October 16 was not a productive day for me. #MeToo was so pervasive, my entire Monday should’ve come with a trigger warning.
The hashtag took over my Facebook, monopolized my conversations and completely absorbed my thoughts.
In an effort to focus, I tried using what my friend Shannon Garrety calls “success by brute force,” berating myself to sit at my computer and work. It didn’t work.
Later in the day, a friend shared this Nayyirah Waheed poem, which brought some perspective.
all the women
– Nayyirah Waheed
With the national focus on sexual assault in the past year, and yesterday in particular, my friends and clients’ tell me their traumas feel ever present and redefined. For many of us, we’re redefining experiences we’d labelled “this weird thing that happened,” as sexual harassment or violence.
Or, things we thought we’d moved past have reemerged. Lately, while I hadn’t thought about it in years, a trauma I experienced fifteen years ago has been present for me on a daily basis.
For many women I’ve talked to, it’s not just their own experiences that plagued them yesterday. It’s the stories and “me toos” from their high school classmate, their boss at that internship in 2006, or their best friend who never mentioned the experience.
For me, the women Waheed references in her poem include all of my younger selves as well as the people in my life who are hurting.
With all of these stories and experiences occupying our hearts and minds, it can feel nearly impossible to focus on anything else, but of course work doesn’t stop. Here are three things I’m striving to remind myself as I try to stay present in my career.
1. There’s no normal response to an abnormal situation.
When I led a workshop about navigating sexuality at work, Rebecca Marchiafava, Vice President at Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR), explained the wildly varied ways trauma survivors respond. She said, “There’s no normal response to an abnormal situation.”
It gave the women in the room – including me – permission to let ourselves experience the full range of emotions (or complete lack thereof) we had about these experiences.
Today, Marchiafava’s sentiment rings true for me in two ways.
First, however you responded to harassment or assault in the moment is valid, and however you feel about it now is valid.
Second, however you respond to #metoo is also valid.
We tend to use social media as distraction or break at work. As you see the huge volume of posts, you may feel compelled to join the conversation. (See #2.)
If you do want to respond, recognize the way that these conversations can bring up emotions unexpectedly. If you’re trying to focus at work or think these threads will impact you personally, this may be a better conversation to engage in after hours.
2. It’s okay not to post #metoo or to disconnect from social media.
While there can be tremendous value in public awareness campaigns like this, they can also prompt feelings of guilt and responsibility.
I comforted multiple friends and clients yesterday through their decision not to share. Whether or not you post on social media about it, your experience is still real and valid. It’s yours to do with what you wish. Staying silent doesn’t make you complicit or a bad feminist, as some of my friends feared.
While vulnerability and openness are core values for me, as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber said, ”I always try to preach from my scars, and not my wounds.”
If you feel raw or fragile, consider writing to a close friend or therapist rather than the entire internet. And even if you feel like you have a healthy emotional distance, you do not have a responsibility to preach, write, or speak from your scars.
Furthermore, reading trauma after trauma on social media won’t resolve the issue. The secondary trauma you may experience when hearing about your Facebook friends’ experiences can actually make it harder to act, instead prompting us to shut down or feel overwhelmed.
Finally, it’s impossible to anticipate who will say what on social media. Multiple friends have come to me triggered by posts from people who contributed to their experiences of sexual harassment or assault.
Again, this is a great time to reassess your social media usage, particularly at work.
People are sharing real stories, and there can be genuine community in online spaces, but don’t underestimate the importance of personal human interaction. Try to cultivate support and connection in real life or in smaller virtual conversation.
3. Channel Hamilton: “This is not a moment, it's the movement.”
The national conversation about sexual harassment and assault is growing. People of all genders are talking about their experiences, and I (somehow) love James Van Der Beek more now than ever.
While I sometimes wish I could hit pause to catch my breath, the stories keep coming out.
When people ask “What can I do about this?”, I feel helpless to answer. When one of my most thoughtful male friends asked me what he could do to be an ally, I had to close my laptop.
These problems felt intractable and overwhelming, and beating myself up over my lack of productivity was ineffective and exhausting. So, I gave myself permission to stop trying to work or fix it. I went for a walk.
Musicals bring me solace in times of strife, and on my walk this Hamilton lyric spoke to me, “This is not a moment, it's the movement.”
Sexual assault and harassment are part of the national conversation in a way that’s exhausting, difficult, and important. But while it feels like the voices talking about this are only getting louder, you do not have to weigh in, now or ever. Be sensitive to how these conversations impact you personally and professionally, and be gentle with yourself.