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On Being Named Time's Person of the Year

12/06/2017 12:11:08 PM

Dec6

Rabbi Kathy Cohen

It was a bit strange this morning to wake up and realize that along with many other women I have been awarded the designation of Time Person of the Year.   I am both thrilled and deeply saddened by this designation. Time has chosen for this honor all of the women who were part of the #metoo movement and those who opened the conversation about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.

For many years I attempted to forget all that happened when the Senior Rabbi I worked with made a series of inappropriate comments and gestures. I told myself it was over. I was out of the situation. I would never allow myself to return to such a situation. I lost my naivete about rabbis and I lost my trust in older men. As many young women do (I was only 27) I turned it on myself. What did I do to bring out such disgusting behavior? Would anyone believe me? If I openly accused my boss, what would he implications be for my future career? I was taught to see this as simply the way of the world. What a horrible world it is when people in this country will vote for a man who openly admits sexually abusing and harassing women. What an awful society we have created when the likes of Moore, Conyers, Weinstein and others can rise to such levels of power that it takes an entire movement of women to bring them down. How awful is our country when the President will endorse a known pedophile who lies through his teeth in order to bolster his party.  Thank you Senator Flake for making a statement that party politics has limits and that it is our desire to have decent, even good, people as our elected officials.

So why did it take me and many other women decades to report this harassment and abuse? It is likely that few men can really understand this. When you are an oppressed minority, (and though women may not actually be a minority, we certainly do not have the same advantages as men) you are very careful not to endanger further your situation. If this is what it means to have the opportunity to work and hopefully succeed in the men’s world, you try to go along. Additionally, men really have little idea of how horrible sexual harassment feels to a woman. You are know longer a co-worker or employee or friend, you are an object. Even your very personhood is reduced to nothing more than your sexual allure. You are in fact dehumanized. It is traumatic on a very deep level. I have lived it and I know. Most people choose to bury traumatic events and attempt to live on with their lives. Unfortunately, that is not possible. Only by acknowledging and addressing the deep pain and in many cases by working with therapists to make sure that this pain does not become destructive, can we heal.

The most wonderful thing that is happening right now is that many women around the world are acknowledging and beginning to address this deep pain and the shame associated with it. The most difficult thing that is happening for us is that process.

A few days ago, before the Time announcement, I finally decided, after much internal struggling, to make known to the appropriate person what happened to me 28 years ago. It is more than simply replying #metoo on Facebook. It is about telling a story that no one wants to hear and everyone must. It is about allowing pain to emerge that just might change the future for our daughters. I am a member of the group that is Time’s Person of the Year. I wish I was not.

Mon, October 15 2018 6 Cheshvan 5779