When I started writing The Oysterville Sewing Circle, I never dreamed the topic would go viral, almost overnight. My writing and research began before the watershed moment when Ronan Farrow published his devastating expose in The New Yorker. That piece unleashed a tidal wave of #MeToo discussions among women who had endured slights, sexism, and outright abuse for years.
Looking back, we now wonder why we were silent. When confronted with those uncomfortable moments at work, at school, in public, and in our own homes, why didn’t we speak up?
What I discovered while talking with women about their experiences is that we didn’t have a vocabulary for the syndrome. A boss offering a too-affectionate shoulder-squeeze? We’d just cringe and bear it. A colleague joking about our boobs, our asses, the length of our skirts…he was just joking, right? How about the frat boy (sorry frat boys, but you know who you are) keeping your drink filled and then wrestling you to the bed? Boys will be boys. The husband or partner who lashes out with a cutting remark or a touch that hurts? He’s had a hard day. He’ll do better tomorrow. We’ve heard all the excuses and rationalizations. We’ve all been gaslighted into accepting it as “normal.”
The soul-searing lesson I learned from my conversations is something I’ve always known but rarely voiced–if it doesn’t feel normal, it’s not. If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s his fault, not yours. If it’s physically or emotionally painful, it’s wrong and probably illegal.
While writing this novel, I found my voice along with the characters in the story. If there is one takeaway I hope readers of The Oysterville Sewing Circle will carry with them, it’s the phrase emblazoned at the bottom of the book cover: We believe you. We believe in you.
Know that you’re not alone. Know that help is out there. You can reach for it, or maybe it will reach for you. My daughter and my friend Ashley, who are younger and smarter than we ever were, added their own hashtag to indicate what every woman needs: #WithYou.