We know how powerful hashtags can be in this day and age. Hashtags can inspire and subsequently create movements. Hashtags can begin conversations and instigate change. Other hashtags can even break us, make us, unite us and then do all of the above and more. Today I speak about #MeToo which has been trending all over social media over the last week or so, but in fact its origin goes back over ten years – beginning with a black female activist by the name of Tarana Burke.
She tells us, on her website, about an experience that had never left her. When working as a youth worker, after a heavy session with young women of colour sharing intimate stories about their lives, a young sweet-faced yet deeply troubled girl called Heaven approached her and basically broke down while telling her that her “step daddy” was sexually abusing her. What Tarana did next was, I guess, something that was the easiest thing for her to do at the time – she cut the girl off and redirected her to another female counsellor who could “help her better”.
She then goes on to tell us,“I will never forget the look on her face. I will never forget the look because I think about her all of the time. The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it abruptly forced closed again - it was all on her face. And as much as I love children, as much as I cared about that child, I could not find the courage that she had found. I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood, that I connected, that I could feel her pain.
I couldn't help her release her shame, or impress upon her that nothing that happened to her was her fault. I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again, as she tried to tell me what she had endured… I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too.”
The issue of sexual abuse, harassment and abuse is huge – HUGE – all around the globe, but what remains ignored is the impact that this has on children and women (and even men in some cases) and how it can simply destroy a person’s life forever.
Writing about this, I am struggling to contain the sobs that are building in my chest and forcing their way up my throat, because since this topic began trending on social media, it has shown just how much of a problem sexual abuse, assault and harassment is in the world and just how little is being done to combat it.
#MeToo began trending on Sunday 15th October when actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet encouraging anyone who had been a victim of sexual harassment or assault to interact with her tweet, in order to show the world just how immense a problem it all is. This all came about after the recent allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced, but as Tarana Burke has shown, this is a problem that has been with humans for a long, long time. Personally, I think this is not just a problem, but a deep-rooted suffering manifesting in many different ways and which has probably been with us for thousands and thousands of years.
One of the main issues, particularly in the last century or so, is that women have been objectified and sexualised so prominently across the media, in music, film and advertising, that this is the message that has been sent out and subconsciously embedded into the minds of people - that all a woman stands for is for her body, for the enjoyment of a man and nothing more.
Then there are other issues at play in different cultures, too. I’m a British Pakistani Muslim female and oh, the problems within my own culture are tremendous – so much, that I don’t even know where to begin! Sex in my culture is a taboo subject (yes, even in the 21st Century!) and people within it are so afraid to openly and honestly speak about it, that keeping it all hidden away has somehow made it burrow tunnels into the souls of many, many men, causing deep, burning desires that manifest themselves in the most evil of ways.
Sexual abuse of children is so common in my community too, but even when the truth comes to the surface, hiding or covering up that abuse is just as common. And I don’t know why. Pakistanis have issues with so-called ‘honour’ and ‘respect’; they worry too much about the community and what other people will think of them – so much so that they are willing to sacrifice the hopes, needs and desires of their own children in order to upkeep it.
The issue of sexual abuse, harassment and abuse is huge – HUGE – all around the globe, but what remains ignored is the impact that this has on children and women (and even men in some cases) and how it can simply destroy a person’s life forever. To come back and rebuild from such trauma takes loads of strength – every single day – and for every person that has been through something like that and is still standing strong today, I applaud you. You are amazing and you are not a victim – you are a survivor and you are so much more than your struggles.
The things I’ve touched upon here are definitely issues I wish to explore further and play my part in bringing about changes – and the reason I feel so passionately and strongly about all of this, aside from being a woman, quite simply… me, too.
I am on my journey of healing, acceptance and peace and one day, when I am ready, I will write about my experience. But until then, for every single person reading this, whether you have been the one to subject someone to sexual abuse or whether you have been subjected to it, I wish you the same – acceptance, healing and true peace.
Until next time.
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Sabah Ismail is a 28-year-old British expat residing in Mauritius with her husband and two young children. She is a writer, artist and businesswoman with a positive outlook on life, believing deeply in the saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. This is her space each week to share her thoughts on life and current issues, as well as inspiration and motivation for living a happier, more fulfilled life.