In just a matter of days, spurred on by the recent news out of Hollywood, the majority of my Facebook feed is being inundated by two simple words: “Me, Too.” The post is going viral on Twitter and Facebook with the addendum: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
It took me less than a heartbeat to decide that I wanted to include myself as one of the women sharing this news about our past (or current) lives. After all, it is a true statement for me, and I have been working hard in the last several years to be more honest and transparent in both my personal and public lives. This seemed like a relatively no-risk way to share a part of my past. I suspected no one would ask me for specifics, and therefore I wouldn’t have to dredge up painful memories or unresolved emotions. I could simply stand in solidarity with other women while simultaneously giving voice to a very, VERY real problem in our society: the patriarchy and its assorted ills.
As a middle-aged white woman raising teenagers — a mix of boys and girls, white and black — I see daily all the ways in which our society harms them. It has been stated so often that it hardly bears repeating, and yet we continue to suffer the consequences: boys are taught not to cry, that being vulnerable is to be avoided at all costs; girls are taught that their appearance is their primary currency, and so it better be a desirable one, dammit. The two sides of this coin lead to an immeasurable amount of pain, frustration, and missed opportunities for connection — and that is in the best case scenarios. The worst case scenarios give us rapists, and serial predators, and domestic abusers. And that isn’t to discount the other real problems— no less significant, but harder to categorize — missed employment or schooling or housing opportunities, loss of dignity, income, or security. It will surprise no one who is reading this to learn the statistics about how sexism is still alive and well.
But even as I was posting my original “Me, Too,” I had a feeling that this movement, as powerful and important as it is, was also revealing a sad truth about feminists today: we are not as inclusive as we could be. As I’ve looked at my social media feed over the last few days, I am struck by something: the majority of posters seem to be white women. I am incredibly proud of and inspired by the bravery and camaraderie I’ve seen exhibited. But I am *also worried that the ways in which women can share their collective stories about sexist abuses are different than the ways that people of color are allowed to share their experiences with racism and bigotry.
There is hardly any white woman I can imagine meeting or talking to — regardless of socioeconomic class, geographic location, education level, or sexual orientation— that wouldn’t be able to see at least in part the ways in which our systems collude to enforce the patriarchy. Our government, corporate structure, media, health care, banking, etc.: all of these systems are predicated on sexism. Regarding the media, women are quick to point out how we are being manipulated into believing that we need to be prettier, smarter, faster, thinner, younger. That we must be pulled and put together at all times. That we must be smarter than our male bosses or counterparts yet be prepared to receive less financial compensation. We daily scroll past or click on ads for diet pills and Botox and breast and bum enhancements. We worry about raising our sons in this atmosphere of toxic masculinity, and, as much as we wish we didn’t, we warn our daughters not to drink too much, or maybe to reconsider an outfit, or not to walk alone. We know that the world is unkind to girls and women. We see the damage it causes.
As I see it, when it comes to white women being able to acknowledge the ways in which racism is systemic, we start to lose our focus. We can agree, hypothetically speaking, that racism is bad, and, yes, it is all around us, and no, I don’t have any friends who don’t look like me but I am not a racist — but we are loathe to acknowledge that we have been fed a steady diet of white supremacy along with our patriarchy. If I can believe my white female friends when they say to me: “Me, Too. I have suffered abuse at the hands of a man,” then why can’t I believe my black friends, my Latina or Asian American friends — men or women — when they say “I have suffered abuse at the hands of a white person?” Why is it so easy for me to see the ways in which my own oppression, my history of assault and abuse, fits into a greater social construct of sexism and misogyny but am unable to see how racism and bigotry function the same way? Why, as white people, are we always questioning and doubting each other — even those of us who are in this together?
Are you sure he meant it that way?
Maybe you misunderstood.
There are two sides to every story.
Protestors in St. Louis are in the streets because the police continue to kill black people with impunity, and without consequences. Yet for some reason, too many white people are uncomfortable with that simple, specific demand: “Please stop killing black and brown people.” Instead we complain about the inconvenience of having streets closed; we worry that marching is seen as too angry, too political; and we might even quietly believe that the protestors are overreacting. Even if we are not openly saying “Blue Lives Matter,” we are playing over in our minds the same tired old refrain we grew up with — the police will protect me, the police are good, the police will keep me safe. This is a classic example of our internalized racial superiority. For our entire lives, we have been told that there is one right way to live — and that way assumes a male-dominated white supremacist world. For some reason, white women seem able and willing to tease out our own issues with sexism and misogyny while leaving the white supremacist mess for someone else.
I wish I had something heartening to say. I wish I knew how all of this was going to end. I wish people I knew weren’t hurting the way they are — men and women alike who are suffering all forms of abuse and discrimination. Their stories, probably like your own, are heartbreaking, and, if anything, are an enormous testament to the beauty of the human spirit that any of us gets out of bed on any given day. So to all white women who can see the ways in which a systemic abuse of power, collusion of those in power, and a disregard for the basic humanity of women have combined to lead us to the refrain “Me, Too,” I hope you will open your hearts and your minds to the ways in which white supremacy operates similarly. Because, in fact, there is no patriarchy without white supremacy — they need each other to succeed. Let’s not let them win any longer.