Kick right! Kick left! Jab right! Jab left! Face your opponent! These were the words our ultra-fit female kickboxing instructor yelled at a gym full of women, (and a couple of men). It’s a new form of exercise for me and it felt cathartic. That particular day was right after the news that Matt Lauer had been fired from NBC’s “Today” show for harassing women. I was very disappointed in him, as well as the other men recently outed for their shameful behavior.
I realized during the kickboxing class that I could use the kicking and punching to work out some of my feelings of anger and disappointment, anger at the fact that bad behavior by men toward women is pretty ubiquitous, and disappointment that famous men, some of whom I considered decent, had crossed the line, and gotten away with it for years.
So far the list of offenders includes, but is not limited to the following: Bill Cosby, whose TV show I enjoyed; Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes from Fox news, who I’ve disliked for years; Harvey Weinstein, a movie producer whose movies I’ve enjoyed watching; Al Franken, a senator whose politics I agree with; Charlie Rose, a news anchor whose interviewing skills I admired; John Conyers, a congressman whose efforts to get single-payer healthcare I appreciated; Garrison Keillor, a radio personality whose humor and literary skills I enjoyed; C.K. Louis, a comedian whom — happily — I’d never heard of; Roy Moore, senatorial candidate whom I learned about when he was an obstreperous southern judge; Dustin Hoffman, an actor whose movie roles have impacted my life; several radio executives from National Public Radio, a broadcasting company I respect.
The list keeps growing, as do the number of women coming forward to share their stories. These are brave women who’ve been emboldened by events of the last year. They’ve emboldened me to admit that I’ve been harassed and marginalized too, mostly in my younger days, but not by anyone famous. Still, those experiences have remained in the back of my mind. During the kickboxing class those negative memories bubbled up, so I kicked and jabbed enthusiastically.
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As I struggled to keep up, I looked around at the women in the gym, most of whom were younger than I, and wondered what stories they might have to tell. How many had quit a job rather than put up with a particular boss, or a coworker’s advances, or suffered in silence? How many had carried a feeling of shame around with them for incidents they’d really had no control over?
The Women’s March last January, in reaction to our presidential election, precipitated a profound cultural shift. There was a sense that day, and since, that women aren’t going to silently suffer the curtailment of their rights as human beings. Participating in that march, along with thousands of others, gave me a real sense of connectedness and hope.
We are overcoming our fear and self-doubt, and standing up for ourselves. We have so much to offer. We should be heard, and allowed to contribute. We shouldn’t be silenced, objectified, or worse.
To reap the benefits of this deep cultural shift we need allies, men who will join the chorus and stand up to men who break the social contract. All decent men can be gatekeepers, and pay attention. If they see a man harassing a woman, they should speak up. And they should listen to and believe women when they tell their stories, because so much bad behavior happens behind the scenes.
There are many barriers to human fulfillment, but if we work toward a deeper understanding, together we can create a better world.
Reach columnist Mary Magee at firstname.lastname@example.org.