I guess it’s pretty ironic that working in the movement to end violence against women is teaching me not to trust people. I wonder if I’m the only one who has had this experience? I’m pretty sure I’m not, but I’m also pretty sure I’m one of the only ones who is willing to talk about it publicly. Is anyone else talking about this? Who?
I know or have heard from several people, all who identify as women, who have left the movement because of underhandedness, dishonestly, inauthenticity, and, for lack of a better term, generally being treated like crap. And I know many more who confide in me that they are considering leaving. They are afraid to speak out. They are afraid to even try to address their concerns. They either feel it’s hopeless or are scared. They are scared of backlash, they are scared of losing their jobs, they are scared of being targeted. In some cases, I’ve watched as they are called trouble makers, I’ve witnessed the fingers pointed at them, and I’ve rejected gossip that follows. Then I’ve said goodbye as they walked out the door.
We who are still in the movement are doing ourselves a grand disservice allowing this to continue. In fact, I would say we are destroying ourselves. In my experience, the people who leave are highly skilled, critical thinkers who have tried to transcend the BS and just couldn’t stomach it anymore. They realize that we are replicating and internalizing the very oppression we say we are against. I wish they could speak out. I wish we would listen. I wish we would learn.
One of the arguments I often hear is that we shouldn’t expose our problems to the outside world; those who are against us will use it as a weapon. While I understand how this happens with many targeted groups, I think we are kidding ourselves as a movement to pretend that everyone doesn’t already know. Isn’t the situation happening because people know that pitting us against ourselves will work? Playing with our egos will divide us? Creating competition will make us try to destroy each other? People know. It’s working. I get calls at least once a week telling me some secret. I get the nudges, the winks, the “don’t tell anyone I told you this.” And while I do appreciate anyone who helps me try to see the situation for what it is, I despise the situation. Why does it have to be like this? It doesn’t. I’ve been lucky enough to work for organizations that support me through this. Others haven’t.
This is bigger than politics.
I can’t stay silent. Rather than leaving the movement, I’m committed to trying to make it better. I hope I’m not alone. I want the elephants in our rooms to come out. I want us to communicate openly, respectfully, truthfully, and authentically. That’s all I know to do. And if people tell me they don’t feel that they can trust me, I’m going to make darn sure that I stop and examine my behavior. Let’s examine our behavior. If we in the movement are acting for any other reason than to end violence and oppression and to support survivors, then it’s time to go or grow up.
After over 10 years in the movement to end violence against women, the strongest lesson I’ve learned is not to trust people. That has got to change.
I started writing an essay 6 years ago about why I am leaving the movement. I hope I never have to finish it.