When I was in the Legislature, a male lawmaker told me, “If you ever need a chair, you can always sit on my lap.” Another one got drunk one night and I spent the rest of the evening defending my breasts against his hands. I was young with no real power, it was my first session and I just wanted to fit in, so I remained polite.

While I have recounted those stories, I have never publicly attached those stories to the names of the individuals behind them. As outspoken as I am, and as powerful as my voice can be, there are lines even I do not cross.

These two examples – and there are many more – are only as powerful as they are anonymous. The moment I attach names to the stories, they get replaced with questions of whether I’m a credible source. I don’t need to be asked what I was wearing to know that what he did that night was wrong.

It’s why I believe women and victims. The consequences for speaking out are too big.

When I read Erica Cole‘s blog that described how she was battered by her partner, Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray, I was horrified. I was concerned that she told everyone where she lived.

When Jessie Lacey wrote a blog about her experience at Maine Magazine, I didn’t just read it – I felt it. The subtleties of power, the blurred line of work, and the subsequent gaslighting resonated because I and so many other women have felt it. I understood what it was like to be a critical part of building an organization, only to choose to walk away from it without telling anyone the real reason for my departure.

Sadly, when women speak out, it is often other women who do the silencing. Despite the chief executive apologizing (in the media at least) and preparing to relinquish the reins of Maine Media Collective, two Press Herald columnists weighed in on the issue, including Cynthia Dill, who has written numerous sensationalist columns calling out “Bernie Bro” misogyny and sexism.

In addition to calling Lacey’s blog post “lame” on social media, she wrote a full column chastising Lacey for not writing a blog that would stand up to legal scrutiny.

Why should women who speak out be held to a higher standard of evidence than the men who took advantage of them? That is what sexism is.

In a separate column, Bill Nemitz argued that maybe #MeToo has some collateral damage, pointing out the numerous other women who have been hurt by the fall of Maine Media Collective. While it is true these women deserve none of the fallout, it sends a subtle but dangerous message that whistleblowers should feel guilty, adding yet another reason not to speak out.

I do think Nemitz raises a bigger question around the purpose of #MeToo. The consequences of powerful men falling from grace are a societal deterrent, but there must be structural changes in statute so that we can balance order with justice. Rep. Ken Fredette and I worked together on a bipartisan bill to provide legal consequences for “revenge porn,” providing victims recourse to get their lives back.

Another significant shift would be removing the statute of limitations on rape, sexual assault. Like the revenge porn law, this would provide a criminal deterrent for people in power while providing victims a path toward justice. Further, Maine does not track whether it has a backlog, but many states are backlogged many years, leaving rape victims unable to prove their cases. We should prioritize any backlog that does exist.

I’d like to say that now that I have better agency and more power, sexism and misogyny have subsided. However, when women show strength and power, they are most vulnerable to attack.

That is why when women leave abusive partners, they are most at risk for murder.

While we are busy working to get women into positions of power, we have not yet reconciled the role of powerful women. Powerful women defy the structures of power – and that is dangerous.

We must believe and stand with women and victims, but we must also work each day to create a society where women and girls have full agency.

Until then, I will continue to Fight Like A Girl.

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