The first #metoo post in my feed made me think, “Good for her.” A friend was speaking the truth and being brave.
Then my sisters posted and my heart began to shatter. Somehow I'd never known their secrets.
When suddenly the voices were coming from all the corners of my life, I felt humbled. These weren’t the women who were always saying something, (although I admire their voices, also). These were women I rarely heard. That’s when I realized I had to say something, too.
I’ve spent my whole life not saying enough.
The little boy on the playground forced kisses on me as I hung high above the bark. I said nothing but let go and busted open my chin.
The boy behind me in Driver’s Ed humped the back of my chair and breathed heavily in my ear on a daily basis. I said nothing because I hoped it would make him go away.
The executive held his hand on my butt in the empty elevator. I said nothing because I felt embarrassed, and a little like maybe I had imagined it.
The group of drunk men threw food at me and called me a whore for not accepting their bottle of wine. I said nothing because I felt afraid. The rest of the restaurant validated my fear by pretending nothing was happening.
The list goes on, some stories worse (and more private) than these, but the theme remains the same. I said nothing. As a shy and introverted young woman, I wanted to defend myself, but I didn’t know how. No one had taught me. It all seemed so common. Something I had to work to avoid but not something I could stop myself.
I had never reflected on any of it until I took a human sexuality course in college. The professor went through a laundry list of things that counted as sexual assault and one event surfaced in my memories. When asked to stand if affected, I stood in a stadium, shoulder-to-shoulder, with practically the whole room. The feeling of connectivity was undeniable.
Still, I didn’t connect the dots to all the other times men had touched me inappropriately, or all the other times it would happen again. That’s the problem. I never saw it as one whole body of injustices inherent to a sexist society until #metoo started to fill my feed. So when other women complain we already know these things, I disagree.
For many of us, the years of mistreatment have been isolated in our minds as separate incidents instead of as one more thread woven into a society-wide tapestry of inequality. It wasn’t because some celebrity complained that I made this realization. I didn’t even know celebrities had anything to do with it. It was because real women in my life started to use their voices about an uncomfortable topic.
And I know uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. I’m sure there are countless women I know who will remain quiet because it’s too painful to participate, or because they’ve been conditioned to continue to say nothing because whenever they’ve found the courage to speak up nothing has changed. I get that and I don’t think they need to speak for the rest of us to be heard.
But, then there are those who ask, who is listening? And while we may never reach the good ol' boys who brag about grabbing women by the you-know-what, I’m confident we’re reaching people who matter. First, other women are listening and reflecting on how they’re raising their children, both male and female. Second, the men connected to all those women brave enough to speak are beginning to think about their own actions and how they’ll guide their children.
As I shared my stories with my husband, he was moved. He had never realized how many things had happened or how they made me feel. He also had never spent the time asking himself whether he had ever said or done anything, even seemingly minor, that made a woman feel that kind of discomfort. To me this is huge.
And, that’s the point. Whatever has been done to raise children in the past isn't working. Angry male shooters have shown us the same thing in an even more dramatic fashion. We’re out of balance as a society. If we don't reflect as women, as a collective body, on how we've been treated, nothing will ever change.
Which is exactly why #metoo matters. It’s for those girls and boys who haven’t been affected, yet. I can’t possibly tell my daughters to use their voices if I haven’t stepped up to use mine. I can’t guide them to identify mistreatment if I haven’t reflected on my own. Real conversations need to happen with our children, and then we need to lead by example with our own voices and in our own lives. Kids need adults to talk them through what to do in real life situations until those situations don’t exist anymore.
So for those who think maybe we're "squawking impotently,” you’re missing something. So many of us were never brave enough to say a thing, to post this kind of sexual topic on our walls, that a wave is finally turning inside of us. Maybe it's too painful for those who have been the most mistreated or come from the most conservative backgrounds, but that's why it's so important for those who feel compelled to speak to do so. We owe it to our children.