one’s personal business card.
Some women are willing to adjust their boundaries to obtain a goal or position. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, a powerful hollywood producer, the numerous accusations against him ranged from rape to sexual coercion in the work place. Some of the actresses made hotel room business visits in the hopes of landing an acting role. Most women are acutely aware of situations that might make them vulnerable, yet the desire to reach a goal can cause one to suspend better judgement. It also wouldn’t be fair not to mention that some women are willing to play the “casting couch” game (look it up if you don’t understand) to achieve their goals. It takes two to tango. How many of these women never come forward, not wanting to go down the rabbit hole, especially if they received some type of career gain? Generally, most woman never consider crossing these personal boundaries, but get stuck anyway – – enduring sexual harassment due to financial reasons. They also know that standing up for oneself can lead to a failed career. Even in this case of a super predator, it still comes down to solid boundaries. The Weinstein accusers ultimately received justice in court. This is not always the outcome.
Chris Matthews was no Weinstein, but even he was forced to reevaluate his own “boundary lines” and understand what some women are willing to accept from men. “It just got real!” said some of my male tribe members. As humans, we are sexual, relational beings in general. If you agree, is flirting allowed anymore in the era of ME TOO? When, what and with whom is it ok? Women and young girls have been objectified sexually since the beginning of time, and we have also continued to participate in this limited portrayal of womanhood (for example check out the women in music videos, runway shows, on spring break and in nightclubs across the globe, etc.). I have also expressed my femininity in a sexualized way when it suited me. One should not forget that boys and men can be victimized too. Our societal expectations for appropriate relational behavior is being challenged during the ME TOO era. There are clear rule breakers for sure i.e. children are off limits, rape, sexual harassment etc., but there could also be “blurred lines” yet to be defined. Stay alert and get the new “memo” no matter your gender! Your life, safety, and reputation might depend on it.