by Rachel Meyer
I don’t know a single woman who’s never been sexually harassed, or worse. “Me too,” of course. Duh.
It is a part of growing up female.
You learn to clench your jaw and walk faster and stare straight ahead and just get away as quickly as you can, before the cat-caller or the construction worker or the guy following you can catch up.
And it’s as endemic to the yoga world as it is to the film world, or the political world, or the finance world.
When I teach the history of yoga, in particular the evolution of yoga in the 20th century, it’s a history of sexual predators. (Overwhelmingly) male gurus who employed their social capital for sex, manipulation, emotional abuse, you name it.
The last time I taught it, as I flipped through slide after slide of influential contemporary teachers, Pattabhi Jois and John Friend and Bikram and others whose abuses of power are still less public-knowledge (for now), the students just shook their heads in disbelief.
(“Him, too?” “Yeah, he’s in trouble for sex scandals, too. Next slide. Oh yes, him, too.”).
The shadow is real.
I have seen it myself. Colleagues abusing their power to sexually harass and/or assault students. “Adjustments” that are less about alignment and more about getting off on the sexual power imbalance. Female students afraid to return to a yoga studio because it is no longer a safe space. Charisma that masks power abuses, no matter how smiley and yogic and “enlightened” that teacher appears to be.
It’s not ok.
No matter how fierce or feminist or conscious you are; no matter what you wear (or don’t wear); sometimes just sitting on a bench alone is perceived as an open invitation.
Age 22. Edinburgh. My breath tightens in my chest just thinking of it. Followed by a strange man, a 40-something John C. Reilly-lookalike who twisted and turned behind me, no matter how quickly (desperately) I tried to weave through Princes St. Gardens to escape. I couldn’t shake him. I was alone, and terrified, and furious that anyone should presume his access to me.
FURIOUS. But I still ran. Because the fear for survival overwhelms the urge to fight back. Because you are smaller than he is. And because you just want to be left alone.
I ducked into an old cathedral and hid in the pews. Lost him. Finally; safe. Heart-rushing. In disbelief. Just for sitting quietly on a bench, looking at the sky, alone.
We have a cultural problem. We have a #toxicmasculinity problem. We have a yoga problem.
But women shouldn’t have to reveal their worst violations in order for us all to “get it.” The burden of proof isn’t theirs. So the “me too” hashtag makes me angry as much as it solidifies our sense of solidarity, this collective weight of being a woman that we all know too well.
Let’s shift the hashtag, shift the agency. How about “I’ve done it.” Or “I’ve been that guy.” Now that would take balls. Now that would take a grounded, confident masculinity, a powerful sense of self, a willingness to really step back and self-reflect.
Cheers to the brave women speaking up. Cheers to the brave women coming forth to pull the curtain back on Harvey Weinstein. Cheers to the brave women who came forward to do so about Donald Trump, and were ignored, or overlooked, or maligned.
You deserve better. We all do.
Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.
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