There are so many thoughts, legal theories and emotions swirling around and within me, as a 35-year lawyer (here, I mean practicing law for 35 years, not 35 years of age!) watching the #metoo movement unfold.
First, social norms are so well ingrained that we, as a society, often do not question what should be questioned. The line between appropriate behavior and inappropriate but- we-have-to-put-up-with-it behavior is simply blurred. I am grateful beyond belief to those brave souls, those who question the way things are, for shinning a floodlight on these deep dark not-so-secret societal norms.
Second, my own experiences are like an onion. The outer skin protects a lot of interior sections of which I am not always so cognizant. When peeled back, the memories are hazy but powerful. My outer skin is: no, no, lucky me, I am fortunate and have not been subject to sexual harassment. But it isn’t true. I feel this way due to years of denial and a well-honed ability to minimize. It is my denial mechanism that has made me a successful lawyer and advocate. But this ability to minimize, ignore and excuse doesn’t help change society, and change is what we need.
My story is simply the story of my generation of women of my socioeconomic class, race and privilege, growing up in the 60s, wanting to have a career and change the world without a lot of role models. I was white, middle-class and privileged enough. Yes, I experienced sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, especially as a young woman. Young women, women of color, gender non-conforming, gay, lesbian, transgender people, poor people, and all powerless people, are vulnerable to this display of power and the harm that comes with it….. in the workplace, on the streets, where they seek medical care or government services, in their own homes…anywhere and everywhere.
And I also experienced limited expectations with well-defined and rigid goals for what I would and could grow up to be, which were intended to shape (and narrow) my dreams, for myself and for a better society. The confines of this spectrum of expectations (or lack thereof) also made it so that I, and other young women, did not feel empowered to even articulate, much less question, discrimination and harassment when we saw it.
And, in the legal realm, in order to move this movement forward, we must change the standard for bringing sexual harassment claims, other harassment claims, and discrimination claims, in order to change how society operates and stop simply accepting the unacceptable. More on this later.
So, happy new year, and, thanks to #metoo.