And Yet #MeToo
The #metoo movement has taken social media and the world by storm. It’s started a broader discussion about sexual assault and our reactions to it. Very brave women and men have come forward and told their stories. Sometimes we react in shock and surprise, and sadly other times we are not shocked or surprised in our reactions. Now that so many people have come forward and said “Me too” it’s getting to the point where the stories we’re hearing are commonplace. And that is the truly terrible underbelly of this movement—that we simply shrug and say “Yeah, me too. Same thing happened to me.” It’s overwhelming to hear these stories from people I know and it makes me want to rage against the world that my friends are saying “Me too.”
I am thankful to say I am not in the 2 out of 5. The statistic was always 2 out of 5 women were sexually assaulted in some fashion. But judging by the Me Too movement, it feels like it’s 4 out of 5. And I think that if you count all the people who have been attacked, AND the people who have had someone say something uninvited and sexual--I’ll bet that the statistic is really 4 out of 5. I’ve never had anyone touch me when I didn’t want to be touched; I’ve never had anyone ignore my “no” and proceed anyway. And judging from what I am hearing, and how common that is, I would say I am in a very lucky minority.
While nobody has ever forced themselves upon me, their words have been forced upon me. And while that is not nearly as bad as being physically attacked by someone, it still sucks. It still makes you second guess who you are, where you are, what you’re wearing, and why someone felt the need to say some vile thing to me in that moment. Did I somehow invite that attention? Did I look at their face for just a fraction of a second too long? Am I showing too much skin? Is my shirt too tight? Is it because my eyes are brown? What is it? What is the thing that makes men say gross things to me? In my case it’s only been men who have said things to me. But the more important question is, am I safe? Is something else going to happen because he had the courage to say that? How far is the walk from a cat call to a hand over my mouth and the other forcing my pants down?
So, my name is BJ. I prefer to use my initials instead of my full name. You can imagine the flack I’ve gotten over the years when I’ve introduced myself to people—both men and women have made comments about my name. And in every instance I have decided that person isn’t worth my time and I walk away. If someone is going to say something derogatory to me in the first moments of meeting me, then they are clearly not worth my time. “So, do you live up to your name?” some asshole asks. “You’ll never know,” I reply, turn on my heel and walk away. I like to think my name is my secret weapon. It’s an asshole detection device, and it’s probably saved me a ton of time and drama over the years.
But sometimes the words happen before someone knows my name. When I was 20 I was on my study abroad in Sydney. I found a job at an office nearby to my dorm, and I was walking to work that day. There was a construction crew, and I walked by them. Why wouldn’t I proceed on my way to work, just walk by them, what could happen?
“Nice tits,” he hissed from behind his shovel in his Australian drawl. My mind instantly went into a hundred different directions in nanoseconds. “What am I wearing to make him say that? Oh yeah, the off white tshirt. Is it too tight, though? No, it’s just a normal shirt.” I instantly collected myself, and I am so proud of myself for my response to this jerk.
“I know,” I replied and kept walking. I looked confident, but I was freaking out inside. I warned myself not to walk faster, not to let this idiot think he rattled me. Just keep moving, don’t look back. Is he following me? I don’t know, just keep going, you’re almost there, get your swipe card out and get behind the gate. His words still made me feel afraid, even though I looked like I wasn’t. My hands shook as I swiped my security pass at the gate and pulled it shut behind me.
Years later, just after I got married, I was working as a temp because I couldn’t find a job when we first moved to Rhode Island. I was temping at a financial services company, a big well known one. I was to cover the reception desk while the administrative staff was at a retreat. I was wearing a skirt I bought at Express, it came to mid thigh, and I wore heavy black tights beneath it, as it was the dead of winter. My skin was covered, I was appropriate. The receptionist was showing me how to work the phone, how to transfer, all those receptionist things when an older man came in. He was one of the financial advisors, he looked to be well past the retirement age.
“Nice tits-sweater” he said to the receptionist. She was wearing a cashmere v-neck, and she instantly crossed her chest with her arms and laughed uncomfortably. “And you, those long legs would look great upside down,” he said to me. I didn’t reply, as I was trying to make an impression, I turned my attention to the receptionist and asked her some question about one of the buttons on the phone. I don’t even know why I was trying to make an impression; it was a bullshit temp posting. What I should have said was “They are strong enough to send your balls out your ears.” He made his way to his office, making cracks as he walked down the hallway behind the desk.
“Seriously?” I asked the receptionist.
“Oh, he’s from a different time when that was accepted,” she shrugged. “We just let it go.”
On my last day of the posting, I went into the office manager’s office, “Look, you guys need to get that guy to calm down. If I were a different kind of person, I could file a law suit and I would win.” She also shrugged. I am sure she felt powerless to the situation too, though I am not sure why. Why couldn’t she file a complaint with the management, “This man is saying overtly sexual things to my staff and it needs to stop.” How hard is that? Yet, she persisted—but not in a good way—she persisted in sweeping the dirt under the rug.
Then there was the time I worked for a company owned by a husband and wife. The husband was a flirt, he tended to target the young petite blondes employed there. I am a tall brunette with the thighs of a Soviet gymnast, I am not in his demographic. I steered clear of him just the same. I had a dentist appointment one day. I love going to the dentist, it’s like a spa treatment for my mouth. Me and the husband joked about what a dork I am for looking forward to my dentist appointment.
“BJ, how was your dentist appointment?” he called out to me from inside his wife’s office.
I stood in the doorway and replied, “Oh it was so great! My dentist says I have the cleanest mouth he’s ever seen,” I beamed. That really is a point of pride for me, but it also carried the earlier conversation about how dorky I am for enjoying the dentist appointment.
“Oh really? Well, maybe you need to do something to make it dirty,” he sneered. The kicker was his wife was sitting at her desk. We were in her office! And he says this to another woman right in front of her. I glanced at her, and I couldn’t read her expression. Did he just imply in front of his wife that I perform an ilicit act with him?
“Um, I’m just going to get back to my desk,” I mumbled and scrammed.
There have been other untoward things he had said to me, and I ignored them all and continued the initial topic of conversation.
“I don’t think she heard me,” he’d laugh and say to another person nearby.
“No, I heard you,” I’d reply. “This right here is my ignore-and-proceed maneuver. Let’s do that!”
But why did I say that? Why didn’t I say “Well, you just said something inappropriate to me in front of a witness. Let’s talk about why you felt the need to say that and what my next course of action should be.”
Where was my 20-year-old self, jutting out her chin and defiantly saying “I know”? Where the hell did she go? Into hiding?
But Me Too has awakened that 20 year-old in all of us. We’re paying attention. We’re waiting for the moment where we can and will actually say “Why did you think it was OK to say that to me?” We’re waiting for the moment where we can and will say “You ignored me when I said no, and you need to understand that I will not accept that behavior from you.” We are gathering our courage, and we are using it.
Thank you to the millions of women and men who have said “me too.” Whether you said so publicly, or in a private conversation with a trusted friend, your story has been heard.
added on 08.01.18