#MeToo: No Longer Anonymous

It didn’t take long for #MeToo to fill my Facebook feed. Friend after friend was testifying that they were harassed, abused or raped. From unwanted sexual innuendo to non-consensual sex, these were no longer isolated experiences—this was a large-scale, societal epidemic, so common yet unseen. Until now.

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With the exception of the 2016 elections, I usually don’t get upset by the news, but the #MeToo testimonies were profoundly upsetting, cutting through my protective layers. It exposed a problem that was not specific to one powerful man in a particularly superficial industry.

#MeToo was everyone, everywhere, all the time. #MeToo was happening on the train, in the office, in houses of worship, on campuses, at home. There were more than 500,000 people who tweeted with the tag, and many more who didn’t. Scrolling through my feed, I was cast into the emotional turmoil from two decades ago. Our bodies relive even old traumas when they unexpectedly resurface.

#MeToo resonated with me—because it happened to me, too. It was 3 a.m. when I ran out of his apartment and waited in the dark stairwell for the sun to rise. I managed to get to my transatlantic flight and spent the next 12 hours in tears. I was upset and very confused. Was it my fault for trusting this man as a friend? Could I have said “no” more clearly?

I looked back at my computer screen, filled with stories. For many, this was the first time they publicly acknowledged being a victim. There is comfort in numbers, even if the shared experience is traumatic. The prevalence of these behaviors makes it clear that these acts have little to do with us,the victims—what we said, how we dressed, who we trusted. Sexual harassment and abuse are unfortunately part of our culture; so common that they are almost impersonal. Misogyny, like racism or homophobia, is indifferent to the particulars of its victim.

But if the abusers are the ones who should be ashamed, why do so many women remain silent? Early last year, after weeks of tortured editing, I published a piece on this very blog suggesting that it is precisely the lack of consent that some abusers seek in sexual abuse and rape. I hoped that by pointing this out, women would realize that they were not to blame. These crimes were inflicted by men who fully understand their victims’ wishes; they heard them and got a thrill from violating them.

I felt empowered by writing about my experience, but when my piece was accepted for publication I anxiously recoiled: Would I be comfortable if my clients found this piece? Was I ready to discuss this with my daughters? In the end, I found a comfortable compromise. I published the piece anonymously and then spent the next few weeks sending it to close friends, educators, rabbis and family.

I found a way to speak up yet maintain some privacy. It was a comfortable solution—until now. Reading the stories of friends and acquaintances, I realized that we can no longer defend this privacy which allowed a widespread problem to hide in plain sight for so long.

All those who joined the #MeToo campaign took a brave step by exposing a frighteningly widespread problem in our society. But the campaign’s importance goes far beyond the support one gets from joining a huge group-hug. If sexual abuse thrives in the dark, then the act of speaking up—proving the magnitude of the problem and strongly denouncing it—is a necessary step in fighting it.

Will the #MeToo campaign become a turning point that brings about a real change towards the treatment of women or will it be yet another example in which loud social media voices are mistaken for political activism? That remains to be seen. But one thing is already clear: Together, we need to demand systemic changes to eradicate these behaviors. The #MeToo storm is a first step. By exposing abuse, we are fighting to obliterate the violence we faced.

Less than two years ago, I worried about exposing my daughters to the fact that I was abused. Now, I realize that the silence around sexual violence is a greater danger to them than the truth.

Esther Sperber is an architect, founder of Studio ST Architects in New York. She writes and lectures about Architecture, Psychoanalysis and Culture. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Ms. Magazine, Lilith, The Jewish Week and The Huffington Post as well as in books and academic journals. Born and raised in Jerusalem, she studied architecture at the Technion in Haifa and Columbia University in New York. Contact: esther@studio-st.com

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