Last week, I had lunch with a friend. She is a survivor, and just an incredibly strong person. She’s going to school to finish her degree. One day, as she was coming out of class. A man was sitting in the hallway on one of the couches by the classroom door. He said hello to her, and not wanting to be rude, she said hello back. As she continued down the hall, she heard the man say, “Oh damn” behind her. He said it in that way that let her know he was staring at her and watching her walk away.
She said at other times in her life, she would have just kept walking and tried not to think about how it made her feel. On that particular day, she decided she didn’t have to take his comment. She turned around and walked back to him and said, “Excuse me. What did you say?” He tried to act like he didn’t know what she was talking about, but she pushed him on the issue and finally told him that she had heard what he said. He, of course, was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. She told him that if he wanted to talk to a woman and compliment her on how she looked, tell it to her face, not to her back as she walked away.
The next day, she was leaving class and the same man was sitting in the same place. He said hello to her again and tried to engage her in conversation. She said, “Yesterday you ruined your chance to compliment me. You’ll have to try it on someone else. I’m not an object.”
I love that story and asked her if I could write about it here. She said that would be just fine.
How many times have we walked by and garnered inappropriate, offensive comments just because we were walking to the next place we needed to go? We were not doing anything other than walking by and being female.
The other side of the objectification coin was a commercial a few years ago with Michael Jordan. He walks by a group of women and they are trying to guess whether he has on boxers or briefs. It was cute and the first time I saw it, I laughed. The incongruity of a man being treated like an object was funny, at first, but then my experience and my background reminded me that I would not like it AT ALL if people were trying to guess what I was wearing. Yes, I know, Michael Jordan got paid, quite well I’m sure, for doing the commercial. That is not the point, though. Money or not, he was still being treated like an object.
The discussion with my friend and hearing her story made me think of a phrase that runs through my mind quite frequently. “You can’t unsee what you’ve already seen.” This phrase always stands in stark opposition to “Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” which doesn’t run through my head a lot, but it is one I hear frequently. I abhor that phrase.
The first phrase is realistic and implies living life without blinders. The second implies that if we choose, we can live in a dream world where bad things don’t happen because we don’t see them. We don’t want to know and if we just close our eyes, we won’t see it. If we don’t know about it, it can’t be our problem to solve.
This sense of detachment pervades much of communal thought. Just let me see what I want to see and not the bad reality because then I have to think about it. And then I have to change it.
During my journey toward healing and in my conversations with other survivors, I have learned more than I often wanted to know. I have learned that at any major sporting event, men, women and children are being trafficked just outside the gates. I have learned that very often, the moral compass of the non-abusing parent is so weak that they continue to see no evil. Sometimes they even perpetuate the evil itself, because for them, it is easier than “knowing” and doing something.
As a survivor of abuse, I have seen horrible things that I can never unsee. As a survivor who chooses to work with other survivors, I have learned further horrible things that I can also never unsee. But, as a human being, I have also seen incredible beauty and selfless acts of kindness and love. I hope you have seen and experienced such things as well.
Don’t forget the horrible things, but perpetuate the kindness and the love. In those acts, may you and all humanity find hope.