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#MeWho isn’t a movement. It’s a statement of invisibility. We indicate our respect for status or social power with our attention. Someone with great status can quiet a room by clearing his throat. Someone without status can answer an important question being posed with a profound solution and apparently never be heard. Anyone can feel the sting of nonentity, but those who are aged, very young, and racial or gender minorities all know exactly what I’m talking about.
Recently, my husband and I watched the film THE POST and identified with the real-life situation in which the gentlemen of the boardroom talk through Katherine Graham (portrayed by Meryl Streep) as if she’s not there, although she’s the owner of the newspaper. Even her father, who built the paper, turned his pride and joy over to her husband rather than to her. Katherine accepted her supporting role for years, rationalizing that her husband with his intelligence and business acumen was better suited to run the paper—until her husband committed suicide. Still, no one questions his superiority as a leader in comparison to her. The men have her convinced they know better, regardless of how well she has done her homework. She has been trained to act as the charming hostess, “properly” retreating with the other women when the conversation of the “menfolk” grows serious.
If you’ve never had people talk around you as though you aren’t present, you must exude confidence or you command important resources. The rest of us—especially women—have all survived the experience. You may think such slights are insignificant, but they serve to silence fresh thought and to convince the silenced one whatever he or she has to say isn’t worth anyone’s attention. In the book WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES, author and psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés describes the limbo into which silenced women often fall.
But what the silenced one has to say may be very important. Once she realizes she can make a difference, she may force people to hear her. The real-life Katherine Graham stood in her power against the advice of the men around her to risk her fortune and the welfare of her newspaper in order to honor her principles. The United States benefitted. She helped stop a war. Hell hath no fury like a woman who has found her voice.
Invisibility is insidious. You can’t press charges for being treated as cellophane. You may feel trapped in circumstances in which you cannot thrive. When you’re ignored often enough, you may begin to question not merely what you have to say but also your worth as a human being. You may surrender and shoulder the part you’ve been given to play, regardless of how soul draining it is.
Or you may decide you’ve had enough. As today’s women and youth and teachers and minority populations of several sorts rise up, waving the words society would not hear on signs or taking their ignorers to court, many are shocked at the viciousness of the attacks against them. But no one wants to have a pet turn on them, and the previously voiceless people have been viewed like pets—taken for granted. The targets knew they would be attacked, yet they persist because they have something to say. They know they can ultimately make a difference.