TIME Magazine did not select President Donald Trump as person of the year. Instead, TIME selected The Silence Breakers, a collective of women and men—some unidentified—who have spoken publically against sexual harassment and assault. TIME is acknowledging their courage for addressing a societal problem that is often obscured in shame, confusion, and a pervasive silence.
I regularly experience sexual harassment. And because it’s both common and painful, I often avoid writing about it. I worry about being accused of exaggerating and fabricating—being labelled a drama queen. I worry about professional repercussions for accusing respected individuals, or being seen as difficult to work with. Mostly though, I cannot always make sense of it. Being violated by people who surround you, in the classroom, at the workplace, or at home, is not easy to reckon with. At times, it seems much simpler to slip into the foggy conclusion that silence is easier than speech. It’s really a last-ditch effort for life to continue with some semblance of normalcy; a plea that the unspoken, unpleasant thing never happened. I know this to be true and yet, with the exception of a casual disclosure here and there, I am among the many individuals who largely stays silent.
The wave of resignations across the professional world should remind us that speaking and writing about our experiences not only bonds us to fellow survivors, but in some cases, can call to account those who have attacked and belittled us. Speaking out leaves a safer and smoother path for those who come in our wake.
Activist Tarana Burke has been encouraging survivors of sexual harassment and assault to speak their truth for more than two decades. Burke’s work focuses on building bonds between survivors and placing responsibility squarely back on perpetrators. After a moving encounter with a 13-year-old sexual abuse survivor, Burke pioneered a dialogue-centered movement to address the shame and isolation that survivors often feel. She called the movement, “Me Too.” The hashtag #MeToo sparked a Twitter explosion in mid-October, popularized by big Hollywood names. But Burke had coined the phrase and the concept years before. In a profile for the New York Times, Burke explained, “The power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation ― but it was us talking to us.”
Tarana Burke’s movement of radial compassion from survivor to survivor is being echoed across the country this December in an event called The National Me Too Monologues. The Monologues is a four-day writing workshop created by Tanya Taylor Rubenstein and Mary Rives that culminates in the sharing of the many different experiences of sexual violence and assault in a public forum.
A group of Albuquerque-based writers are performing their monologues on December 9. The Albuquerque chapter is facilitated by Ana June, who graduated from UNM’s MFA program last year, and Ramona King, a playwright, former KUNM Spoken Word Hour host, and storyteller.
Each Saturday for the past month, June has invited a group of local writers to workshop their experiences of sexual violence around her dining room table. Hayley Peterson, one of the writers performing this Saturday, says, “I’ve been able to experience the true power of the movement by coming together to write and share with other women. I’ve been so glad for the space and time to be open and vulnerable, to be heard and not dismissed, and to feel understood.” I, too, can attest to the wonderful feeling of acceptance and compassion that the Monologues writing group has created.
The event will take place at 6:30 PM at Aux Dog Theatre in Nob Hill on Saturday December 9. The suggested donation amount is $15 and all donations will benefit Crossroads for Women in Albuquerque.
I hope to see Blue Mesa Review’s local readers there, and for all of you across the country, I encourage you to create your own forum to tell your own stories.
Lydia Wassan is Managing Editor for Blue Mesa Review