BLOG | 29 OCT 2021
women: courage and bravery
Almost everyday in the last few months there have been more and more stories about women sharing their stories about being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. These are brave women who are standing up and saying enough- I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, or myself anymore.
But there are more brave women out there who may not discuss their experiences in the media- but tell their stories to their partners, friends, family members, or psychologists. These women are just as brave. Why are they brave?
Because to tell someone, about an experience that you believe is shameful, is very difficult. To open up about your experience is opening yourself up to someone you trust, who upon hearing your story may not believe you, ridicule you, think it may have been your fault in some way, or worse pity you. No one wants this to happen. We need to believe that the people we trust will hold us, and help us, but sexual assault and harrassment and the shame it brings can erode our beliefs in ourselves and with people we love and trust.
According to Brené Brown, a shame and vulnerability expert, shame causes people to feel “trapped, powerless, and isolated” (Brown, 2006). The antidote to shame is vulnerability. But to be vulnerable with people you have to feel safe with them, emotionally and physically. This is not always possible. To be vulnerable is to take a huge risk- to emotionally expose your biggest secret and fears.
When I was a teenager, just out of high school, (in the 1990’s) with my first job- I was sexually harassed by 2 young men who were about 10 years older than myself. There was no one else in the shop, I couldn’t yell out- no one would have heard me, I didn’t feel I could tell anyone, because these men made me feel powerless, and ashamed. It was in a male dominated industry, my boss was a male, and there was no one that was designated in the company to talk to about workplace issues. It happened again when I first became a psychologist in a big private organisation (in the late1990’s)- However this time I spoke up. Was the response different? No. “I was told to forget about it, they didn’t mean it”. When I challenged this response, the result was “we will get them to apologise’. I wonder today whether the response would be different?
My experience is not very different from many of my friends, over the years in the 1990’s and 2000’s. What I have learnt from my own experiences, was that actually finding a voice and standing up for myself the next time, gave me courage. I did not get the outcome I wanted then, but I gained courage- courage to let my trusted friends and family know my experiences. To have that courage, I had to trust and be vulnerable that my friends and family had my back. Not everyone has this. Even when finding my voice it probably took another 5 or so years before I could speak about it openly and without shame.
For many women, it can take years, or decades to tell someone. For some, they carry this burden themselves always. They are also brave. My hope with this current movement to ‘tell’ that has begun will create cultural change in Australia, so that no women has to carry a secret, and no one thinks it ok to sexually assault or harass someone.
So if a friend, or a loved one tells you their experience- Listen, and Believe them. They are trusting you to be there at their most vulnerable,- what a privilege that is.
If this blog has brought up any issues for yourself – please speak to your doctor or make an appointment with a psychologist.
By jodie humphreys