I woke up this morning to a flood a #MeToo comments, as women from all spectra of my life stepped forward to share their personal stories of sexual abuse and harassment; stories of being silenced, of not being believed, of being told it was their fault, of normalizing the incessant stream of misogyny.
It’s a powerful campaign, and – at least in my feeds – has successfully emphasized how wide-spread these experiences are. Yes, all women have suffered some form of abuse or harassment. All women.
To be honest, it was more than I was prepared to handle on a Monday morning. Of course, I am glad to see these issues gaining mainstream attention, and I’m hopeful that the current wave of shock and indignation will ultimately lead to greatly needed change. But…reading about sexual assault and harassment is not my ideal way to start the day.
I don’t want to think back to remember just how young I was when I was first harassed. 9? 10, maybe? Before then, my memory is too fuzzy to be reliable.
I don’t want to figure out how old I was when strange men regularly took to following me down the street, making comments far too inappropriate to be repeated here. I may as well ask how old I was when I started going out alone – harassment is so indelibly intertwined with the way I experience the world.
And I certainly don’t want to think back to my own stories of assault. Stories I’m barely prepared to whisper privately, much less share publicly. I don’t have energy for that today.
I don’t want to think about such things, and I don’t want to relive such things, except on my own time on my own terms. I’m glad to see so many women empowered to share their stories, and I’m glad to see so many men seeming to take their words seriously. But at the same time, I just want to yell:
YES, OF COURSE, ME TOO.
These experiences happen to all women, and it shouldn’t take a flood of “me too” for us to admit we have a problem. We shouldn’t be forced to relive our traumas, or prove our traumas, or justify our traumas. It shouldn’t be solely on women to fight this battle. We shouldn’t be have to say, “me too.”
Ringing in my ears are the words of Shakespeare’s Desdemona. Shortly before her husband murders her in retribution for imagined infidelity, confronted with increasing abuse and a situation beyond her control, she shakes her head and sighs:
Oh, these men, these men.
Desdemona is caught in a double-bind. She can neither speak up nor stay silent. She is alone and truly powerless to act.
There are so many levels of horror to assault. The act itself is an abuse beyond accounting, but there’s also the fact that many women are assaulted not by some shadowy stranger but someone that they know. Many women are forced to live in contact with their abuser, picking up the pieces of their life as though nothing happened at all. Seeing him succeed in life while leaving behind a restless wake of harassment charges.
Too often, the actions of these abusers are an open secret. Everybody knows. Women try to warn each other off, knowing that open complaints will only result in retribution while doing nothing to harm the assailant. The men know, too. Nothing is done.
And that big nothing only makes it more clear who has the power, who is protected. Women continue to suffer, surrounded by a sea of men who claim to care but who fail to act.
Scattered in among the “me too” posts have been a number of men offering their support and solidarity. I appreciate many of these. I know a lot of genuinely good men who I’m glad to see in the fight.
But, there’s also another type. As one Twitter personality put it: “ok. its happened. a man who sexually assaulted me has faved another woman’s tweets about calling out harassment and assault.”
I’m hardly surprised. I know some of those men, too.
The problem isn’t a few bad apples who go around assaulting women at the drop of a hat. It isn’t simply about identifying the most virulent harassers and bringing them to justice.
The problem is a culture in which men feel entitled to sexual attention; in which they commit abuse without even knowing it. Or, at least, without the slightest acknowledgement that their actions were problematic.
As long as assault and harassment can be written off as “boys being boys,” as long as it’s a possibility that “she was asking for it,” as long as men fail to call each other out for inappropriate behavior and allow abusive men to go unchallenged amongst us, we will perpetuate a culture of abuse – no matter how many women come forward to share their stories and to say, yes –