- Me (and maybe you, too)
Trigger warning: this letter digs into the prevalence of rape culture and sexual harassment/assault. It’s not a total downer, but I know these issues are so deep and tender that they may take you somewhere you’re not ready to go just yet. I won’t be offended at all if you stop right here and put this away for another time.
I know we’ve only been corresponding for a few months now, and this might even be the first, but this letter talks about some things I hadn’t planned on digging into. I had a whole plan for this month’s letter and it was about being busy - too busy. Reading my drafted ideas now, they seem so silly and empty - it’s clear I was writing without a real heart-connection to the topic. That’s just how I operate. I can do all the drafting and preparation for weeks on end, but in the end it comes down to one idea smacking me in the face, stopping me in my tracks, and the thing is banged out in under an hour.
That was a poor choice of phrase, in hindsight. But, as you’ll notice, I’m keeping it. I’m not going back. These letters are going forward and “backspace” isn’t getting much use. It’s too easy to backspace the whole darn thing, and I cannot do that. Not this time.
If you were anywhere on social media last month you may have seen the words “me, too” come across your feed. Maybe you saw it once, maybe you saw it dozens of times. Maybe you saw it and thought “me, too” to yourself but didn’t - couldn’t - put it out there. Maybe you saw it and thought, “I had no idea.” Maybe you saw it and weren’t surprised at all, not one bit. Maybe you felt frozen. Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about, so let me back up.
Women everywhere began posting #metoo in response to recent - though, really, it’s been happening since the beginning of time - revelations of misogynistic, sexually predatory behavior on behalf of, shockingly, a Hollywood mogul. Last weekend an actress tweeted that women should come out saying “me, too” if they had experienced sexual harassment or assault “so we could get an idea of the magnitude of the problem.” And, actually, this movement began 10 years ago with another female activist. Though, I think I’d argue we’ve all been participating in our own #metoo movement anytime we’ve encountered or witnessed the pain of another sister due to gender discrimination, harassment, or assault. It’s just been quiet. Silent.
I sat silently all day watching as “me, too” popped up more and more. It took me awhile before I realized I wasn’t joining in because I was scared… of what, though? Of people knowing that I, too, have been a victim? I have never been raped, but I have been assaulted. God damn, that’s hard to type. (No backspace, though, remember?) And I have experienced harassment on many occasions. I don’t like being touched, even by the men closest in my life. I am leery of men. And of course not all men are predators. Of course. But it only takes one gut-wrenching, earth-shattering, throat-freezing moment to change your world - and you - forever, and frankly, some men give me the creeps.
I’m sorry. I know a few of you are men. I see you. I really do. And I am so grateful you’re sticking with me here and reading all of this. It is important. Except, hold up, I’m not sorry! I’m not sorry for my feelings and the way I’ve learned to survive. What I meant to say is that I’m not trying to generalize an entire gender and discount the wonderful, earth-changing-in-a-good-way dudes that I know - the dudes that you are, if you’re reading this and are, in fact, a dude. I don’t want you to feel attacked. I know what that’s like.
While I won’t go into the details of my assault, I will say that it paralyzed me on the inside while outwardly I kept going through motions, wondering what the hell had just happened. Was it me? Was I overreacting? Surely they wouldn’t have assaulted me, it must not have been assault. This must be what people do. It must be normal.
Except it never felt normal and 15 years later it’s still something I won’t describe. I have told precisely zero people about it. Except, now, you kind of know! It feels weird and a little better but also not really that different. It still gives me the gut-feels. It still made me freeze up and hesitate before posting my own #metoo a day later with a brief preamble about how hard it was for me. I wrote about how I absorbed the strength of all my sisters, all the pioneer women, who were saying “me, too” until I was brave enough to say it for myself. Because shame is real and sexual harassment/assault is deep and cuts to the very heart of who we are - it attacks our personhood.
I mean, why are we so systemically terrified of speaking up? Let’s count the reasons: We are ignored. We aren’t heard. We are dismissed. We are blamed. We are shamed. We are threatened. We are attacked again. We are scared into silence and shamed into secrecy. I don’t need to go into the heartbreaking reasons why this happens. You know. And if you don’t, again with the Google.
You see, shame is isolating, and what is more shameful that sexual harassment or assault? Except it shouldn’t be. Shame is the liar, not the victims. I’ll say it again: Shame is a liar.
Shame is a weapon used by the insecure to assert their power and dominance over someone else.
My experiences of assault and harassment? Not my fault. Being sexually assaulted doesn’t make me dirty or tainted or broken-beyond-repair. Being harassed while I’m out for a run or, you know, pumping gas, is not my fault. I could wear a revealing tank top or a bikini for both activities – any assault or harassment is still not my fault.
The willful actions of another person are never my fault.
Too often the language surrounding sexual violence places the onus of responsibility on the woman—or the girl—as though we have the power to control someone else’s behavior. Over the past few months I’ve become quite certain of this truth: I only have control over my own actions, my own choices, my own behavior. I think a fair percentage of us really do believe somewhere deep down that we can control things beyond ourselves.
I may not have thought this consciously, but I think I felt it deep down, like a security blanket. I believed, deep down, I could control the people closest to me. I could control the people and the circumstances so as never to feel the pain of loss or betrayal or whatever.
It didn’t work.
Now, yes, I can try to be mindful of situations that are more risky and less safe—I can be mindful of situations where sexual harassment and assault are more likely to occur—but ultimately a predator is going to hunt anywhere they can, whenever they can, and for anyone they can. Even in the middle of the day at the grocery store. So perhaps the onus of responsibility shouldn’t be on the victim, and efforts for prevention shouldn’t be solely focused on how to avoid being assaulted. Maybe, maybe, we should teach our sons and daughters how to be good people. How to be kind people. How to be feeling people. How to recognize when they feel afraid or hurt or frustrated and to deal with it constructively instead of bottling everything up until the anger and insecurity boils over in a thousand awful, destructive ways. How to be the kind of people who deal constructively with adversity and never feels the need to dominate and violate another human being just to feel some semblance of control.
Real power is in the owning of our feelings. The speaking up and saying “me, too” and “I believe you” and “never again.”
I guess it’s time to wrap this up. Friend, let’s work on being the kind of people we needed when we were younger, the kind of people who recognize when we’re afraid or hurt and who are vulnerable and authentic and loving and kind.
Until next time.