In my previous #MeToo post, I discussed change in a misogynistic system from the perspective of a family systems therapist with some expertise in systemic change at the individual and relationship level. But there are lessons from that expertise that I, myself, still haven’t learned and that I think can be instructive for anyone trying to examine his (or her!) role in either changing or perpetuating systemic misogyny and sexual harassment.
As an example, I recently received unwanted or warranted e-mail communication from “Anthony.” He sent two separate messages to my business email account and my website contact form. To my knowledge, I have no prior personal or professional contact with Anthony, although the identifying information he sent was limited. His message to my business email account asked, “How can I fuck you Courtney” along with a picture of his side profile and his erect penis. My first thought was, “Oh, another dick pic. Men.” followed by my trying to rationally explain (to myself!) how this person thought not only was it a good idea to send a complete stranger a picture of his manhood but also other identifying information. My first plan of action was to do nothing and then seek further legal action if he contacted me in the future.
However, after thinking this over and talking with friends, I realized, I’m playing into the part of the system that does not want to change! The reason why a #Me,Too campaign formed was in part to show that this sort of aggressive male-centric sexual and relationship dynamic was pervasive, showing up where’d you most and especially least expect it! My immediate thoughts were dismissive because I’d been desensitized to the situation; this perverse behavior had become normal for me, a sex and relationship professional, and more than that, I was playing a role in perpetuating it by not treating it as something unacceptable or abnormal. Change will only occur when other parts of the system begin to swim upstream,to fight that uphill battle. Many women don’t come forward for all sorts of reasons: fear of not being believed, the law and our society not protecting them, fear of reprisals. Yes, there are very few laws (though California might be creating change!) for this type of situation, though I have seen news articles about others being charged and prosecuted for similar acts. Check out this article about a man sexting a police officer.
Although I can come forward and share my story in hopes this will help bring about change, I can only do so much without breaking the law or wading into unethical territory myself. My first instinct was to share Anthony’s manhood via this blog. After all, I have no personal or professional connection and would not be violating his rights as a client. But, rather than contributing to change, this would satisfy my desire for revenge, however understandable that emotion might be. Indeed, “revenge porn” and cyber-bullying laws do exist that I could be breaking by sharing the details of Anthony’s violation toward me. In other words, if I share his member with others (even though I didn’t ask for it and he sent it on his own free will) this could be seen as me harassing him in retaliation. (According to this article, it’s recommended we thoroughly think before sharing via the web….) A system that is slowly changing, though, still has dysfunctional patterns, and both as a therapist and as a member of that system, it’s wrong and counterproductive for me to participate in the dysfunction.
Finally, what I want others to think about is what to do if you are the victim of any type of harassment. Yes, people might shame you and not believe you. Yes, laws may be limited for protecting you or providing recourse of action. However, part of our dysfunctional system is victims remaining silent, just how I wanted to remain silent. If you are a victim of harassment or bullying, why not reach out and seek advice from the legal system? Why not let others know what happened to you sooner rather than later. Why not seek mental health services to process what may well feel deeply like a violation or intrusion? These are the steps to create a less dysfunctional system, and while I don’t know if we will ever live in a completely functional system, the only way we’ll get there is with individual steps like these.