I know I’m a little late on this. The moment is kinda passed. But is it ever really passed? I still get catcalled walking down the street, so apparently, harassment is still a thing. The fight against it should be too.
This is my #MeToo…
I was 10 the first time a boy (yes, a boy, he was actually younger than me) displayed an overt interest in my body or at least parts of it. Specifically, my breasts (which didn’t exist) and my legs. We were at a pool, he was the son of my mom’s church friend and the pastor’s grandson. He would go under the water, ogle me, and then come back up, wiggle his eyebrows and say completely benign things. He was, after all, a child, but so was I, and I was embarrassed and uncomfortable. I told him to stop multiple times, this just fueled him on. Both our mothers were nearby, neither said anything.
I was 11 when my school’s band teacher casually rested his hand on my backside while reviewing my weekly practice log. I assumed it was an accident, and I was too embarrassed to say anything. It wasn’t until the end of the year I heard other girls commenting on how pervy he was, and I knew I wasn’t the only one.
I was 12 when during an end of year class party the boy who had harassed me so much my mother had to have a meeting with the principle and my teachers got one of the other boys to dare him to kiss me. A classmate physically restrained me with the intention of forcing me to participate. That day, I had my first lesson in self-defense.
I was 14 the first time I was labeled as “jailbait”, not fully comprehending what that meant. I knew the man was not necessarily hitting on me but was acknowledging an interest or a desire for me. The term I knew carried the insinuation of the age of consent and statutory rape laws, but at the time I was unable to recognize the full implications of what was being said to me. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure I fully understand to this day.
I was 19 when I realized if I wore a ring, it could be on the wrong hand or even the wrong finger as long as there was a ring, the men on the bus wouldn’t ask me to marry them, date them, cuddle with them, or sleep with them. Instead, they would ask if “he” treated me well and knew how lucky “he” was. Sometimes they would ask about specific things they hoped “he” did for me, but at least they weren’t asking for my number.
My list could continue and the gaps in the timeline filled with more moments, but the shame and embarrassment is still too strong for some. I don’t want to feel like I need to explain that “no, I wasn’t assaulted, but a line was still crossed” or that “some people have a poor understanding of boundaries and the comments were just words and nothing more.” I don’t want to explain my experiences or feel the need to cover for them. I have included the ones that I felt speak for themselves with no further explanation. Maybe someday I’ll feel more prepared to handle the others, maybe I’ll just continue to hope I can forget them.
There have been plenty of moments in the past decade, but none that I recall as clearly as these. Maybe they weren’t as extreme, a casual catcall or an instruction to smile. Or, just maybe, by the time I was in my twenties the comments, lewd remarks, and the uncomfortable stares were so commonplace in my everyday life that they failed to make an impact on me anymore. Honestly, it could be either, but I’m inclined to the latter.
Sexual harassment is such a normal part of everyday life, even with the raised awareness and the education of both men and women about it, I still at times feel like I don’t fully get the problem. It’s ingrained as normal so far that I don’t always recognize it until after the moment’s past. Even if I do recognize it, I very often have an irrational fear of stopping it. I avert my eyes and pretend I don’t see it. If I don’t acknowledge it then it’s not real, it isn’t what it seems, it isn’t happening. What if it wasn’t what it looked like? Boy, would I be embarrassed then, calling out a man for doing nothing wrong.
I know this aversion to speaking up in the moment is not only my problem. I see it around me from both women and men. Yes, even the good ones. I see it in men who don’t want to confront their buddies.
Okay, one last story…
I was seeing a guy and had just recently met his best friend. I was talking to someone who out of the blue decided to comment on my breasts. This was not a new thing for this particular person, I’m usually able to deal with it just fine. This time was different because what I wasn’t expecting was the best friend of the guy I was seeing to join in on the laughter and comments. I handled the moment as best I could (god, why do I have to blush so easily) and quickly exited the scene. The guy I was seeing was in the next room within earshot. I immediately text him “Did your friend really just join in on commenting about my breasts?! [angry emoji]”
“Uuumm….I don’t know”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, sums up the problem with the “not all men” argument.
This same man that I was seeing would normally make comments about my breasts and I didn’t mind, because, I mean, we were sleeping together I had no issue with his interest in my body. But after several days of dealing with an inordinate amount of unwanted comments and unwanted attention even his comments made me feel dirty. And I couldn’t explain it to him, all I could do was tell him to stop and get away before I started crying. He didn’t understand the problem, or what he’d done, and I couldn’t find the words. I don’t think he would have understood anyway, and he certainly wouldn’t have known how to handle it. (Seriously guys, sometimes “support” just means an innocent hug, without you trying to grope us. We aren’t always expecting you to go fight someone.)
I sit here and I write this, I read it over with tears in my eyes. I know this is normal-not-normal. This is the story of every woman. The gaps in the timeline, the missing events would be different for everyone. Some worse than others, some would include a rape or another form of assault. In that sense I’m lucky, and that hurts.
I don’t want to be “lucky” that my breasts were just stared at instead of forcibly touched. I don’t want to be “lucky“ that the man on the bus just asked questions and didn’t touch himself or follow me home. I don’t want to be ”lucky“ that every time I’ve walked home alone at night I arrived unscathed, unraped. I don’t want to be “lucky”, I want to be safe. And I want other women to be safe too.