A viral campaign that has been making the rounds on social media comes equipped with a hashtag and an attempt to bring attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse, both in the workplace and in personal life. It arose because of the not so secret secret of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein (no relation to this author) threatening and assaulting women.
On October 15th, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” She explained that a friend had suggested, “If all women 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.’”
In the wake of a myriad of sexual assault allegations against studio executive Harvey Weinstein, Milano’s tweet has more than 60,000 replies and counting.
This was the note I saw on a friend’s page:
(and I don’t know any women, who I am close to personally, who haven’t been sexually harassed, assaulted or abused)
***If all the women and men who have been sexually harassed, assaulted or abused wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
When I saw the post my initial thought was, “Oh, that’s never happened to me.” I even said that I felt blessed to be the exception to the rule, and then added that no one should be the exception and that no one should ever be threatened or assaulted for any reason. As far as I know, my salary range as a career social worker has not been lower than that of a man in the same position. I had not been asked to do anything sexual at risk of losing my job; and I have had many positions in various fields.
I’ve since re-thought this. The first few times I read it on friend’s pages, I denied that I had been in that category… repression, I guess. Although my situations were nowhere near what others have experienced, they existed. Unwanted attention and touch, more so when I was younger and didn’t want to make waves so didn’t speak up. When I took the time to turn back the clock, memories began to surface. Although they are not traumatic, I am surprised that I had kept them on the back burner for so long.
The first was when at a party, a man I didn’t know grabbed my buttocks. Freezing momentarily and then attempting to dismiss it in my mind, since it was so unexpected, I found my voice and told him to take his hands off my body and I stepped away. He muttered a lukewarm apology and said he didn’t think it would bother me and implied that it was a compliment.
Another incident arose when I was in a relationship with a man who had asked me to provide oral sex while he was driving. I felt coerced and did so, even though it jeopardized our safety. I felt embarrassment and shame afterward, not because of the act itself, but because I didn’t speak up for myself. The relationship ended shortly after for additional reasons.
Many years later, in my 50’s I found myself able to verbalize clearly my discomfort at a sexual approach. I was staying over a friend’s home and was already in bed. Another guest who was part of our circle of friends, walked into the room without knocking and proceeded to attempt to lie next to me and started caressing me. I told him to leave since I had not invited him. He continued to touch me and suggested that because I was such an open and affectionate person, it should be acceptable. At that point, I got out of bed and opened the door and told him loudly to leave. He left the house and I went to the room of my host and let him know what had happened. He was supportive and I felt like a trembling leaf. Over the years when this man showed up at other gatherings, I avoided him completely.
One job where I worked as a waitress, in my 20’s the male manager would give the waiters better shifts and tables than he did the waitresses. When a female manager came on board, that changed.
Not Just Something That Impacts Women
There are both women and men who I know who could easily write, ‘me too’. Sexual abuse and harassment are not limited to cis-gender heterosexual women, perpetrated by cis-gender heterosexual men. I have people in my circles who were abused by male and female perpetrators. They span the gender identity and sexual orientation spectrum. Although it is deeply challenging for female identified people to admit their #metoo status, it is even more stigmatizing for male identified people to stand up as well. It implies weakness to have been victimized. The men I know who have confessed their own history, are among the strongest, most solid that I know. Some are outspoken advocates for women and one used his martial arts training to teach self -defense classes for women.
Yet another male friend admitted that #iwashim as he stood by and didn’t stand up when he was aware of abuse being perpetrated by men against women. Many years later, he is claiming his role as an advocate for people who may not have the ability to protect themselves and encourages other men to do the same thing.
When I hear stories, my protective mama bear kicks in. As a therapist, I am privy to tale of abuse, assault, and micro-aggressions that people tend to put aside. My thought remains, “How dare you hurt that person?” How dare anyone purposely take away another person’s sense of safety or sovereignty?
What also became abundantly clear is that the well-intentioned campaign only scratches the surface of the problem. Now that we are becoming aware of the magnitude, the next step is to stop it. My take on it is that we are each responsible to each other. If you see something, say something. Speak truth to power. Risk pseudo safety for your own sake and that of others. We are living (those of us in the US) in a country whose leaders endorse this attitude and behavior and people look the other way, not wanting to jeopardize their standing. If it was you, wouldn’t you want someone to stand up for you? I would.
The campaign also may be perceived as putting the onus of responsibility of women to speak up about their history, when what truly needs to be done is for those who perpetrate to cease doing so and for those who are aware of it occurring to step in and also to call their peers on inappropriate language that demeans others. So-called ‘locker room talk,’ has been acceptable for years and feeds the rape culture that allows it to continue.
We need to take this issue out of the closet and make it part of everyday conversation to reduce victimization of people regardless of gender. No one has the right to access to your body unless you offer it. Consider this analogy about consent and a cup of tea and you will understand that only does no mean no, but only a solid, verbal yes means yes always and under all circumstances. If not, revert to no means no.