Donald Trump. Weinstein. Louis CK. Al Franken. Charlie Rose. John Conyers.
All of these men have been accused of sexual harassment. And the stories keep coming. Women have taken to Twitter - #me too- to share their stories. Often the men involved are in positions of power. It's this power imbalance which creates the opportunity for harassment. The power imbalance makes it possible to take advantage of the woman who needs her job, who needs the work experience, who fears the consequences of speaking out.
While the recents stories have primarily involved white women, African American women have had a long history of sexual harassment and abuse in this country. What should now be clear, is that irrespective of her economic status, her ethnicity any woman can be at risk. We've heard stories from starlets, political aides, athletes, hotel workers - women subjected to sexual harassment who have had to swallow their disgrace. Whether we're calling it sexual harassment, rape or incest - these have been the dirty little secrets that too many have carried in silence. As Sofia in The Color Purple said " .. a female child is not safe in a house full of mens".
And we wonder at what price? How does such disgraceful treatment make one feel about herself, how does she relate to her partner, and what does she teaches her daughter about her sexuality and the choices a woman may have to face?
And at what price to society, where sex sells and yet sexual dysfunction is prevalent among women. In the US, 40% of women have sexual concerns with 12% reporting distressing sexual problems.
And at what price do we allow this to continue? What are the long term effects of silence in face of harassment and abuse? Does it get internalized? And how does this dysfunction get expressed? In 2014, an online Merck survey of 2,015 American women ages 18-40 revealed that
- 31% women in a relation rarely or never talk to their partner about sex; and 62% of those who did talk to their partner about sex admit they don't initiate the discussions
- 22% feel uncomfortable discussing their sexual history with their partner
- 24% feel uncomfortable discussing sexual matters with their healthcare provider
While pornography has become a multi-billion dollar business, it appears that talking about sexual health has become taboo.
I suggest that it is better for us to talk about sexual health. It is better for us not only to know female anatomy and physiology but to also understand female sexuality. It is better to teach our daughters. Let them become achievers. Let them be smart and competent but also secure in their sexuality. They will be equipped to demolish the myth of the "weaker sex" and to eliminate any remaining power imbalances.
For those of us who are older, we too can heal. Let's talk. When women come to embrace their sexuality they can become empowered and be delivered from the shame of sexual abuse.
I would love to continue this discussion into the new year. For now and from Todays woman, I wish you all a happy holiday season. Be well.