My wife works in male dominated fields. She is often the only woman working on a construction site or in her tattoo shop (yes – my wife is a lady boss who can use both powertools and a tattoo machine) and, like so many women, she has had to put up with lewd jokes, sexist comments, and sexual harassment. On one occasion, her creep of a boss cornered her and pressed his body up against her.
And yet, despite all the obstacles, sexism and harassment, I’ve watched her excel in every job she has ever done. I have seen her build houses for refugees, and help women reclaim their bodies with beautiful tattoos because she is a powerful lady boss who is talented beyond belief.
As her partner (and best friend) it has been an an emotional roller coaster supporting her. I’ve listened to her talk about the men who mistreat her, exclude her, overlook her for promotions, and undervalue her work. I’ve tried to support her the best I could, but I haven’t always responded in the most helpful ways.
Each time I hear about some guy mistreating her I get hit with so.many.emotions. Anger, Frustration, Disappointment, Resentment, I feel Protective, I feel Fed Up with this Shit!…
I’ve said that I wanted to break that boss’s legs; I’ve told her that she was amazing and she didn’t do anything to deserve this; I’ve told her she should have left these fields a long time ago; to work somewhere where they respect women; I’ve wanted to write a thousand Yelp reviews; I’ve told tell her I was sorry that some men are creeps; sorry that I couldn’t protect her; sorry that I didn’t always know what to say.
Yes, I said all of these things. Again, some things I said were helpful, and some were not; and some things may have been helpful if I had said them at the right time.
We live in both a painful and freeing time where many women are telling their stories of surviving sexual assault and harassment, and they are finally being believed and taken seriously.
I want to share a few things I have learned from trying my best to support my wife, because it is different when it’s your partner: the fear and anger are so close and it can be hard to support and empower the person you love . To be present without getting in the way is complicated. I’m writing this as a husband about my wife, and hopefully you can find something to help you support your person: be it your best friend, girlfriend, or spouse – you know who your person is.
So here are 7 ways to respond when your partner says “Me Too.”
1. START BY TAKING A FEW DEEP BREATHS.
There is a lot to take in. And you will probably be hit with a TIDAL WAVE of emotions. I know I was hit with blind rage to beat the shit out of her boss, anger at my spouse for “letting this happen,” frustration at myself for getting angry at her, disappointed in myself for not doing more to protect her…and these are all understandable responses to hearing that the person we love has been hurt. But we have to swallow those emotions right now. We have a lot of important work to do and we need to focus.
2. Believe Your Partner.
I know that this sounds simple but this all starts with believing your spouse, and it can be hard, because if you believe that they were sexually harassed or abused then shit gets real. But trust that they love you and that they wouldn’t lie to you.
3. Thank Your Partner for Telling You and Tell Them How Much You Love Them.
It takes a lot of courage to tell someone that you have been abused. A lot of survivors feel ashamed and are already beating themselves up. They may have already run every “what if I…” scenario. So thank them for trusting you. And tell them that you love them. Because being abused can make someone feel like trash. So it’s important to remind them that you love them. And not just a little “I still love you.” Hug them and say, “Thank you for telling me. I love you to the moon and back.” Or whatever your special phrase is.
4. Find Enough Support…for Both of You.
Healing emotionally and making a plan for real life is going to be long and often painful process. It will mean lots of conversations. Moments where feelings bubble up out of no where. Where you have to go back and work through something again. And again.
You both need help through this. You have to support your partner. But she may not have the strength and energy to support you right now.
We found a few friends that we talked to together. And we also had a few that we talked to separately. It was important to have both. Because sometimes I felt like I needed talk through some of my feelings – especially feeling’s that I wasn’t always proud of – with a person I trusted. And because I struggle with mental health and depression I connected with my professional therapists as well.
5. Remind Your Partner that “They Can Stay and Try to Change the Institutions…but They Don’t Have To.”
There is a often a pressure on women to stay and change things. They are told that if they want to make it in a “man’s world” they have to grow thick skin and shrug off the sexist comments, the creepy hugs, the gropes, and in some fields – even the guys who masturbate into the plants.
We all know stories of women who do conquer all the obstacles to open the door for other women. And as the spouse I can tell you that it was hard to think about my wife being the one to break some of those the glass ceilings. We talked about her staying and trying to change things, to file an HR complaint…but it is also important to tell her that she can leave. She doesn’t have to stay and change things. She can decide that it is just too much right now and take a step back until she feels stronger. We have to remember that it is her choice.
6. Offer Your Advice and Then Support Their Decision
This is not your call. You can express how you feel and what you think would be the best decision. But this is her life, her career, her body, her choice. You can and should explain how her choices may affect you. “If you go back to work there I will feel ______.” But that I different than “You can’t go back to work there because _______.” She has to fight her battles her way.
7. Apologize When You Say the Wrong Thing.
I am writing this as someone who wishes I had done a lot of things differently. Sometimes I thought I did the right thing and then a trusted friend showed me how wrong I was . But saying “I’m sorry” to the person we love has a way of making our love stronger.
I got a lot of really great advice – and sometimes just watching TV with me until I calmed down – from a lot of brave and wise women and men in my life. And I wanted to bundle up all that advice into one place in hopes that someone who needs it can find it.
I hope you find the continued strength to support the person you love. Because they really need your love and support.