On Sunday October 15, the hashtag #MeToo took hold of Facebook. In case you are not aware, this is what it means:
If all the 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.
This hashtag, and the ensuing avalanche of women posting it, were in response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and assault scandal that, some say, may be a tipping point for workplace harassment. I am sorry to say I don’t think that is true. There may be a slight drop in incidents, but men are still in charge, most places, and will still use their power to control and intimidate and harass women.
While sexual harassment may be a bigger problem in Hollywood – and, it must be said, politics – than in other industries, women are faced with harassment every day just by walking out their front door. It happens at work, to be sure, but it happens, especially for young women, in little and big moments far too often. On the downside of my 50’s, I am rarely subjected to this kind of behavior anymore, but I wince when I remember the many, many times I’ve been leered at, catcalled, groped or propositioned. Men of all ages – from 13 to ancient – felt it was their right to ogle my body just because it was there.
The first time it happened I was 11 years old and walking home from the corner variety store. I had a paper bag with Archie comic books and a Bonomo Turkish Taffy, still very much a child despite my early developed body. I can still remember how shocked – and scared – I was when men who were doing construction work began to whistle and make comments. A cliched situation, but for me, an 11 year old girl with no awareness of my sexuality and still playing with Barbie dolls, it is something I will never forget.
I’ve talked to a few men about this since the Weinstein scandal broke. What I’ve come to understand from my limited survey is that because men, for the most part, are not victims of sexual assault or harassment, they have no idea what it feels like to be a young, vulnerable person, unsure how to deal with a bigger, often older, usually more powerful man when he decides he wants what you have and lets you know it, whether through words or actions. He isn’t giving you – the person you are, the woman you are, the human being you are – a thought – he’s just thinking of breasts and vaginas and asses and legs and how much he wants to touch them – because you, as a person, a woman, a human being – you don’t matter. Men just don’t know what this humiliating and disturbing experience is like.
After that first time, I experienced intrusive, abusive behavior and harassment a lot. In 8th grade, some of the older boys decided it would be ok to grab my breasts because, well, they were big and they were there. My response? I giggled and turned away, because I wanted to be liked and I didn’t get that this kind of thing – touching me without my permission – was a problem. I wasn’t the only girl among my friends who this happened to. It seemed to be some sort of “normal.”
I welcomed the inappropriate behavior of boys and young men because, you see, I wanted the attention. I didn’t understand yet that when boys made comments about my body, it wasn’t meant to flatter. I didn’t understand yet that my body was not there for the entertainment of horny high school and college boys. I didn’t understand at first, but I learned.
My first boyfriend, who I fell in love with when I was 17, was violent with me – once. He threw me down on the floor in my dorm room at college and spent the next 4 months, until I finally broke up with him, apologizing for it. My next serious relationship came to an end in a bad way, after he shoved me when I was standing at the top of the stairs of our shared apartment. Fortunately I caught myself, but when I saw him a few months later at a fraternity party, he spit in my face.
I married him a few years later, but it only lasted 13 months. I still can’t believe I let him back into my life.
When I was working at a shoe store in college, my boss would grab my leg while I was climbing the ladder to get a box from a top shelf. He would put a hand on my back and rub up and down, and he let me know he wanted more. I resisted and resisted and in the end he fired me.
All of these things happened to me before I was 21.
When I was growing up in the 1970’s there was no one telling me that women can be anything and do anything. There was not much expected of me, and it felt like, more than it should have, that my value was connected to my attractiveness. I don’t think I really understood how it felt to be loved and respected by a man for who I am until I met my husband.
Even as I sit here writing this I am overwhelmed with anger and disappointment – not only in the men who treated me like shit, who hurt me and mocked me and threatened me and, literally, spit on me, but I am also angry and disappointed in myself for putting up with so much emotional and physical mistreatment. I wish, more than anything – more than retribution for the things done or a stronger sense of self at a younger age – I wish I could stop feeling humiliated and belittled by these memories. I wish I had been able to fight back.