For as many women posted something with the hashtag #metoo, and for those who didn’t, there are as many emotions and opinions about the effort and what it means. I realize that many men can also share a #metoo story, but I’m not a man and this is about my reactions as a woman. So, here are some of mine.
Women have been taking to Twitter (and Facebook) with the hashtag #metoo – sometimes with a story and sometimes with just those words – to display in a public and visible way the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment we experience maybe not on a daily basis individually, but certainly systemically. I posted in response, read many of my friends’ (and strangers’) stories, and my gut told me this was a big movement that was heart-wrenching and important. However, as with anything, I’m holding conflicting thoughts and emotions as conversations have popped up in response.
I posted a #metoo with no story or comment on social media. As someone who developed on the early side, my appearance was commented upon by classmates – boys and girls, actually. The first boy who kissed me tried to go for more – I was 14, he was 13. It was all very romantic, someone I met while on a beach vacation with my family, and easy to get caught up in the excitement. Luckily, I’m strong and red flags started going off before anything happened. In middle school or high school, a man exposed himself to me in an American Eagle store in the Mall of America – I ran away without telling anyone. In high school, there were rumors of lists going around; in college, too. In grad school, my female classmates and I would get wardrobe advice from male faculty (wear short skirts/low tops before oral examinations, the like). Nearly weekly, one of my girlfriends or I would have an encounter with a man on the subway who got too close or touched himself. There were occasions we’d need to save our friends at the bar because some guy wouldn’t take no from a drunk girl for an answer. Once, on a bike commute, I had slowed down to navigate between a lane of traffic and a construction site. One of the workers reached out and grabbed me, in full sight of his coworkers. One of them, thankfully, saw it and called over the manager, who talked to me and said he’d take care of it. I pedaled away as fast as I could – did he take care of it? I’ll never know.
Revealing the problem – and discovering another
In a time of division and discontent, #metoo was a way for women to show each other that we aren’t alone, yes, but also that this problem isn’t something we can continue to excuse. Let me be clear, in no way do women ever – and I mean ever, I don’t care what she was or was not wearing or how much she smiled at you – bring assault and harassment upon themselves. Some of the discomfort I and some of us may be feeling is that knowing how pervasive this is makes it impossible to ignore and makes it impossible to blame on testosterone or “that’s just the way it is.” It’s eye-opening to see just how engrained we all are to accept the status quo.
Because there is another #metoo. For all the women who have had to laugh at dirty jokes when out with their guy friends. Guys who would never do anything physical, but still. For all the women who have had to listen to advice on wearing short skirts or carrying our keys in our fists or getting escorts through dark parking lots or taking the long way on the walk home in order to avoid the park. For all the women who have told a story about a guy catcalling them on the street and being told they’re too sensitive. Apparently, stopping assault and rape and harassment is entirely a women’s job.
The status quo
I think back to my own education as a girl and as a woman. We grew up with mothers who had been at the forefront of the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s. We were shown how much better things now are for us, that we can grow up to be anything we wanted to be, that we were afforded the same opportunities as boys. I wonder how much I internalized this as “everything is good” rather than “everything is better but there is still room for improvement.”
The entire reason for the #metoo is to show everyone – women included – that our entire society has conditioned women to feel shame over rocking the boat, to feel guilt over standing up for ourselves, to accept these incidents as just “boys being boys” or whatever. That at least we can hold jobs and have our own bank accounts and run marathons – shouldn’t we be thankful? Ironically, this also may mean that any woman who has suffered from abuse and doesn’t post a #metoo post is also feeling guilt over NOT posting – it’s just one more thing that a woman is “supposed” to do that she is not because of her own personal experience.
Even though we may brush these attackers and stories off in an effort to protect ourselves, this suppression causes long-term effects that we can’t possibly begin to understand. How much depression, how much substance abuse, how much mental anguish can be directly attributed to this systemic sexism? It’s impossible to know, but there’s no way the numbers are good. In that regard, having a worldwide movement to allow women to speak up for the first time is amazing, if it even allows one woman to come forward.
A #withher response has popped up, of men sharing their stories and support, which I know is fantastic. Really – I just voiced how we need male allies. But I’m also exhausted of explaining to men and just wanting to be believed. A friend’s Facebook post – someone who genuinely wanted to open the conversation about what he could do as a male – prompted me to say, “I am struggling with this. I appreciate the desire to have the discussion, but it’s also exhausting. It once again puts the onus on women. I’m tired of explaining to men that this continues to happen, when for me any of this harassing, abusive behavior falls under the “don’t be an asshole” motto I think every human should have. Don’t be an asshole, don’t treat anyone differently than you’d want to be treated, and if you see someone being an asshole, call them on it.”
I don’t want to shut down the dialogue, I think it’s important. But I’m also disgusted, quite frankly, that it takes women reliving the trauma of abuse and harassment to post them in basically a public forum in order for us to be listened to.
I thankfully haven’t directly received any “not all men” responses, but they’re also out there. These men are EXACTLY the problem, and the cynical part of my brain says it’s not enough to use a hashtag – or do anything, quite frankly – because these men are out there and they are loud. And dangerous. In my most hopeful moments, I think they are evidence that this mentality starts from birth, or nearly so, and we have a lot of work to do in educating our boys.
So men, after you say “I believe you and I’m sorry,” don’t ask me what you should do. If you want to listen to my story and support me, that’s great. Don’t ask me if something you did when you were 16 or 22 or last week was considered harassment. If you’re asking, it probably was – and guess what, you just made this about you again.
Just don’t be an asshole. Teach your boys not to be assholes. We’re not the only group under attack, so that motto could serve us all well.