Yes, I’ve Been Sexually Harassed. No, I’m Not Posting “Me Too.”
I’ve been telling my stories for years. When will it finally matter?
When I was eight years old, an old man at my church kissed me and put his tongue in my mouth.
This man – let’s call him Hugh, because that was actually his name, and he’s almost certainly dead by now anyway – stalked me out every Sunday after the service ended. He’d grab me in a too-tight hug and ask, “where’s my kiss?” as the other congregants milled around us, making lunch plans.
I told my mother about Hugh and she frowned. She thought I must be exaggerating, but said to stay away from him if I didn’t want him to kiss me. I told my older sister and she said that yeah, Hugh gave really wet kisses, but he was a nice old man and didn’t mean anything by it. She laughed it off, and I laughed too – because if my big sister thought it was okay, then it must be okay.
That Christmas, Hugh and his wife gave me a Cabbage Patch Kid – something I’d been coveting for months, which I knew my parents would never buy for me. It was far too expensive, besides being trendy, ridiculous, and unnecessary. I still tried to avoid Hugh’s slobbery post-church kisses, but I decided my sister was right. He was a nice old man.
Last week, the avalanche of sexual assault allegations against Miramax co-founder and notorious creep Harvey Weinstein effectively bumped the Las Vegas shootings out of the headlines. Tweets calling for gun control were usurped by outrage over Rose McGowan – one of Weinstein’s most vocal accusers – being locked out of her Twitter account. Editorials popped up on every website and in major newspapers, as more and more women, including A-listers like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, spoke out about the harassment they’d experienced from Weinstein.
Mayim Bialik wrote a piece in the New York Times suggesting that if women don’t want to be assaulted, they should make “self-protecting and wise” choices like she has, such as reserving her “sexual self” for “private situations with those I am most intimate with,” dressing modestly, and not flirting with men “as a policy.”
Now my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of “me too” statuses, inspired by this note: “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me, too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
When I first saw the first “me, too” message, I cringed. It reminded me of the time we were all supposed to post what color bra we were wearing, in the name of “breast cancer awareness,” or those annoying statuses people post, asking friends to “copy and paste, don’t share – let’s see who will really do it.” But the “me, too” thing really took off. It’s everywhere.
Here’s the thing: I’ve already told my stories of sexual harassment and assault. For years. Over and over again. I’ve written about being raped, and catcalled, and abused. Now, a Facebook status is supposed to make a difference? Yeah, “me, too” – but anyone who knows me already know that.
Anyway, we’ve been here before. Exactly a year ago, in fact, when a tape came out in which Donald Trump said men could do whatever they want to women – “when you’re famous, they let you do it, you can do anything – just grab them by the pussy.” That sparked a trending hashtag, #notokay, in which millions of women shared their stories of sexual assault. It was supposed to be a watershed moment in which women came together, stood up, and declared, we will not tolerate this. We will not be silent. This must change. Instead, I was faced with telling my daughters America had elected Trump President of the United States.
So excuse me if I’m a little bit cynical.
Excuse me if I sound bitter, and angry, and just fucking fed up. Excuse me if I’m tired of talking about this shit.
I’ll tell one more story, though. It’s not an assault story, exactly. It’s not about the guy who jumped out from behind a tree with his pants around his knees and his dick in his hand when I was 20 years old, walking home in the wee hours of the morning, and it’s not about the guy who did the exact same thing a few months ago while I was running in the park in broad daylight.
No, this one is about the guys who’ve heard those stories over the years – the ones I’ve confided in about being raped, abused, assaulted, humiliated, violated – and who have leaned in close and put a hand on my knee, or a little too low on the small of my back, and told me they would never, ever do such a thing to me. I freeze up; they move their hand up my leg, or further down my back. They want me to know how sorry they are for what I’ve been through. They want to reassure me that I’m safe with them. These are the same guys hitting “like” on your “me, too” statuses and pledging their support.
Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe Mayim Bialik is right – I shouldn’t flash a grin when men tell me to smile, shouldn’t put so much effort into my looks, shouldn’t wear such low-cut tops. As women, we’re taught that our beauty is our entrée to the world; our sexual desirability is what makes us valuable. We’re supposed to make men want to have sex with us, but then not actually let them have sex with us. Because then we’re whores who were asking for it.
I know that all the women posting “me, too” on social media mean well. They hope it will make a difference. But thinking that Harvey Weinstein getting fired, and millions of people posting “me, too” will change our culture of misogyny is like thinking the murder of 20 young children in Sandy Hook, 49 people in Orlando, and 58 people in Las Vegas will cause the NRA to back down and the US to pass stricter gun control laws. It just isn’t going to happen. We already understand “the magnitude of the problem.” Clearly, we don’t care.
Responding to the Weinstein scandal, director and actor Sarah Polley wrote in the New York Times that in order for things to change, “we need to look at what scares us the most…What else are we turning a blind eye to, in all aspects of our lives? What else have we accepted that, somewhere within us, we know is deeply unacceptable? And what, now, will we do about it?”
I don’t know. I’m tired. But I’m not posting “me, too.”
Because I’ve done my part, and it hasn’t made a difference. Because I loved that Cabbage Patch doll, even if the price was letting an old man put his tongue in my mouth. Because, come on. We’ve known about this shit forever. And because next week, there will be a fresh news cycle and a new trending hashtag, and nothing will have changed…except Harvey Weinstein will be out of job – for now.
Images via giphy.com and twitter.com.
Comment: How do you feel about the “me, too” hashtag?