About ten years ago, I was managing a seminar for one of the best trainers in the world. There’s an exercise called Secrets. The room is darkened and then everybody in the room, including most of the staff, has to put their hands over their eyes, or put their heads down on their desk.
Then the trainer goes through a list of questions.
“If you have ever … raise your hand.”
Because I was the course manager, I had to keep my eyes open to make sure the room stayed safe. So I was able to see how many hands went up for each question.
Most of the questions were gentle, even harmless, but all of the questions were designed to be cathartic. But a number of the questions cut right down to the bone.
There are things people carry around inside, a lot of hurt and guilt and shame and fear, but there’s no safe place to unload those feelings, so the exercise allows some relief. The participants get to keep their secrets safe, but they get to acknowledge that they are holding these things that keep gnawing at them — they get to own that part of their identity.
This particular time, however, when the trainer asked questions about abuse, about rape, about violence — nearly every woman in the room raised her hand.
Now this was not a unique group of women. These were adult women of all ages, from early twenties to late sixties. Some were students, others were working women. Some were married, others were single or divorced. Some were highly skilled professionals. Some were strong family women.
“Have you ever been raped?” “Have you ever been molested?” “Have you ever been the target of physical or emotional abuse?” “Have you ever been made to feel ashamed of your identity?” “Have you ever held yourself back…?”
Observing this for the first time, I felt tears running down my cheeks because of the level of pain in the room. All those pale hands, silent in the dark. A testimony of unspoken hurt. I felt my chest tightening and my heart pounding — I felt myself getting angry, as angry as I felt when my son finally confessed to me how he had suffered at the hands of an abusive foster-parent. I wanted to find the perp and hurt back.
But no — all I could do was remain a silent witness. Stunned and horrified.
Later … much later, when the trainer and I went out to dinner, I had to ask. “Is this normal? All these women?” He said, “Sometimes it’s worse.”
Ever since that moment, I have had to look at women differently — with the knowledge that I am living among a population that is very much carrying a burden of oppression — not unlike the Jews in Nazi Germany, not unlike the slaves in the pre-civil war south. Not unlike so many populations here in this country and around the world.
White male privilege allows white males to exist in a bubble of ignorance and illusion. I have to generalize here, but I’m pretty sure that most men have no idea and even less understanding of just how steeply the landscape has been tilted — just how much (through our unconsciousness) we are deliberately punishing half the human race.
This week, what has been most appalling to me about Donald Trump’s despicable confession of being a sexual predator … is not the various defenses of those who are trapped in his sinking lifeboat with him. No — what’s appalling to me is how few men are able to understand that what Trump spoke about was the “normal” that women experience every day. What is appalling to me is how few men are enraged.
I have been simmering, smoldering, and finally boiling with anger the more I consider his words. I can’t get them out of my head. I can’t escape them. Despite my pacifist leanings, I still want to punch that vile bastard in the face with a jackhammer. Words are insufficient.
And if I’m feeling that way, I cannot imagine how the women who have heard those words are feeling. This isn’t a once-in-a-while occurrence. This is … just another Tuesday.
Sidebar: There’s a story about the filming of Django Unchained — that Leonardo DiCaprio was having trouble with all the racist language he had to speak. He wanted to apologize for it. But Samuel L. Jackson (allegedly) said, “Hey, Motherfucker. This is just another Tuesday for us.”
Well, I’m tired of Tuesday — and the rest of the week as well.
I grew up in a time when anti-semitism was freely expressed. I grew up in a time and lived in an environment where anti-gay sentiments were freely expressed. And eventually, that sensitized me to a lot of other prejudices — anti-black and anti-Muslim and anti-Native American, and so on.
But it wasn’t until that moment in that training room that I realized what a pernicious vile crime against women we have allowed in our culture.
Women alone will not be the solution here. It is up to men, good men, strong men, compassionate men, to draw a line in the sand and redefine what it means to be a man — and that can no longer include the reduction of women from their rightful place as leaders and partners in our society.
Trump is only a symptom. The real disease still festers in the rest of us.
(via David Gerrold on FB)