9 Myths About Sexual Harassment and Abuse

Image: © Adiano (Fotolia.com)


On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” In 2006, Tarana Burke, activist and program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, first used the hashtag to support women of color who had been abused, assaulted, and exploited. Milano has rightfully credited Burke with #metoo, and thanks to both women, the movement is now taking the world by storm.

Sexual harassment is first and foremost a form of bullying. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it is “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature”. These unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks can leave someone to feel unsafe and insecure, make them question their self-worth. Sexual harassment evolves into assault when a person does not or cannot give consent and is forced into sexual contact by force, threats, or intimidation. Sexual assault includes anything from unwanted indecent contact (i.e., kissing, groping) to rape, and any attempt to commit these acts is also, by definition, assault.

In a “boys will be boys” world where the leader of the free world is elected despite his repeatedly disparaging comments about women, it is no wonder #metoo is so powerful. People finally feel they are not alone, that they will be heard. With each #metoo, there is increasing unity and awareness. There is strength in numbers, and together we can hopefully make change.

As a child, I was held at knifepoint by a boy, left in a room with a drunk man, made to feel physically uncomfortable by family members, and touched without permission. As an adult, I have been catcalled, groped by strangers in public places, and have even had patients touch me inappropriately in the workplace. I dare anyway to say I “asked for it” by wearing scrubs and a doctor’s white coat. #metoo

As sexual harassment and assault are discussed on the world’s stage, let’s put an end to these 9 myths about sexual harassment and abuse.

1. Sexual harassment is a political issue.

Sexual harassment has nothing to do with politics. Anyone who attacks the opposing party because one of “their people” committed an inappropriate act is a hypocrite. Why? Because both sides do it. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and President Trump, a Republican, have both used their rank and power to harass and abuse women. Move from Washington to Hollywood, and you have film producer Harvey Weinstein and head of Amazon Studios Roy Price abusing women too. That said, sexual harassment is not limited to any one industry. It is sickeningly pervasive throughout the United States.

2. Sexual harassment is a women’s issue.

Sexual harassment is not a woman’s issue. It is a human issue. It can affect any man, woman, or child. Men can hurt women; men can hurt men; women can hurt women; women can hurt men. No matter who is affected, it has to stop. No one deserves to be physically or verbally attacked for who they are and how they were born.

3. It is how we were brought up.

What happened to the golden days when Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet promoted family values? Politicians and even journalists (I’m looking at you Bill O’Reilly) still campaign on those so-called family values, but instead, we now have shows like Law and Order: SVU to look forward to. There is hypocrisy everywhere. Somehow, society tells people to respect their mothers and protect their sisters but entertains itself watching movies where men in power chase their secretaries around desks. Times have changed. Women are no longer willing to stay silent about the abuse. They are speaking out, and it is time for a culture shift.

4. Boys will be boys.

What woman’s skin didn’t crawl in 2016 when she heard rapist Brock Turner’s father complain that his son’s life should not be ruined for “20 minutes of action”? What woman’s skin did not crawl that same year when she heard now President Donald Trump say “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” ENOUGH. If sexual harassment and assault are what it means for boys to be boys, then America needs to take a stern parenting class. It’s obscene that these “boys” can go with little punishment for pleasuring their bodies (and egos) while damaging another person permanently. Whether it’s physical or psychological, abuse is abuse.

5. Women need to share their personal stories.

I see women using #metoo on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I see some of those very same women belittling celebrities who did not come out about their harassment or assault sooner. I also see them criticizing them for not calling out their abusers by name, even when these same women did not do so themselves. Victim shaming when you are a victim yourself, that’s a whole new level of hypocrisy. Each woman’s story is her own, and she may or may not be emotionally ready to share her experience with the world. Lupita Nyong’o said it best, “I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed. That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness.” Sometimes, it’s hard enough to say #metoo.

6. Women bring it on by how they dress.

Middle-school dress codes. Several states forbid girls as young as 11 years old from wearing leggings because they are too “distracting” for the boys. They are required to wear long shirts to cover up their bodies. How is it that we teach girls at such a young age to be ashamed of their bodies? By doing that, we teach boys it’s okay to objectify them. If a girl wears clothes she feels comfortable in, clothes she likes to wear, clothes that make her feel confident, whether or not they are to your taste, whether or not you see them as sexy, it’s her prerogative. It is not an invitation, no matter what fashion designer Donna Karan says. Oh, yes, Ms. Karan, you are the ultimate hypocrite, saying “You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.” Yet Ms. Karan designs these very clothes for women. It’s time to put Donna Karan clothes back on the rack and wear something a little less toxic.

7. My abuse does not count.

I find it sad that so many women hesitate to use #metoo. I am in no way saying they need to announce their stories to the world. That’s a personal decision. It’s more that they question whether what they have suffered was “enough” to be considered harassment or abuse. If you have to think that hard about it, it is enough. Catcalls, gropes, it all counts. If you didn’t ask for it, if someone belittled you, humbled you, or invaded your sense of self by touching or even referring to your body, it is sexual harassment pure and simple. Do not give your abuser the power by thinking it didn’t count.

8. I don’t harass women so I’m not part of the problem.

Not all men harass women. Of course not! However, many men contribute to the culture by sitting back and watching it happen. It’s not enough to “not do it”. Laughing along to stories or simply accepting what’s happening around them without stepping in makes them complicit. It’s more than locker room talk. Even when something seems harmless, it can have a lasting impact on a person. While women are not surprised by the number of #metoo’s out there, many men are. Now that they see how many women they know — friends, family, and loved ones — have been harassed or abused, it paints things in a different light. Perhaps now that it is more personal, an issue they can now see does involve them, maybe they can help stop the culture of abuse.

9. This whole sexual harassment issue is being blown out of proportion.

Anyone who says sexual harassment is blown out of proportion is obviously 1) Woody Allen, or 2) not a woman, or 3) out of touch with reality. How many #metoo’s have you seen? How many people do you know? Are you one of them? How many lives are affected by sexual harassment and abuse every day? Tens of millions of people spoke out in the first week of the 2017 #metoo movement alone. Let’s hope we can end the stigma women feel when they speak out and continue to fight for change.

Feel the Music with Mandy Harvey

Image: Mandy Harvey performs during the America’s Got Talent 2017 live finale. (Trae Patton/NBC)

Welcome to Live-It-Uary, a place to celebrate life while we live it. Live-It-Uary honors people who show kindness, people who create and inspire, people who do good deeds. Thank you for making the world a better place.

Feel the Music

One of my favorite movies is Dirty Dancing, not only for a young Patrick Swayze with his sizzling dance moves but for the litany of memorable movie quotes that, even taken out of context, deliver life’s most poignant lessons.

“The steps aren’t enough; feel the music.”

With such genius in our pop culture repertoire, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when Mandy Harvey took the stage for America’s Got Talent, Season 12, auditioning with a guitarist on one side and a keyboardist on the other and nothing on her feet. Sure, her shoes were on stage, but they were placed gently to the side. With a ukelele in hand, she sang a song called “Try”, sharing lyrics of “I don’t feel the way I used to” and “I’ll take my place again”. It would not take her long to win America’s heart.

feel the music
Image: Mandy Harvey on America’s Got Talent, 2017 (NBC.com)

What made the audition so extraordinary was not only that she sang a perfect pitch tune with such emotion but that she could not hear herself doing it.

Mandy Harvey is deaf.

Losing What You Love

Born with hearing, Mandy Harvey dreamed of being a musician. She started with singing competitions at 10 years old, and she eventually majored in vocal music education at Colorado State University.

Unfortunately, things would take a turn at 18 years old. What at first she presumed to be an ear infection was something far more insidious. A connective tissue disease took hold, progressively damaging her nerves until she could no longer hear.

On America’s Got Talent, she said, “When I lost my hearing, music died. I lost my way of communicating. And my parents were the ones who encouraged me to find music again.”

Using visual tuners, she taught herself to sing again and now performs barefoot so that she can feel music through floor vibrations. She told NPR, “You can feel the drums, and you can feel the bass. So, being able to feel the music through the floor, it makes me feel like I’m a part of the band”.

Mandy Harvey literally feels the music.

Finding What You Love

What this 29-year-old woman has done is beyond inspiring. She shows that you can achieve what your heart desires even when people tell you no, even when they assume you are not capable. Only you know what you can do. Only you set your limits.

As an ambassador to both No Barriers USA and the Invisible Disabilities Association, she supports other people who face challenges in their lives and continues to spread her message of hope.

“When Simon hit the Golden Buzzer for me (at the auditions), it just meant so much,” she said on America’s Got Talent. “He was looking at me as a musician and not just as that broken person. Everything is very different from my childhood picture of who I was going to become, and I’m really glad that it’s different.”

Mandy Harvey came in 4th place in the America’s Got Talent finale and earned every accolade. Her music is rich and full, beautiful and maningful. If you would like to hear more, visit her on Facebook at facebook.com/mandyharveymusic, and on her website at mandyharveymusic.com.

Don’t Forget to Do What You Love

Image: © gustavofrazao (Fotolia.com)

What Do You Do?

Don’t let what you do stop you from doing what you love. At first, that may sound a bit trite, even cliche, but a truth is a truth no matter how you spin it.

Simply put, most of us do not spend our days doing what we love. We spend our days surviving.

As much as we want to do the “good” stuff, we focus on making ends meet. We aim to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Some of us go so far as to take on several jobs, maybe two, three, or more part-time positions, to earn enough to keep the lights on and to support our loved ones. Others have one job, a career, a profession, but become so consumed by it they don’t leave time for anything else.

If you don’t have time for anything else, where is the you in your life?

It’s easy to let our “work”, i.e. our job(s), take over and even easier to justify it by saying that we need to do it. After all, those bills don’t pay themselves. The bigger issue is defining what is it we actually need. We need on a physical level (food and water), of course, and on an emotional one too. Some of us even feed into the notion that we need to meet society’s expectations. Bleh!

What we really need is balance. That means pursuing those things we are passionate about, and if that is the “work” we do, even better! We need to leave room for those things that motivate us, drive us, and inspire us. For me, that means chasing my writer’s dream.

Being a Doctor

On America’s Got Talent this season, there was a young 29-year-old family medicine resident named Brandon Rogers. He hit the stage and sang his heart out to a Stevie Wonder song. With the vocals of a young John legend, he won over the crowd. It was no surprise the judges voted him into the next round. Unfortunately, he would never get the chance; he was killed in a car accident before the next show.

This hopeful young man lost his life but not before he showed people what he was really passionate about. I hope that is something his family can hold onto.

Something judge Simon Cowell said during that episode caught my attention. After all his years of judging on America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent, and the X Factor, he said a doctor had never auditioned before. Is it that doctors don’t have talent? No, it’s that doctors rarely feel they can show their other sides to people.

As you know, I am a family physician. People who know me well, understand that I am a multi-faceted quirky sort of woman. I am loyal. I am passionate. I am a pop culture maven who runs on tea and chocolate. I am a writer. Patients, however, may not be willing to know that about me.

Society often puts doctors behind a one-dimensional veil. They think of doctors as firm and serious, objective and restrained. As professionals, they have to be formal. They are there to serve. They are there to help people. They went through years of training and are expected to put their profession first. They cannot be emotional; they cannot be playful; they have to know all the answers.

Oh no! I am a complete and utter failure!

I am ashamed to admit I once fell in line with those societal expectations. I felt an obligation to my career more than to myself. Society can do that to you, brainwash you with expectations and warp your priorities to fall in line with every stereotype under the sun. Those expectations can make you forget who you are.

I am more than a doctor.

Who Am I?

Growing up, I was a story teller. I still am.

In elementary school, I wrote poems. My mom may remember a poem about an onion crying (cute, right?) that she posted on our refrigerator for months on end. In junior high school, I wrote stories about my classmates. Those words allowed me to come out of my shell, to be less introverted, and before long I was approached by newfound friends to write even more stories. In high school, my best friend Laurie and I wrote what we lovingly called “scenarios”, where we put ourselves in outlandish situations and adventured our way out. It was liberating, inventive, and creative.

In college, nothing. My writing stopped. My focus shifted onto the work of becoming a doctor. Those had to be my priorities. Everything else had to be put aside. I did what I set out to do. I attended medical school; I completed my residency program; I practiced clinical medicine; I helped people; I even saved some lives. It is rewarding to know I made a difference in the lives of others.

Still, it is a damn shame I left my full heart behind all those years ago.

Writing was a big part of who I was, but I lost my light in a fog of responsibility and expectations.

Fifteen years, it would take me that long to find my way back. All it took was a call out from a writing competition in 2008. I won, by the way. Renewed, I gave myself permission to write again.

When all is said and done, being a doctor does not define who I am. Mother, wife, friend, advocate, consultant, runner, teacher, writer, no single role defines me. I am a potpourri of individuality gathered into a one of a kind bouquet. There is no one like me, and there’s no one like you either. Stay true to that. Stay true to you.

Don’t let what you do stop you from doing what you love. I learned the hard way.

Live Up to Your Own Expectations

Image: Rene Zellweger (center) in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Miramax.com

My September 2017 Resolution Stats

(See my original resolutionsJanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMay, June, July, and August stats here)

  • Averaged 300+ minutes of exercise per week (v. good, twice goal)
  • 2 recipes tried this month (v. good, at goal)
  • 9,000+ written words for the month (v. good, all writing projects combined)

Be the One and Only

Who would be so masochistic as to invite a bachelorette to a couples’ only dinner party? No one you need or want in your life, I can assure you.

COSMO: You really ought to hurry up and get sprogged up, you know, old girl? Time’s running out. Tick tock.

BRIDGET: Yes… is it one in four marriages that ends in divorce now, or one in three?

MARK: One in three.

COSMO: Seriously, though. Office is full of single girls over thirty – fine physical specimens, but they just can’t seem to hold down a chap.

WONEY: Yes, why are there so many unmarried working women these days, Bridget?

The whole while Cosmo rubs at Woney’s pregnant belly. Bleh!

The smugness, the judgment, the superiority.

It’s not that Bridget chooses to be a spinster. She simply has not yet had the good fortune to hook up with the right man, a least not yet. After all, Mark Darcy is seated across from her while his self-absorbed girlfriend Natasha fawns “ownership” over him. If only Natasha knew that her own days of spinsterhood were fast approaching. What would she say then?

Don’t Let People Tell You What to Do

There will always be people who will try to put others down in order to raise themselves up. It’s a sad and unfortunate reality. If you think about it, you could probably name at least 5 times this has happened in your own life.

Take this example. I submitted a non-fiction story into a writing competition back in 2010. When I showed it to someone I hoped would support me, literally, the first thing I was told was “the first sentence is grammatically incorrect”. Sure, I sarcastically thought to myself, that is going to help. After all, the piece had already been submitted. There was no changing it at that point. This person thought it was more important to belittle my attempt than to give me a pat on the back for at least trying.

Don’t worry. I won the contest, and my piece was published with fanfare.

That was not the first time my writing would take an unnecessary hit. I recently attended a writer’s conference, looking to inspire my fiction writing. I was stoked, energized, and actively brainstorming at the time. This same person asked about my ideas and naively, I shared them. They quickly shot them down. “I would never want to read a book like that,” they said. “Maybe if you thought of writing as just a hobby, it would be okay, but not a career”. Essentially, I was being told to hang up the dream. All this without reading a word I had written and hearing ideas that had not yet been fully formulated.

What may be intended as “helping” can sometimes come off as being condescending. Think before you speak. Is what you say constructive or simply a way to fuel your own ego?

We are all faced with this sort of negativity every now and again. Try not to let it steal your spirit.

Make Your Own Rules

The ego is fragile. Some people do not realize that supporting others is a far better way to boost your own ego than to tear someone else’s down. Being a light of hope for someone else allows you to be a part of their growth and even their success. Instead, people focus on building themselves up as someone to look up to, as someone to aspire to, when what they really do is draw the disdain of those they see as beneath them.

Who wins in that game?

I bet some of the couples at that dinner party wished they were single like Bridget. As it turns out, Mark did. You can tell by his rapid quip on divorce. A woman should be married, not single. A woman should be pregnant, not childless, they said. I may be married with children myself, but those were my life choices. It is not the way it has to be, and Bridget knows that all too well. She is not foolish enough to believe she has to settle into those social norms.

The lesson? Don’t let someone tell you how you should live your life. Don’t let them demean you. Take the good they offer but don’t let them wither your hopes and dreams. The only expectations you need to live up to are your own.