The #MeToo campaign–which encourages women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to speak out to show how widespread the problem is–has made me stop and think. I’m not going to detail any horrific incidents in this post, but if you find the #MeToo conversation triggering you might still want to skip it.
When Twitter broke out in #MeToos, my first instinct was to feel incredibly lucky that I’ve never been sexually harassed or assaulted and sad and angry for all the people who have been.
We shouldn’t have to live in a world where women are lucky if they’ve never been sexually assaulted. That should be all women.
Then I read more #MeToo stories, and I started to remember my own. Nothing dreadful or psychologically scarring, but unpleasant little incidents, things that are not okay.
My #MeToo stories
The homeless guy who came into the foyer of my work and touched my crotch in what I believe was an entirely misguided attempt to give me pleasure so I would give him some change.
Um, dude, it so doesn’t work like that.
The bunch of Hispanic men in hoodies and ripped jeans hanging out in a carpark who called out lewd remarks as I cycled past.
Definitely not a compliment. Terrifying.
I was an adult, but I was new in America and had never heard of catcalling, and I seriously thought they might chase and attack me.
Even if I’d known what catcalling was, I might have thought the same.
The two boys at school who grabbed their friend’s hands to force him to touch my crotch and chest.
I hit both of them and threatened to get them expelled, and they decided it was safer to leave me alone.
The guy in the club who asked me if I liked pain, then whipped my butt with what I think was a length of electrical cord.
One of the many reasons I never went to clubs much.
The creepy old guy I sat next to and politely engaged in conversation at a conference dinner, who took my civilised conversation as an invitation to grope my thigh under the table for the next hour and follow me and my (mostly male) friends to four bars as we repeatedly left without inviting him, who somehow maintained the deluded idea that the only way the evening could end was with me in his bed.
There are others.
The weird psychological stuff that goes with such incidents
I never told anyone about the homeless guy, the schoolkids, the guy in the club, or the men in the carpark.
I did think about reporting the homeless guy, and in fact I walked past a police officer on my way home straight after the incident and considered telling him. I didn’t.
There were lots of reasons. I’d had a long day at work and just wanted to go home; I didn’t think the police officer would care or do anything about it; and I’m shy, most of my experiences with the police have been negative, and he looked kind of busy, so I didn’t feel inclined to approach him.
Sure, I could have gone to a police station later. But really? The police are so under-resourced they can’t even solve murders. They’re so not going to anything about this kind of incident. And it was embarrassing.
I told my friends about Creepy Conference Guy at the time. They were there and saw how predatory he was being anyway.
What I have the hardest time getting my head around is my reaction to him, and that’s where #MeToo opened my eyes.
Physically, I’m a fairly confident person. I’m not that big, but I’ve trained in martial arts for more than twelve years and I know I can put up enough of a fight to deter all but the most determined attacker.
On the other hand, I’m rather shy so I’d prefer not to draw attention to myself, and I’m a total people-pleaser. Dangerous.
The day after the incident with Creepy Conference Guy, I was talking with my work friends about it, joking about what a total creep he was and how he seemed to have no concept of the fact I was utterly uninterested in him even after I got up and walked away from him multiple times.
Their responses made me uncomfortable for no reason I could put my finger on.
Friend 1: Did you tell him to stop touching you?
Me: I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Why didn’t I?
Friend 1: Why not?
Me: I knew I’d had quite a bit to drink–like, three or four glasses of wine–and that my judgment was impaired, and I didn’t want to make a scene by punching him in the face or anything. I figured if I totally ignored him he’d the get point and go away.
Friend 2: You should report him.
Me, uncomfortable: Meh. To who?
I didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t want to bring it to the attention of more people. #MeToo showed me how utterly normal that response is.
Then there was my lack of reaction.
You hear stories about women who are raped and don’t fight back. Some don’t even say no. That doesn’t mean they want it.
I never used to understand this. Of course I’d fight back, I told myself. After mulling over my own experience, I think I understand a little more. A freeze response kicks in–it did with me–and I would guess it could be a lot stronger if you fear for your life.
Then there’s the social aspect. I was at a professional function, sitting through speeches. It’s hard to break out of “normal, polite mode” and kick up a fuss. What if you upset or offend him? What if it’s just a misunderstanding?
It’s easy to say what a victim “should” have done, but it’s never as simple as it sounds.
Then in the aftermath it was embarassing. I was the person who’d had this gross man pawing at her leg all night.
It was easy to reach a point of blaming myself. I should have told him firmly “no” right at the start. I shouldn’t have drunk so much. (But boring conference dinner!) I shouldn’t have been so friendly in my professional chit-chat. (Oh, the danger of a smile.) I shouldn’t have sat down next to a stranger in an attempt to network.
But that’s ridiculous, and #MeToo has made me realise exactly how ridiculous it is.
Professional, friendly conversation is not an invitation to grope a woman. If she gets up and leaves without a word or backwards glance, especially if she does it more than once, chances are she doesn’t want you to follow.
Are some men really this clueless? I guess they are. I can only hope that after the #MeToo campaign fewer men will fall into this category.
Am I part of the problem?
The longer the #MeToo conversation went on and the more I read about people’s experiences, the more I started to wonder if I’m part of the problem.
I tell myself I would never victim blame, but I’ve also never been one to walk alone at night, go home with strangers, frequent clubs (twice doesn’t count), or do many other things that I’d consider risky behaviours.
Yes, women should be able to walk alone at night without concern, but I’m not so naive that I think we live in that world. I think women who do certain things are increasing their risk of ending up in a bad situation. Is that anti-feminist?
I’ve laughed at sexist jokes. I’ve been flattered by a professor making what were probably inappropriate comments. I’ve thought sexual harassment in the workplace was over and “rape culture” was an exaggeration.
After watching the progression of the #MeToo campaign, I don’t any more.
I hope this movement doesn’t just fizzle out, that it has far-reaching effects on society.
I might not be able to ensure it changes the world, but I can make sure it changes me. From now on I will be more vigilant watching for everyday sexism and will challenge the people who perpetuate it.
Has the #MeToo movement affected how you think about society’s attitude towards women?
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