When the #metoo social media campaign started a few weeks back in response to now fallen into disgrace sexual predator Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, I sat amazed and stunned at the strength and courage of women to come forward publicly and let the world know about their life experience.
Like breathing, sexual assault and sexual harassment seem to be a norm — I soon found this out the more I stuck to social media and watched the comments of women near and far. #metoo. Hundreds of women I know around the world were chiming in for a sentence or two of their experiences — some I knew about and some I didn’t know about.
What struck closer to home though was how many women literally closer to home put up the #metoo hashtag and told their stories.
My own story I left vague online — perhaps because there’s not just one story, but a series of vignettes, instead, of my life as a woman. Any woman’s life as a woman. Some are slice of life tales — a word or comment here and there a man felt it necessary to say that left me cringing.
Some are the criminal — the older boy twice my height and size who entered our apartment and pushed me onto the floor afterschool; the early boyfriend who forced me to have sex — which only now I recognize as rape, but could never say the word at the time.
These incidents occurred in places that are supposed to be safe: Homes.
Perhaps this is why it’s 3:17 a.m. and I’m at the Amtrak station in Chico, alone, and I do not feel that nervous worry one is supposed to have if a woman, if alone in public in the wee hours of the morning. For good measure, I’ve distributed cash and ID among my two bags and purse lest someone decided to rob me I won’t be left with nothing. But my body I’m less worried about. I’m not in anyone’s house or car and that is where evil lurks in my experience, my subconscious.
As I write this, more men in high places are being outed for their criminal behavior. I’d say “bad” behavior, but that’s too sexy, too forgiving. I’m glad they are being outed. I’m glad we are beginning to see that this isn’t isolated and this isn’t limited to one political party or another.
I’m glad we’re realizing that the perpetrator is not the thug we’ve imagined in our head, the stranger danger we’ve been led to believe will come for us — but instead realizing it’s the men we work with, live with, live near.
Perhaps we will begin to digest the statistics — it’s literally who you know.
The other day, a man I respect lamented that this age is an impossible era to date in now that he’s a single man. He assumes any flirtation from him to a woman might be taken as lechery.
I’m a natural born eavesdropper. My ears grow larger in the market and on the barstool. He’s not alone in his fear — and of going back through his years of work wondering if he’s ever said the wrong thing.
It’s the men who don’t go through this process of wondering that I worry about the most.
I was once fired from a job for complaining about the naked Polaroids the owner of the establishment had up in the one bathroom.
A female employer once had me book her breast reduction surgery for her while exclaiming she couldn’t wait to get it because who can take a woman with large breasts seriously? I was larger than she was and she knew it and said it anyway.
I once took a Tai Chi class in the city and the instructor repositioned my body in mid-position, making sure to touch my behind. When I called him on it and moved, he informed me that I was giving off “sexual energy” that led him on. I quit going to class.
In college, after a final in abnormal psychology, the professor handed me my final grade and then asked me out to dinner and told me he’d been thinking of me all semester. I switched back to being an English major and avoided him and took in the irony that he taught abnormal psyche.
What do these things have in common? The ability and the potential act of derailing a woman from her path.
A friend of mine and I once joked in our late 20s that we must have had signs on our foreheads that said, “Say bad things to me.”
I had hoped becoming fatter and older would shield me from such things. I have been wrong many times. It is a myth we tell ourselves — that it’s about youth and taut bodies. But it’s not. It’s just about power. Power to make the other person feel bad about themselves; power to make the other person feel less than they are.
The Weinsteins and the Trumps of the world have admitted in their own predatory words, it’s about power over the powerless — and in many circles, we women are still viewed that way. But that hashtag? That’s powerful stuff. That acknowledgement that we’ve all been there and that part of womanhood is the endurance and a will to live and overcome the power others attempt to exert over us.
That’s why seeing the #metoo hashtag all over social media posts of Plumas County women made me blush with pride, awe and respect. There are so many survivors up here — a testament to that edge one gets in a region where regardless of gender you’ve got to split wood and make fires.
What I worry about now, of course, is our daughters. I worry that the relentless begging of their male compatriots for nude photos on their phones. I worry — not unlike my own generation — that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I’ve been worried about our sons and the culture telling them it’s OK to be entitled to women’s bodies.
But #metoo gives me hope that we’re headed in the right direction. That perhaps by coming forward in this unsettling way we learn something about ourselves and how we have related and survived in this world. It’s good for our children — especially our daughters — that they are not alone in being creeped out by the lewd comments. Or when those in power around them downplay the trauma of assault for the sake of their institutions. For all you women who #metoo’d? Thank you. Your collective voices are loud and clear.