Is social shaming productive? Or does it drive an issue underground, allowing it to grow and later emerge even stronger? This was the heart of our conversation today as Elena and I discussed the #MeToo movement, a social chain reaction resulting from the New York Times article last October, detailing decades of alleged sexual harassment by producer Harvey Weinstein.
Khaled, one of our spiritual guides who regularly participates on the board, joined us to explore this topic further.
“And what is your emotional response to these stories?” Khaled asked of this pervading shadow in our ‘collective conscious.’
I started by sharing how outraged I felt even though I had never personally experienced sexual harassment.
“I had this feeling of ‘Yes, let’s get it out…let’s purge all these people from society! People in my age group are all collectively coming together and saying, ‘yes, let’s kick them out!’”
At the same time, I felt as though I had to pull back from this reaction; something was missing in merely encouraging a ‘purge.’ Khaled acknowledged this feeling as my instinct to seek greater subtlety or nuance in the topic, rather than simply responding to my initial feelings stirred by these stories.
“For in vilifying and shaming, you seek only to marginalize the belief system instead of transforming it.”
“While the vast majority of your generation seek greater equality after many years of superficial feminism in your society, it is equally important to treat this shadow with greater compassion. For in vilifying and shaming, you seek only to marginalize the belief system instead of transforming it,” Khaled offered.
A surprising and likely unpopular opinion to hold about the topic! After all, why should anyone treat the Harvey Weinsteins and Kevin Spaceys of the world with compassion after the pain they inflicted on so many?
Khaled expanded on his point by comparing this to another one of our collective shadows: racism.
“Consider that once the pervasive social movement amongst the youth of your parents’ generation was the equality among races and the civil rights movement. Many sought to peacefully engage with the racism, but still many used their voices without compassion or empathy and the social shame drove it deep into the subconscious and unconscious, where it was allowed to fester and bare the hatred you see now.”
While I admitted I found myself wanting to shame these alleged perpetrators, I went on to acknowledge Khaled’s point of view.
“Yes, we must be careful not to go on a witch-hunt, and to try to engage with the collective shadow that these stories represent with compassion and empathy. It’s about engaging with the people who do this with compassion, because only then will we transform the issue.”
We had not considered this perspective: that social shaming could not only be unproductive but could drive a social issue [such as sexual harassment] underground, allowing it to grow and later emerge even stronger. If people hold beliefs about race or gender that are opposing or limited, would an honest dialogue in a safe environment for both parties better serve to foster understanding and change? Can you see how shame only encourages silence?
We can think about several examples of how one act of compassion, can transform people’s lives, perspectives, and bridge our shared humanity. One beautiful story is about the unlikely friendship of Donna and Bob. After one of Donna’s good friends passed away, she was inspired to honor their friendship by reaching out to someone who she disagrees with and getting to know them. That person was Bob. You can view the 5 minute story here.
Or consider the powerful anecdote of the black man who hugged a white nationalist during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last August. One man, described as a Nazi, shouted hateful remarks to provoke a crowd of anti-white supremacist protestors. Instead of provoking more hateful speech, he found himself being hugged by one black protester who stepped forward from the angry mob. The crowd cheered at this moment and he became completely disarmed by this act of compassion.
Khaled then turned to Elena for her emotional response to this pervading exposé on sexual misconduct that was surfacing to national attention. It was notably different than mine.
She had experienced sexual misconduct and harassment a number of times in her 40+ years in the workplace and in business. For her, the rampant reports elicited feelings of self-shame.
“I asked myself, ‘why didn’t I stand up as I see women doing now?’ Sure, times were different then. Putting up with unsolicited sexual advances was something we learned to take in stride. It was just part of being a woman,” she explained.
Like many women in her generation, she learned to skirt around uncomfortable situations and handle her refusals with skill and finesse so she wouldn’t lose her job. I was surprised to hear how she dealt with sexual misconduct on her first part-time job at the age of 16. She worked at a jewelry store during the holidays and her boss would try to rub up against her when they worked together behind the same jewelry counter.
And then she told the story about how she didn’t get one modeling job after answering an advertising executive’s last interview question about whether or not she would date someone she worked with.
“I was smart enough to know at 19 what he was implying and realized I wouldn’t get a call back,” she admitted.
In her mid 20s, she was fired from one job after refusing to sleep with her boss. She felt some vindication when regular patrons boycotted the business upon learning what happened. Within a week she was offered a management position and a raise as a ‘peace offering,’ but of course rejected it and moved on to her next job. As she matured and managed her own business, she found herself shrugging off inappropriate comments and jokes that objectified women.
I felt I needed to be viewed as ‘one of the guys’ to be considered an equal in the boardroom. After all, I was a single mom and my financial stability depended on it.
“I felt I needed to be viewed as ‘one of the guys’ to be considered an equal in the boardroom. After all, I was a single mom and my financial security depended on it,” she explained. At the same time, she acknowledged that being an attractive woman opened doors for her and gave her confidence. She viewed this as an asset, along with her business and people skills.
Khaled was struck by how she carried her femininity within her as a ‘double-edged sword.’ He pointed out how, as a young woman, her “instinct was to shelf-shame for her silence,” when facing instances of sexual harassment because “losing the favor of men would hurt her security.” Yet, at the same time, she acknowledged that she could use her femininity to ‘move men.’
This nuanced interplay of power led her to view her femininity not only as ‘a tool’ but an ‘inherent limitation.’ She felt she had to suppress her authenticity as a woman to be successful in a male dominated business world.
“This is the shadow of the masculine principle. But we ask now—what rule determined that men and masculinity favored business?” Khaled asked Elena.
“None,” she answered. “But men largely have been in power and in control, and one must play by that rule to be successful in business.”
“Because women have collectively held themselves back from questioning this,” he responded. “The question now is, why not the feminine principle?”
“Absolutely! I feel the Women’s March and #MeToo movement are emerging because we are seeing a rise in the feminine principle, which is wonderful and much needed in our world,” said Elena. “I’m curious as to how long it will take to see the feminine principle applied to our political system, social and corporate structures?”
As women rise to claim their place at the proverbial table, the next question will become, what is the true place of a man?
Khaled explained, “As women rise to claim their place at the proverbial table, the next question will become, what is the true place of a man? By this we do not in any way insinuate that men will be supplanted but as the world opens its arms to over half the human population, men will be asked to take their true place and it will ask of them to engage their governing archetype for much needed guidance and wisdom in what it means to be a man. This shall be aided by women’s compassion and fostered by your generation, Eryn. But it shall be guided by those elders who have been willing to allow the entangled gender mores to die in favor of a new paradigm—done with conscious love and third eye foresight!”
We talked about how the rising of women will bring to question men’s true place and the role women will have, using compassion and conscious love, in aiding this process.
Mother Nature Asks: A True Feminine Re-Evolution
“It’s amazing to me how this movement has taken off like wildfire!” Elena added.
“Consider that this year has been one of natural expressions, hurricanes and earthquake and literal wildfires. Mother nature rises to disrupt, to shake the foundations of modern society that has co-created willful subjugation of her energy on the planet. She asks of the feminine principle—will you not cry out? Will not you shake down the suppression? Will you not wash away the shame of your collective submission? Will you not singe the thistle and thorn of your mockery and compromise? Will you, in all this change…become?” said Khaled.
“So this is a true feminine revolution!?” Elena asked.
Elena asked if there was a time in history when women were truly empowered, considered equal. “For example, my understanding is that women played a more important role in the times of Ephesus…”
“…as men moved into a period of expansion, the focus of power and ownership and possession began to shape views of who women really were and this went largely unchallenged.”
Khaled explained, “Women have always played a significant role in shaping the world but were systematically purged from your historical record—if you look closely she is there, however, in a limited capacity in many cultures. While women had a sphere in Grecian Ephesus, it is also important to acknowledge the general limitations and views of women by Grecian society. To go back, in the first times of Sumer and the societies that pre-date them, women enjoyed greater equality and embodied important roles, but as men moved into a period of expansion, the focus of power and ownership and possession began to shape views of who women really were and this went largely unchallenged. So, dear Elena, when you express shame for remaining silent and for subduing your authenticity, you express this part of held shame in the collective female unconscious.”
“I wish I will be around to see what you’ll be able to see Eyrn,” said Elena.
“You shall,” Khaled added.
“Really? So it’s going to be a lot sooner than I imagined.”
“Accelerated evolution shall be this re-evolution!”
Have you dealt with sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace? Have you subdued your authenticity as a woman because of this? What is your emotional response to the #MeToo movement? How do you feel we can address this issue and transform it?
Please share with us your thoughts in the comments section below.