This week was one I won’t soon forget.
It was a simple hashtag that swept the internet – it could be seen on every social media platform, across a huge span of women and some men:
The movement was started by Alyssa Milano, who asked women on Twitter to tweet “Me too” if they’d ever been sexually assaulted or harassed to show how prevalent it is in our society.
As soon I clicked the hashtag and began readings some of the stories, my eyes began welling up.
Not just because of the deluge of dark, truly raw, and often inspiring stories — but because of how many there were.
As women, we know the problem is widespread to the point it seems completely impossible to heal. But seeing those stories and experiences being shared in real time threw a spotlight on the issue in a way I’d never experienced before.
“Me too” we were saying, against the stigma and against the fear and the shame. “Me too.”
Watching as tens of thousands of women crack their hearts open inspired me to share my experience too — and it felt like medicine.
Most of my #metoo stories come from my years representing Canada in pageants in my late teens and early twenties. (If you never knew I did pageants, there’s a reason for that… and it has nothing to do with the gowns I’d wear, or the size of my hair, or the trophies I won.)
I was sexually assaulted by men who believed I existed for their entertainment. I do not.
I have been groped and inappropriately touched by men who abuse their positions of power, men like Harvey Weinstein — and even men who didn’t have the wealth and influence that supposedly color male perception of the world.
Business associates. An in-law. Strangers, and even a law enforcement officer in uniform on a trip to Europe.
I’ve talked about these experiences with friends behind closed doors but never publicly.
In my post-pageant life as a young woman building a business, I continued to endure sexual harassment often.
Why did I stay silent?
Because I worried that speaking up, especially against men who had a lot of power, would only lead to them assert more power over me, and I’ve been taught by the experiences of others that nothing usually happens to the perpetrators.
Because I was afraid it would cost me opportunities. I even had a couple female mentors affirm that for me. I’ll never forget one of them saying to me, “Well, it’s still a man’s world. You’re going to have to be tough.”
Because the thought of naming any names as I write this is something that makes me shudder.
There were times I wanted to, especially during the election last year when beauty queens were coming forward and talking about being sexually assaulted and shamed by Donald Trump. Their experiences sounded like my own.
But I couldn’t find the courage to be brave enough. I was afraid; of the trolls, of the shame. I had a following and readers, and I speak at events, and I didn’t want it to come up in a media interview.
There were a million reasons, and I wish I’d used my platform sooner — but as I honor survivors who decide to stay quiet, I am doing my best not to feel ashamed of my silence.
Sexual harassment is so pervasive because it’s been so normalized. It feels “customary” and something we have to deal with regularly as women.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been sexually harassed, and I know this is the truth for so many of my friends and colleagues. Also, it’s not lost on me how fortunate we are when there are women around the world who suffer extreme acts of violence daily.
At a training I was at earlier this year, my mentor Steve was condemning sexual assault and harassment and asked the women in the room if they had felt unsafe in the past week in a meeting or walking down the street or in any situation.
Almost every woman’s hand went up.
He asked the men in the room to look around. A few had tears in their eyes. One said, “Whoa. I had no idea.”
But here’s the rub: as women entrepreneurs? We have the power to shift the paradigm.
Our voices are stronger together, and by naming this, and uniting to spread our shared experience, we give ourselves the power to heal it.
Movements like this, and sharing stories like these, can be powerful catalysts for women, and men too. (Because for every #metoo woman, let’s not forget there are men suffering under the pressure of toxic masculinity.)
I once called the rising tide of women in entrepreneurship “the new women’s movement”, and that feels more true for me today than ever.
Entrepreneurship is not just a way for women to take back control of their fate professionally, financially, and spiritually, but the experience of leading in that capacity, and “branding” ourselves, is also a testing ground for us to beat back that “be small” conditioning society impresses on us.
Over and over, I see women worrying about being too much.
Too loud, too rich, too successful, too in-your-face, too bold, too funny, too shy, trying too hard. When in reality? The only line exists in our own minds — and in our own patriarchal cultural conditioning.
Women entrepreneurs live and breathe the reality that women have a CHOICE.
There may not be as many of us as there are male entrepreneurs, but our numbers are growing. More and more women are finally getting a seat at the table and a platform in their industries.
Our time is now.
And I hope you’ll step forward, refreshed and ready to fight with me.
But in the interim: If #metoo awakened things in you? If it made you want to hide in the quiet, instead of running back into the battle?
It’s OK. Your stories are yours to share, or keep close to you.
Your voice matters. Your work matters.
You are not alone.
I believe you.
It was not your fault.
I acknowledge you.
I love you.
I see you.
*** If you have been sexually assaulted and need support, there is a 24/7 hotline available via phone and live chat through RAINN. ***