Today I watched over 40 of my friends and fellow activists, singers and community organisers posting ‘Me too’ on Facebook. They are mostly women from of varying age and heritage (plus one man and a couple of folks of who do not identify as either gender).

The ‘copy and paste’ status being shared is along the lines of:

If all the women/people 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.

Over the day, my feelings shifted. I felt a numb, slightly defensive ‘I’m not surprised’ to start. And under the numbness was a truth: despite being caught unawares by the online disclosures, I’m not surprised at the prevalence of sexual abuse being highlighted.

I felt deep respect for those posting. I also felt deep respect for those women+ (*) not voicing their experience in this way – those survivors who choose to not write these words online, those who have experienced sexual abuse in prisons and immigration detention centres all over the world, those who don’t use social media, children and those of older and past generations. The image of reaching out to each other to hold hands and form a giant circle came to mind.

I felt rage. Public disclosure can bring about feelings of intense vulnerability as well as empowerment. And reading so many posts online can re-trigger painful feelings. Not only had these incredible women+ gone through these experiences, now they were doing the emotional labour (as usual) to raise awareness about the issue under the gaze of Facebook and Twitter.

The silence of the perpetrators has been so loud, I screamed at my laptop. ‘YOU KNOW WHAT? If all the MEN / people who have sexually harassed or assaulted others wrote “Me too.” as a status…. THEN we might REALLY get a sense of the magnitude of the problem’. Plus all those who have witnessed abuse without taking action. Plus men whose complicit silence upholds masculine norms of treating women as objects to meet their needs and desires.

Then I felt fear. I know it was fear cos I found it hard to take a deep breath. It felt like there was a constriction in my solar plexus area and in my throat. I walked around my local park and the fear melted into a shared grief and sisterhood with them, through my tears and an aching in my heart.

The stories behind these posts will range from being whistled at in the street to rape and other kinds of assault. Some of these are stories of trauma, the impact of which should not be underestimated. Trauma can show up in a perpetual feeling of being unsafe. The oversensitive firing of stress hormones can contribute to chronic health problems (including heart disease and cancers), relationship difficulties and a lurking sense of something not being ‘right’. Behind the brevity of the six characters it takes to type ‘Me too’, I grieved the pages that could be filled describing the impact of these experiences.

Yet what’s most striking to me is that every single one of the women+ I’ve seen post this (and actually every survivor I know who hasn’t posted too) is a powerful, creative and commanding change-maker. You are leaders creating waves in your families, communities, organisations and sectors. You are able to connect with your vulnerability and also sit tall, wearing cloaks of fire and majesty. You often have a startling level of empathy and ability to support and inspire others. I see how you work, I see how you play. I see how you create and how you laugh. I see you cry, sing and dance. I see you, full stop. I see your wounds and pain as you post and I also see the gifts you bring to this world and that brings me joy.

I see how women+ such as Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Soni Sori shared their stories of pain and strength and inspired millions and again that image of a huge circle of women+ holding hands across the world comes to mind.

So this ‘Me too’ is from a place of all these feelings – rage, fear, grief, gratitude and joy. I acknowledge the hurt and rage, for me and all my sisters+. I also acknowledge how just like for many of you, that hurt is connected to my strengths. Learning about trauma has helped me to facilitate group spaces which are safe and supportive. It led me to community singing, which helps me and others breathe better and connect with our bodies and voices in a positive way.

I write with a wish of space for those posting (and choosing not to) to do what nourishes and supports you. You don’t need to always be there for others – being there for yourself and doing things that give you joy and pleasure is is the most generous gift you can give the universe. Ask for help if you need it. Let’s hold each other with gentleness and love until holding ourselves with gentleness and love becomes irresistible.

I write in the hope that men recommit to a daily effort to chip away at patriarchal and toxic masculine culture. To listen with more presence and kindness. To challenge and dismantle oppressive (and dismissive) words, actions, trends in your families, neighbourhoods, workplaces, our society’s institutions… and especially in your own thoughts. Talk with older and younger men about this and create healthy models of masculinity to aspire to. Maybe this looks like proactively organising a conversation soon with other men about it, given the buzz currently around these posts. I also wish you gentleness and community with each other as you do this.

Autumn leaves changing – © Shilpa Shah


*I created the term ‘women+’ here, to represent a longer list of people who experience sexual abuse: women (including Trans women), children, people who do not identify within the binary gender framework and sometimes men.