So, I have a friend. She's an actress, she's in her 60s. She's super bright, badass, emotionally intelligent. And a couple of days before Christmas, she was at the post office. It was really crowded, as it is around the holidays, and she was filling out some forms and she was really focused. And out of nowhere, someone moved her out of the way—just physically put their hands on her and moved her out of the way. He apparently needed something that she was blocking, so he moved her. Maybe he had said something to her, maybe he didn't, she didn't hear it... Either way, she was focused, she was filling out the form. And the next thing you know, there were hands on her, and she was being moved out of the way. He then got what he was reaching for, whatever she was blocking, and went on his merry way.
She said that she was shocked at first—yeah. And then a fury rose up in her that she could not explain: not annoyance, not frustration, but "fury" was the word that she used. And she went on to say, "I mean, I wanted to get physical. I don't know—I was furious. And I don't know why. I mean, he didn't hit me. He didn't hurt me, he didn't violate me. He moved me, and I wanted to hurt him, or at the very least, run after him and yell in his face."
So later, I was left pondering this fury, and looking for an explanation as to why, even in her telling of it, I felt fury, too, and why this was a word and a feeling that I was hearing a lot about lately. I feel like this is the point in the room where all the men are getting a little bit uncomfortable.
It's OK. Stay with me.
This fury is something that I have been chomping on since the last US presidential election. And it seems that many women have. This fury was not my friend's alone. Her fury was ignited by lifetimes of men helping themselves to women's bodies without consent. There's a culture of men helping themselves to women, and in this case, in a seemingly innocuous way, where a woman's body is like a saltshaker: "Get out of the way so I can get to the fries"—to the most egregious, violent and horrific situations.
I imagine that some of you are wondering what the connection is between the innocuous and the horrific, two things that seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. Well, the common thread is the spectrum. The innocuous makes space for the horrific. And women have to live with the effects of both and everything in between.
Fellas, can you imagine you're just on your phone, and someone walks up to you and just takes it out of your hand? And they're like, "OK dude, I don't know why you're getting so upset, I want to make a phone call. I'm going to give it back to you as soon as I'm done. Whatever." And then imagine if someone takes that cell phone out of your hands—I don't know—once a day, twice a day, random times. And the explanation is, "Yeah, well, I mean, you got a fancy case," or "You shouldn't have taken it out of your pocket," or "Yep. Yeah. That's just the way it is." But somehow, no one ever talks about the person who took the cell phone. Overly simplified, I get it, but you see where I'm going. Men are so used to helping themselves, that it's like...they can't help themselves. And not because men are fundamentally less moral, but because this is a very big blind spot for most men.
When someone helps themselves to a woman, it not only triggers discomfort and distress, but the unspoken experiences of our mothers' lives, sisters' lives and generations of women before us. That's lifetimes of women dealing with men who assume they know better for us than we know for ourselves, being the property of husbands, landowners, and having old, white men tell us the fate of our lady parts; lifetimes of having our bodies used for love and objects of desire, instead of bodies that we get to wield and use as we choose; lifetimes of knowing that whether we play by their rules or not, we still have to tolerate harassment, assault and even worse; lifetimes of our bodies being used as property that can be hit and hurt, manipulated and moved and like objects that are not deserving of respect; lifetimes of not being able to express the anger of our bodies. It's no wonder we feel this fury. And if you add in the history of race—which is a whole other talk—it gets exponentially more complicated.
When women get manhandled, we start to rationalize, try to figure out the ways that it was—"It was probably our fault. You know what? He probably said something, and I didn't hear him. I'm just overreacting. I'm totally overreacting." No. No. No. No, no, no, no, no. Women have been trained to think that we are overreacting or that we're being too sensitive or unreasonable. We try to make sense of nonsense, and we swallow the furious feelings. We try to put them into some hidden place in our minds, but they don't go away. That fury sits deep inside as we practice our smiles—"Yes, of course"—and try to be pleasant. "I know—" "Yes, yes, of course," because apparently, women aren't supposed to get angry.
That fury that my friend felt holds centuries of never being able to directly address or express our indignation, our frustration and our rage. When someone thinks they can help themselves to our bodies, it not only ignites the current fury, but it lights up the past. What seems like a benign moment at the post office is actually an anger grenade. Well, kaboom!
Today, the global collection of women's experiences can no longer be ignored. Time's up on thinking that we're overreacting or "This is just the way it is." Time's up on women being held responsible for men's bad behavior. It is men's responsibility to change men's bad behavior.
Our culture is shifting, and it's time. So my fellow women and our gentle men, as we are here together within this particular window of this large-scale movement towards women's equality, and as we envision a future that does not yet exist, we both have different invitations.
Men, I call you in as allies, as we work together towards change. May you be accountable and self-reflective, compassionate and open. May you ask how you can support a woman and be of service to change. And may you get help if you need it.
And women, I encourage you to acknowledge your fury. Give it language. Share it in safe places of identification and in safe ways. Your fury is not something to be afraid of. It holds lifetimes of wisdom. Let it breathe and listen.