I’ve been feeling deeply disturbed and unsettled since the news came out last week that a CBC broadcaster, Jian Ghomeshi, has been abusing women for years in his workplace and in the wider community. The troubling thing is how many people knew and said nothing. This was allowed to continue because no one took action. Many people were afraid of tarnishing their reputations or impacting their career advancement options.
I thought back into my own past and saw many times where I was apathetic to news such as this: I’ve gotten the subtle and overt messages my entire life that my rights as a woman were less than those of a man. Moreover, I had experience to show that if I came forward to report abuse and harassment, no one would do anything. I was born in Canada. And the following stories happened here.
When I was in high school, a teacher sexually harassed me. He kept giving me poor grades and told me the only way I would pass the course would be to come after school for ‘extra credit’ work- a classic move by perpetrators to isolate their targets. I told my mom about this. She knew how hard I was studying for that course. I wasn’t slacking or looking for an easy ride. The material was challenging and I didn’t feel I was getting the support I needed from a teacher to help me master the concepts presented. One Friday late at night, the phone rang. It was this teacher calling to complain to my mom that I hadn’t been going in for extra time with him to ‘catch up’ on what I was missing. My mom interrupted him: “You have the gall to call me up on a weekend- my time off work- to tell me lies about my daughter? I happen to know that she is working hard at that course and that instead of supporting her learning, you have been harassing her. She will not be attending your after school ‘sessions’ and if you know what is good for you, you will leave her alone.” She hung up the phone without waiting for his response. She never talked to the principal about it. I knew that a few students had already filed their own grievances and nothing had been done. My mom took care of business herself.
When I was in university, I began being sexually harassed by a professor. It was mild at first but it quickly escalated to the point that I felt nauseous every morning before his class. He was the only professor who taught this course- a prerequisite to getting my major. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I went to the advisor responsible for his department. When I walked through the door to file a complaint, she told me she already knew whom I was going to mention. She pulled out a file of grievances as thick as a book and proceeded to tell me there was nothing she could do because he had tenure. I went home and sat with my choices. I was unwilling to go through that abuse any longer and decided to change my major. Some time later, my mom and I were filling up with gas at a station when he pulled up beside us and started taunting me. I had to lock my mom in the car so she wouldn’t kill him. Jail time wouldn’t have served either of us! I stood strong and he drove away.
The thing is, all of these incidents were so ‘normal’ in my life as a woman that I never thought of standing up to these men as a victory. I don’t know any women in my close circle that have not had to deal with harassment and abuse of some kind. I had the courage to stand up to these teachers because I had already had lots of incidences in my childhood where I had not and was left to suffer the consequences: pain, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, and lack of self-worth.
It occurred to me recently while collecting women’s power stories for a book I am editing that women’s stories are full of victories and tragedies that go unnoticed in society because they are seen as being run of the mill. Many women I asked to contribute stories initially said they couldn’t think of times where they’d felt powerful. When I started talking to them, we realized that women’s power is wrapped up in everyday stories that they live: abuse, miscarriage, birthing and raising children, harassment, addiction, depression, and a host of others. They are not seen as heroines or particularly exciting figures in mainstream media, but in reality, these women are the foundation of any society. Without women, literally none of us would be here. I think of countries where female babies are killed because they are considered a liability and wonder: what kind of insanity is this? Do they not realize that they are killing off their lineages and impoverishing their communities? We need more women’s voices and stories out in the world to counter this sort of ignorance.
I refuse to think of myself or these women as victims based on their past histories and what they have struggled with. All of us have made poor choices or the best choice we could make in crappy circumstances. There is a resilience about women that is something I admire more now after editing this book than ever before. These women survived horrific trauma and still found ways to heal and thrive. I hope in the future that more stories like these come out and that women see their inherent worth as human beings and the birthers of human life on the planet. I pray for a world that honours women and the feminine principle of life. I pray that women who have been mistreated or abused find the power within them to reclaim their lives and find the support they need to move forward in a good way. I pray for women to take back their personal power and inner balance. We are all worth it. In fact, the future of our species depends on it.