For the last several days my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds have been saturated with women and even some men from all over the world posting #Me too on their personal pages. This began as a silent way to affirm, validate, and acknowledge the prevalence of sexual harassment all around the world. What started as a simple confession has become a powerful silent protest everywhere, declaring in a quiet but direct manner that sexual assault has infiltrated every sphere, every nook and cranny on this planet, in subtle and pervasive ways, and women are tired of it. We will no longer normalize, justify, or just take it because that’s what we’ve always done.
It reminds me of the movie Overboard, when Kurt Russell says to Goldie Hawn in a heated argument, “This never bothered you before.”
She scrunches up her face, and yells, “Well, it bothers me now!”
I feel like that’s what women are saying all over the globe.
Why all the fuss, now?
This never bothered you before…
As you can see from our Facebook feeds, It bother us now.
Most of my life, I’ve been silent about my stories of sexual assault. I never wanted to make trouble, or draw attention to myself, or cause a scene. I had a teacher who went to jail for sexual assault, and when some of the girls told on him, and everything started to unravel, I stayed silent about how uncomfortable he had made me feel. He massaged girls while they were doing work in his class. I didn’t like that he’d massage my shoulders and run his hands over my back, but I didn’t know I had the right to feel uncomfortable. He was the teacher. I covered it up, and swallowed my discomfort because it felt like the right thing to do.
God forbid you make a man uncomfortable by speaking out.
That feels like the story of my life… Try not to make a man feel uncomfortable. Be acquiescent. Submit to their leadership. Obey. Don’t ruffle the system.
From time to time over the forty years of my life, I have broken the rules and bucked the system, spoken out. And have usually paid for it with varying degrees of judgement, critique, or shaming. Mostly, it’s with silence and subsequent exclusion. Make a big deal out of something and we’ll find ways to ignore you.
Silence is deafening, isn’t it? When they won’t even dignify your complaint with a defense. Just, hush hush. It doesn’t matter. You don’t matter.
Years ago, I told one of my best friends about something that happened with a boy. We were eating dinner at Dairy Queen and I told the story of having to push a young man off of me, and how relentless he was. I gave her all the gory details, laughing about it. It never occurred to me that I was unsafe, that I shouldn’t have to feel like I owed him certain sexual favors because we had gone on a date. It never occurred to me that he was wrong for pushing himself on me. For begging. For being physically aggressive. Unfortunately, it probably never occurred to the boy, either. We were both part of a system that somehow made it all okay, even if we were entrenched in the purity culture. (Cultural nuance is scary stuff.)
My dear friend set her hamburger on the table and stared at me with the most outraged face I have ever seen her use, and spoke with fierce intensity. “Tina, that is sexual harassment and it’s wrong.” I think she might even have suggested I report it.
I disagreed. He was my friend and he cared for me. He didn’t want to hurt me. So, I let it go.
I never said anything to anyone else. Maybe because I played my part in every single one of my stories. I flirted. I toyed with the boundary lines. One time I lied about my age. Because of the confusion, I absorbed all the guilt and rewrote the narratives:
It’s my fault. At least, mostly.
I did something to warrant it, to invite it.
I must have given off the vibe.
But it wasn’t all my fault and even if I allowed certain men to treat me like a sexual object that didn’t make it right when they treated me so. Nor did it make me a sexual object. I am always a woman made in God’s image. Always.
It did mean that I needed to start rewriting the narrative.
I needed to look at myself differently and value myself, so that when someone treated me inappropriately, I could name it, and learn how to discern the responsibility of the incident with integrity. I had to see myself differently so that I could expect something better, and hold to a truer standard.
For over a year, I started to say to myself, “How do you feel about this, Tina? What do you hope for from your relationship with this person? What do you feel comfortable with? Your life matters, too.” I still have to say that last one almost every day. “Your life matters, too.”
Your heart. Your soul.
Your body. Your desires.
They matter, too.
I needed to learn how to listen to my own voice, my own feelings, and claim the right to hear my own heart. To admit I could say yes or no without feeling like I was betraying a relationship, or a person, or a beloved institution. That I could have feelings, too. And those feelings mattered.
What, you ask, does this have to do with #Me, too?