In March of 2014 I wrote a very personal account of why I thought breaking the silence was so important and my peers at Windsor Law were amazingly supportive. In August of 2014 I was contacted by a major news organization wanting to talk about the blog. Before I even called them back, I deleted my name off the post that referred to my own experience. I felt like a fraud but I thought to myself, “I just started articling and the last thing I need is for my colleagues to read about this in the paper. What will they think of me?” I spent a sleepless night engaged in my own personal hell: “what happened to you wasn’t that bad, you’re a drama queen, now look what you’ve started”, “you are going to be isolated in your field, nobody will take you seriously”. Between fits of self-loathing and paralyzing fear I also decided that I needed to disclose to my articling principle my role in the blog.
The next day, exhausted and overwhelmed, I went into his office and explained not so clearly why I was speaking to him;
Me: So I like, I like started this thing, like a blog, ya’ know blogs? Okay well, anyway it’s about women’s issues and stuff…anyways I’ve been contacted by the media and they want to talk to me, thought you should know. (I’m sure my principle was half relieved that I was actually capable of articulating my point and half concerned about what that point may be.)
Articling Principal: What’s the name of the blog?
Me: Pantyhose and the Penal Code
Articling Principal: Can I even look that up at work? Will they block the site?
Me: I expect not (for the first time I recognize what must happen to people who accidentally misspell the blog #TheIrony) (He types it into google—I want the earth to open up and swallow me #TheCentreOfTheEarthisNotFarEnoughAwayRightNow)
Articling Principal: Well I’m going to read this and call our regional director (cool story -can articling last 10 days?)
My fear was linked to the very real barriers that continue to exist in the legal field. First of all its legal which makes it inherently reductionist, I mean just kidding #LoveTheLaw. We impose on each other and ourselves this idea that someone is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and thus deserving of due process. Can we just all agree that people are not in fact innocent until proven guilty?
That standard exists so that the state cannot arbitrarily throw you in jail, which given humanity’s history of totalitarian police states, isn’t such a bad thing. It’s not a standard that we offer for people to understand the human experience. Due process? Fine, you can have due process in your law suit, but due process has no role in the spectrum of human expression. I’m not a psychologist but I think we talk to each other so that we can heal, access resources, and process our feelings. Yet when it comes to sexual assault, harassment, feelings of shame and embarrassment you better be prepared to come with some forensic evidence if you want somebody to lend you their ear.
Second, I look like I’m one day shy of my seventeenth birthday and I am articling in a place where everybody is twenty years my senior, and mostly male. I was very concerned about how my advocacy of these issues would be perceived. Here’s the good news: my articling principal (and the regional director) were amazing. He told me the only words a woman needs to hear: I support you Brady, I have your back.
Fast-forward a couple months and we are in throes of the Jian Ghomeshi story and I have to tell you something. When I read his letter I believed him. In fact as I walked home from work on a cold Sunday afternoon I was angry. I thought GREAT exactly what we need a jilted ex-girlfriend. The next day I read the piece about a bad date with Jian and I felt physically sick. After that I knew the allegations must be true. What’s that you say my intuition isn’t admissible in a court of law? #LongHairDontCare Feelings and intuition are powerful tools in understanding and responding to problems of sexual assault and harassment.
When I finished law school I drove across the country with a cherished friend. As we drove through the scenic hills of Newfoundland, he asked me a question I think many of us ponder, “how do you know when something is okay and when it isn’t?” When someone jumps out from behind the bushes and assaults you we are usually able to process that, and identify it as wrong. If you are married to someone for twenty years and he rapes you, or you get a little tipsy and undressed with someone who later goes too far, we engage in this contest of credibility – how were we supposed to know that far was too far? I responded the only way I knew how “this may be stupid but I think you just know you can feel it, ya know?” When I read the piece by XoJane I felt the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, tension in my shoulders, tightness of my throat—I’ve been there before I thought and so have so many of my friends.
I was deeply humiliated by my first response to the Ghomeshi story. I have been sitting across the table from administrators, peers and friends trying to convince them of the importance of breaking the silence– and still my first instinct was to disregard the story on the basis of a jilted ex-girlfriend.
This brings me back to the point of the blog: breaking the silence is a necessary but incredibly challenging step in healing the wounds created by sexual assault and harassment and we are all guilty of assumptions and stereotypes that make breaking the silence terrifying. In the end, I don’t’ think my story is appropriate for a major news organization –because I have already told my story, in my own words, in my own time. That said, I commend the women who are speaking to the media, they are brave, they are important and they are changing the way we think about these issues. We need to continue to work together to create a space for these stories it is, in my view, the first step in the revolution of the social values, barriers, and conversations that perpetuate and suppress sexual assault and harassment.