Manicures and #MeToo
uring a recent work trip, I decided to squeeze in a little self-care and relaxation by getting a strip mall mani/pedi. I attempted to ignore the cheesy game show blaring on the television and leaned into the kneading arms of the massage chair on my tense shoulders. The nail technician, Sam, and I didn’t exchange any real words beyond “hello” and “pick a color,” and that was A-Okay with me; I had been talking all day.
By the time I started my manicure the television had been turned to the local news. A human-interest story joined the whir of the nail-drying fans to lull me to a super relaxed state. But, the relaxation was rudely halted when the news turned to a story about potentially dozens of women who had experienced sexual assault on a college campus by the gynecologist in the student health center. The doctor had since been fired but a group of women had come forward with a law suit. The details of the story were graphic and disturbing. As I watched, transfixed and disgusted, I realized that Sam had stopped filing my nails and was also staring morosely at the TV. She noticed me looking at her and we made eye contact for a brief few seconds before she started working furiously again. So I said, “It’s okay. What an absolutely awful story that was!” And she paused again and looked at me and said simply, “Yes, and me too.”
And right there in a strip mall in New Hampshire, far away from my circle of friends, family and colleagues, two simple words had leaped off the pages of a social media movement and landed squarely in front of me. Her “me too” needed no further explanation or context for me to understand what she meant, for me to immediately feel a sense of connection to her, to feel like she was making a choice to speak when silence certainly would have been easier or more comfortable. I thought of the bravery of actors speaking out in the media against famous moguls and the equal bravery of people speaking out in nail salons, social circles, and offices all over the country. And then I thought about how bravery and speaking up are contagious, just like silence and complicity are. Each time “me, too” is uttered, I imagine it is adding to a wave of justice that is becoming so large it is undeniable.
And the idea of each “me too” adding to the others to create a wave of change is the same idea at the root of all culture changes, and of the violence prevention work I am committed to here at Alteristic. We know that culture change happens when a lot of people do something small to contribute (something as small as uttering two simple words). It is never about just one person or just one big idea. But as simple as that sounds, getting a lot of people to do something small is no easy feat. It requires a shared vision built on the belief that individual small moments really do matter and actually will add up to something great. When people don’t believe their small moments matter they are unlikely to contribute them (I mean, duh, who likes wasted effort?). They are more likely to keep their head down, keep working, avoid eye contact and keep their two words to themselves.
So, I asked Sam why she makes the choice she makes to say #metoo and although she kept right on working she gestured with her head toward the reception area and said, “That’s my daughter and if I say it enough I hope she won’t ever have to.”
Prevention is about us knowing our small moments matter, about finding our connection to solving an issue (hope for a daughter for example) but largely it is also about knowing what to do to contribute and then actually doing it. Whether it is with a #metoo or checking on a friend or having a conversation about prevention or telling someone they are making a co-worker uncomfortable, we can each find our connections, and our small moments and then we can actually decide to contribute them. We can each add to that undeniable wave of justice, or to our safer school or neighborhood or community. We can and we must, two words and one choice at a time.
Oh yeah…..and #metoo.