Women are posting, “Me Too,” and/or #metoo, with a request that other women who have suffered sexual harassment and/or sexual assault also post “Me Too,” in order to get a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Sometimes the “Me Too” is accompanied by a brief description of something that happened to them.
But I think that women, at least, already understand the magnitude: It’s all of us and it’s for a lifetime.
In fact, my default assumption about other adult women in America is that they, like me, have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted multiple times in their lives in small and, sadly, sometimes very large ways.
I am fairly certain that there are other women reading this blog who will have experienced some of the following, a sampling of moments from my own life:
- Someone has, uninvited, grabbed her breasts from behind.
- Someone has catcalled her to “compliment” her looks.
- Someone has catcalled (anti-catcalled?) her to tell her that she is fat.
- Someone in the workplace has mistaken her role for a more traditionally female role. (In my case, I was wheeling my litigation bag into court and someone assumed I was a paralegal lugging a lawyer’s stuff for him. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a paralegal, of course. I couldn’t do my job without them. But I don’t think the assumption would have been made were I male.)
- The prelaw advisor at her undergrad tried to discourage her from applying to law school, suggesting paralegal school instead.
- An older male someone in the workplace has pejoratively asked her age when she challenged his argument.
- A male someone has repeatedly interrupted and/or talked over her during a meeting.
- Conversely, such a someone has complained that he cannot hear her voice because it’s too soft when no one else seemed to have a problem hearing her. (This happened to me less than a month ago.)
- Someone in the workplace has suggested that she is being argumentative (which is kind of my job, by the way) because of PMS or “that time of the month.”
- A stranger on the street has told her to smile.
- A stranger at a nightclub has danced up behind her, grinding their pelvis into her backside.
- Someone she knows has forcibly kissed her.
- Someone she knows has sent to her an unsolicited naked picture of their private parts. (Yes, that really happened, and pre-digital age.)
These examples span decades. So, no, it doesn’t happen every day. It doesn’t even happen every week or month. (Though it did happen more frequently when I was young....) I fully expect to at least occasionally experience more of the similar for the rest of my life.
These things or things like these things (or worse than these things) have happened to all of us. They are of varying degrees of severity, but these kinds of affronts and/or assaults are part of the landscape of a woman’s world.
Not just the slutty ones.
Not just the dumb ones.
Not just the ones who wear short skirts and drink too much.
Not just the ones in Hollywood.
Not just the weak-minded ones.
Not just the traditionally pretty ones.
Not just the young, naive ones.
Not just the ones who are “angry feminists.”
All of us.
And it begins early. I remember getting my first catcall at age 12. Freaking 12 years old, people.
So if it’s all women, why don’t we call it out all the time, or more often? It’s because the “lesser than” status and the “there to please me” status of women is baked into our culture. You complain? People tell you to lighten up. It was just a joke, just a kiss, just a sarcastic comment. “I didn’t mean any harm. I’m sorry if I offended you.” Maybe they call you a bitch.
So this brings me to another default assumption I have developed as I have lived my female life in America: Complaints often go unheard, even, sometimes, by other women. We don’t protest or speak out when these things happen because we don’t want to be shamed as sluts, derailed in our careers, put off or disbelieved. Sometimes, when it happens we may be so shocked that it happened (or frightened by it) that we don’t speak up because we have, in our own surprise and disbelief, lost the ability to speak up. Sometimes, we don’t speak up because we just want to forget the humiliation and get back to business.
Besides, until a crowd of famous women start making a stink, no one believed them either. Who would believe the word of a solitary nobody?
Finally, a point I want to emphasize: It’s not ALL men. I know many wonderful, respectful, enlightened men of all generations. But it’s ENOUGH men to make women like me a tad wary — trust less, be afraid of the night, question motives — by default.
And doesn’t that just suck for all of us?
So how does it all change?
How does participating in #metoo to show the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault improve things?
My friends, it goes back to the “wives and daughters” thing from the lead up to the 2016 election. I wrote about it here. Though people complained at the time that you shouldn’t have to have a female loved one in order to have sympathy or to be outraged by sexual assault or harassment, that’s exactly what #metoo is getting at. It’s trying to show that everyone has loved ones who have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault. Right? It’s showing that it’s all of us. All the wives and all the daughters and all the sisters and all the mothers.... Yours, mine, all of ours.
And if that realization takes hold in the hearts and minds of all whom #metoo wishes to convince, maybe the future wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers will have fewer sad defaults (like mine) that shape how they view and move through the world.
So, yep, me too.