I was 9. My grandfather used to sit on the steps in the front of the house sometimes in his retirement and joke with passerby and the inevitable visitors who would stop to say a quick hello but end up staying for dinner. He and my father had gone out so I had decided to imitate him in his spot, waiting for them to arrive.
It was the middle of summer and the small cement ramp that allowed us to bring my uncle's motorcycle up the steps into the courtyard of our property was cool in the evening sun, and served as a fantastic slide for my little body.
As I sat, a man rolled up on his scooter. It was beige--one of those Vespa types--and since we're in mid-1990s India, probably a Bajaj. He lifted a small bottle to his lips. Then through a hole in his pants, he brought out what I (in my mature age) now refer to as a 'dangle' and began playing with himself.
I remember staring at him with a frown on my face, unphased and challenging him. He fumbled for a bit, likely drunk, then drove the bike to the neighbors house and shouting at them to come out for a bit.
I went inside and told my mom. I wasn't allowed to play outside alone anymore.
I was 9. And now, twenty years later, as Harvey Weinstein makes the news and Donald Trump escaped relatively unscathed after Pussygate, one has to wonder at all the coverage about women being victimized: What the hell took so long?
I'm going to preface this post by saying I am not an expert. That preface doesn't dismiss my opinion as invaluable--it recognizes that there are personal shortcomings, and a depth of learning I still have to reach. No one is an expert with hot button problems like this.
As the #metoo campaign washes over social media, a jab of discomfort pokes me every time a woman posts. It's an oddball reaction. Fury. Solidarity. Support. Sadness. Vulnerability. And back to fury. All in a matter of a second or two. Every status with those two words prompts a sensory ambush.
One thing, however, is glaringly obvious. Whether it's the press objectifying women as sexy or making a big deal for showing a little sideboob, or the play-by-play deconstruction of a woman's sexual history on the stand when testifying against an alleged rapist, the approach to women's word has always been one of doubt, shame, and an assumption that their stories are not, in fact, based in truth but in their looks, in drama, in golddigging or in any other capacity that undermines their intelligence and veracity. Society has never been forgiving of a woman who speaks out.
Before we dive in, there are so many things to remember. My story is the one I choose to tell--but not the ones I remember most. Many women who speak of being verbally harassed likely have worse experiences hidden underneath their clothes and inside their minds. But bringing them out still prompts shame, an emotion that rationally, shouldn't make sense but silences us anyway. That means when a woman has put those two words on a status, there are a few things we need to keep at the forefront of our interactions about it:
Sensitivity. A woman who writes #metoo does not owe you her story. There are many who did not post who may have had lifechanging experiences they are not in the position to share. That is their right. And their rights matter.
Shock. Did you feel the unpleasant lurch in your stomach when you read how women you may have grown up with--mothers, sisters, friends, cousins, neighbors, your teachers--had unwanted sexual advances forced upon them? Were you surprised? I sure as hell was. According to Facebook, 45% of users in the U.S. had friends who posted it. Of course, we read stories of catcalling and stories of workplace harassment. As a woman, I've experienced it. It's a day-to-day thing that shouldn't be accepted and is dismissed. It is something that no woman should have gone through but that all have. Hell, our president himself dismisses conversations about women as "locker room talk." How many times have we heard "Boys will be boys," as an excuse? But even those count. Whether it's something deemed as harmless as "boys will be boys," or whether it's a violent assault, why is it that women still have to deal with it, internalize it, and feel the undeserving shame of being talked about? Tell me it doesn't shock you that this is acceptable.
Awareness. Men are sexually violated. Children are as well. Saying "me too," is not a pissing contest, a dismissal of the very real experiences men and children face, or a social media trend. For many women who posted, it is a heartfelt admission of something traumatic that happened to them. Think about how many memories we forget because they weren't important enough. This was crucial enough in their lifetime that they remember it. And it implies that it shouldn't occur to anyone.
Complexity. This entire campaign goes far beyond a mass grouping of women who have been sexually victimized. It is not as simple as a rallying cry. There are different degrees of assault, different effects, different people and different situations. Get it? Every situation is different. A "me too," for a catcall may not equal a "me too," for a rape on the scale of horrifying experiences--but should victimization fall in a scale at all? Who are we to declare whether someone's traumatic experience is traumatic enough to fall under an umbrella...there are nuances to each and every experience and a blanket "me too," will not cover all of them. And harassment and assault need to be recognized as separate issues--though both are markedly unacceptable--so one campaign may not differentiate enough. Likewise, is it okay that either type of abuse exists? Some have argued the campaign may encourage vilifying all men--and that isn't fair either because a good man is NOT a unicorn. They exist in heaps. While I could go on for hours about the various arguments for and against the campaign, I will say this: it is not easy, clean or black and white. It is gray, complex, and knotted.
I have seen so many posts arise about Title IX, sexual assault, sexual violence, prevention education, counseling, and resources pop up on my feed as well--and of all the emotions that this campaign has elicited, feeling heartened by this is my favorite one. It's crucial women know of the resources available to them. It's not as simple as stopping the activity from happening. It's about remembering who has gone through it and helping them too. Interventions need to occur across the spectrum. Sexual harassment is a disease and should be treated as such in society, from prevention to treatment.
I've read quite a few opinions about how a #metoo campaign does nothing to change the facts and that these admissions need to roll into action. I don't disagree. The campaign serves as a wake-up call, a scream to be heard and to be recognized as the people in your every day life who have faced something awful. But what can we do with this knowledge that so many women in our lives have been sexualized without consent? Here are some ideas.
Donate. Organizations like Hollaback! are aimed toward allowing people to walk down the street without the threat of catcalling or harassment. RAINN is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country and supports victims of rape, abuse, and incest. Support your local rape crisis center.
Be mindful. It doesn't mean someone is a delicate human who can't handle it, or that you're a monster. Be mindful of what you're saying and who you're saying it to. Spare the heartache.
Raise your children to recognize what is acceptable and what isn't. "Boys will be boys," creates a mindset that this behavior is acceptable. It minimizes the victimization of the target. It promotes the idea that a victim shouldn't feel the way s/he does and that they're making a big deal of nothing. And this breeds shame. Encourage your daughters to trust their voice and enforce that they are heard.
Contact Congress to ensure that policies are made related to sexual discrimination, harassment or assault and that they will not be tolerated if they do not protect victims.
Speak out and advocate.
Make sure your office has a way to report sexual harassment.
Request or provide a training on harassment.
Invite a training to your church, social groups, or book clubs.
If you know of a survivor or witness something that makes you or someone else comfortable, call it out if it's safe to do so.
Remind and encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual harassment or assault that they are being heard--don't talk. Just listen. They have a voice and if they have chosen to confide, they get the floor. They have every right to feel any emotion.
At the end of the day, the #metoo campaign has opened the blinds and allowed sunshine on places that have quietly collected dust for years. Hopefully, it has made some people recognize the dirt they never noticed before--and provide solidarity for those who needed it. But our work isn't done. This battle isn't won. And it's time to take a stand.