Thanks to actress Alyssa Milano, #MeToo has become a rallying cry against sexual harassment and sexual assault in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. Some people were surprised how many #MeToo hashtags appeared in their social media feeds from people they knew, but many weren’t.
The sad truth is that sexual harassment is so rampant and the victims often feel so embarrassed, that it is common for people not to say anything about it. I remember encountering a flasher a couple of times on the way home from school as a kid with my friends. But from most of our parent’s non-reaction, we learned that this was something that just happens. And so other incidents occurred over the course of the years, a guy peeking into my dressing room at the pool, a colleague making suggestive remarks, etc. As long as there wasn’t any physical or sexual assault, it didn’t seem like a big deal. Wasn’t this something that was commonplace?
I wasn’t sure what to say about this topic. Then a friend of mine posed the question:
“What can be done to make women and men feel less ashamed and afraid of reporting things like this?”
I believe that there are 3 important factors:
1. Shame and Sharing Your Story
Author Brené Brown has researched shame extensively and has found that shame is the feeling that we are somehow flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. We are afraid that people won’t like us if they knew the truth about what we are struggling with.
Brené suggests that the only way out shame is to do the very thing we are all afraid to do – talk about it. Reaching out and sharing our experience with people who are supportive and trust is key, since shame loses power when it is spoken.
This is why the #MeToo hashtag is so powerful. Everyone who is sharing their stories is taking a step toward speaking out against this kind of behavior and abuse. And everyone who reads their stories and shows their support is helping them speak out.
But sharing your story doesn’t have to be done publicly. Not everyone is comfortable doing that and it’s completely ok. Sharing it with a trusted friend or professional can be powerful, too.
2. Believe That You Are Worthy
In order to get past the shame, we have to feel that we are worthy. Many of us struggle with the fear of not being good enough. How do we embrace ourselves, just the way we are, including all of our imperfections? We have to get to the point where we believe that we are worthy now. Not if or when we reach a certain goal. We are worthy and we are enough RIGHT NOW. There is nothing we need to accomplish first.
For more details, check out: The Gifts of Imperfection: Stop Waiting Until You Are Worthy
3. Set Your Personal Policies
It is very hard to decide in the moment how you are going to act and what you are going to do. In these types of situations, there often is a power play going on as well – a person in a position of authority or influence might make you less likely to want to cross that person.
That’s why I believe that setting your own personal policies beforehand is so important. Personal policies are a list of clear rules that you have put in place for different situations that you might find difficult. They reflect your values, priorities and boundaries.
- What is ok for people to do and not to do, in terms of what they say to you, how they behave with you, regarding physical contact, etc.?
- What consequences are you ok with? Is standing up for yourself when these behaviors occur more important than being embarrassed, being believed or potentially losing your job (of future jobs?)
This is ultimately a personal choice, but an important one to decide for ourselves. After you decide what works for you, write it down. Once you have a clear policy in place, enforce it.
An important note: Abusive behavior occurs not just in a sexual context. Anyone in power can wield influence over you and be emotionally or physically abusive. I believe the same principles apply: It’s still about believing that you are worthy, getting past the shame and setting your personal policies.
This takes practice. I used to be worried about losing my job, so I would tolerate behaviors that I didn’t agree with. I now know that I and others deserve to be treated with respect, and that is more important to me than keeping any job, project or client.
What personal policies do you want to put in place?
Manuela loves helping smart and compassionate professionals create a career and life they love, while feeling more confident and fulfilled! You can visit Manuela’s Website for Career Happiness Coaching.