Two weeks ago I waded into the national #metoo debate.
Before I talk about my experience, I want to highlight the inherent privileges that accompanied me and allowed me a platform to be heard in the first place.
I grew up in a middle class family. My grandfather worked in politics, my mom worked in politics, my brother worked in politics and I worked in politics.
I have friendships and connections across the political spectrum and with that comes media connections.
My initial tweet went viral mainly due to the support of Warren Kinsella. A high profile journalist and former Liberal party strategist, and a very vocal supporter of #metoo.
Those are not privileges afforded to the majority of Canadians fighting to have their voices heard and fighting to shed light on their experiences with sexual harassment and assault.
The #metoo movement needs to continue to be inclusive of the LGBTQ2S and Indigenous communities, inclusive of people of colour, inclusive of those struggling with poverty, addictions or mental health struggles. This movement needs to reflect all of our lived experiences, not just those with the privilege I took for granted when I spoke out.
When I sent out my tweets I did so with the hope that it would contribute to a much-needed debate on sexual harassment and assault in Canadian politics. Instead of contributing to a story, I became the story and it was not a position I was at all prepared for, or comfortable with.
Often when people come forward, the first critique lobbed at them is that we are coming forward for attention. This was a constant theme of the abuse I endured online. What I can only assume is that people making these comments have no idea what that “attention” actually looks or feels like.
I walked into work the day after posting my Tweet having no idea what was about to happen.
My work phone and email blew up with messages from reporters. My Twitter messages were either media requests or people telling me I was an awful human being. Within an hour of getting to work I had to leave because I couldn’t take it. It felt as if all my safe spaces were gone. I walked to a friend’s office and burst into tears.
On my way home, my dad called me to tell me reporters were calling his house asking for my contact information. Initially having no idea what was going on, he gave it to them. Thankfully, he is also 75 and depends on a never-updated list of important numbers so he gave them the wrong one.
The impact of my twitter disclosure on my family goes well beyond calls to family members. What I didn’t realize is that in the absence of any other picture, that media would use my Twitter profile picture and screen cap my tweets. My picture featured my four-year-old niece. Not one media outlet even attempted to blur or cut out her image. I made a choice to speak out, but my niece didn’t ask to have her picture plastered everywhere.
The vitriol on Twitter is something I only ever witnessed in passing before. The day the story broke, a woman I consider a mentor and certainly a seasoned vet of Twitter awfulness told me to stay off for a few days. I didn’t listen. I still checked. In the days that followed I received messages that were beyond awful and hateful on Twitter and on Facebook. The argument can be, and has been made, that I should have expected it. But I don’t think anyone is ever prepared for a random stranger telling you that they hope you get killed.
One of the biggest weights I feel as a result of all of the media attention around the threats I received is a great sense of responsibility not just to this issue, but most importantly to the survivors. I’ve advocated for survivors of sexual violence for a long time, and I would never want to be the catalyst that pushes more survivors into silence. That’s why I’m writing this post. Because as scared as I feel to put myself back out there, I know there are many people who need to believe that speaking up is worth it.
I’ve wavered back and forth about this core belief. I sat in my best friend’s parents basement, hysterical, just repeating again and again that I just wanted the abuse to stop. I also finally gained the strength to check my messages and to find my inbox overflowing with messages from others who felt empowered to speak out because I did.
To paraphrase Bruce Cockburn, “sometimes you have to kick at the darkness to begin to bled daylight.” A light needed and still needs to be be shed on the pervasive abuse of power that exists in the politics of our country – politics at every level and in each party.
Every voice that feels empowered to contribute to this movement makes a difference. This movement stands on the shoulders of decades of people who were disbelieved, silenced, and had their careers sidelined. People who could only have dreamed of a time where instead of diminishing our voices, we see those voices finally being championed and believed.
Remember – as you decide for yourself, when and if you want to share your experiences – that together we are paving the way for the future generation, and demanding that things be different for them.
You matter. Your experience matters and I can promise you one thing: it might not feel worth it today, tomorrow, next week or next year, but in every way we choose to use our voices it is worth it.
To paraphrase an Alberta political commentator: let’s burn it to the ground and work together to rebuild a system worthy of all of us.