Perhaps you've been on Facebook lately and seen your friends posting statuses with the words "Me Too." Maybe they've posted explanations or rally cries for others to speak out about their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault. Maybe you've been wondering why this matters.
Last week, I spent the evening on a restaurant's pack porch under the glow of cantina lights drinking red wine with three of my girlfriends. We had just come from workshop, so we were discussing our pieces, the ones we had just given and received feedback for, and the ones due for the next week. One person said they were considering writing a "Me Too" essay. I seconded her, saying I had been thinking about writing a blog post about it for a while.
I hadn't though. Every time I tried to write it, I couldn't. I've spoken about sexual harassment, about being made to feel less than at my job, but I couldn't write about it. What if he read it? What if he confronted me about it? What if, what if what if. And this is the problem. Women are afraid to speak about their own experiences because of the repercussions, perceived or otherwise. White supremacists marched in Charlottesville without hoods, their faces in plain sight, yet we are still afraid to admit that we have experienced sexual harassment or assualt, even if we don't name the perpetrator.
In the soft glow of the evening, we sat at that back table, each telling stories of times we were harassed or assaulted, and the common thread I noticed was the paralysis that sets in. We are strong women. We know how to say no, know how to stand up for ourselves, but often, this is not enough. There's a certain claustrophobia that accompanies sexual harassment, a feeling that prevents you from handling the situation with a clear head. It's a visceral reaction to the exact moment that your lack of privilege is exploited, that his privilege is flaunted.
It's being singled out at a faculty meeting for looking tired.
It's when you need allergy medicine and you ask your boss if you can go to CVS on your lunch break and he says that he understands because his wife and daughter both have periods.
It's being told you should wear your hair down more at the office because it suits you better.
It's when your boss leans in close to your face to see if you're wearing makeup, as if that determines how well you do your job.
It's a guy in a bar thinking he has the authority to put his hand on your lower back to start a conversation you never wanted to be part of.
It's being in a room with two women and two men and having a man say to your face that "there's only two people in the room capable of moving furniture around," and then dragging a table across the floor by yourself to prove a point.
It's being frustrated with a friend and having them blame it on your "lady problem."
It's refusing to hand over your number to a stranger in a bar, and him responding "fuck you, then."
It's this and a million other things.
The women with whom I spent hours on the back porch with inspire me daily. They write the hard things. The important things. They challenge me to write better, to think better, to be better. And they deserve better. I deserve better.
We deserve to be complimented on our intelligence. We deserve to be recognized for our job performance. We deserve to have our "no" mean "no." We deserve to have our emotions perceived as legitimate rather than hormonal. We deserve to choose how and when and to whom we give out our number at a bar.
Nothing in this world has ever changed by people remaining silent.
So yeah, me too.