We can’t let the Me Too Movement go. Not yet, anyway.
There are some people who believe the Me Too Movement went too far in demonizing men, making them afraid to joke, compliment, touch, or otherwise interact with people who could be seen as potential sexual partners without explicit written consent.
To those men who are afraid of the Me Too Movement, I say, welcome to the club.
I don’t know why I needed to hear the words “me too” to speak up, but I did. And this is why we can’t let the Me Too Movement go, because people who have been victimized, violated, abused, or intimidated can’t continue to stay quiet, and we can’t continue to raise women in a world where they feel like sexualized second-class citizens.
The Me Too Movement was founded by activist (and survivor) Tarana Burke in 2006, to not only bring together resources and support for fellow sexual violence survivors but to also create a community of advocates. It sparked a virtual outcry against sexual assault, unwanted sexual advances, rape, and violence against women that was later identified by the use of the #metoo hashtag. The #metoo hashtag went viral in October of 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano, who was unaware of the movement, posted on social media in response to accusations against Harvey Weinstein. The hashtag caught on quickly as it was used millions of times over the next several weeks, and it sparked a national debate, which has continued ever since.
When the Me Too Movement hit the national news, I joined the millions who felt compelled to speak up. While I am not a victim of rape, I am a victim of sexual aggression and assault. I haven’t shared my experiences often, and I think my reason for silence is shared by many.
I have stayed silent because what happened to me was dismissed. I have stayed silent because when I shared my experiences, I wasn’t believed.
So here I will share just a few of my personal experiences, to highlight how often women can experience predation, how easily something can go too far, and how prevalent this behavior can be throughout a woman’s life.
I also want to take a moment to recognize that women are not the only victims of such abuse—there are many communities vulnerable to predation, including minorities, children, LGBTQIA+, and yes, even men.
Trigger warning: while none of what I’m about to share describes rape, it may still be upsetting.
When I was 10 years old, I met a boy through my brother that wanted to “go out” with me. After several phone conversations, he asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said yes. What exactly did it mean to “go out” at 10 years old? Well, mostly it meant long-winded phone calls with outstretched phone cords. There was very little in-person connection, but occasionally we held hands.
One day, my boyfriend’s sister had a birthday party, and I was invited to their house. At one point, we were running around the house playing hide and seek, and I went into a bedroom at the end of the hall to hide. I found my boyfriend in that room, as well as a few other boys.
After I entered the room, my boyfriend told one of the boys to shut the door and lock it.
I gave a funny look, like… why? Then he told the boys to throw me on the bed. They did. It happened so fast. I tried to scramble up and away, but he told them to hold me down. He said he wanted a kiss. I remember thinking, if all you want is a kiss, why are you trying to prevent my arms and legs from moving? Why are you forcing it, in a room with other boys?
I was scared. I was pinned down, and he was forcing himself on top of me, trying to kiss me as I did my best to move my head away from him. I started yelling and flailing my body, and I was able to break free from the bed. I couldn’t get to the locked door quickly enough, so I ran into the bedroom closet, but it was a door that didn’t lock. One of the boys came into the closet to pull me out. I looked at him and said,
Why are you doing this?
He just looked at me in a pleading way, like I was making him uncomfortable, but he was more uncomfortable with the idea of standing up to the others, and if I could just do him a solid by being complacent, that would really help him out.
I continued to yell, and eventually, the boys backed off long enough for me to unlock the door and leave the room.
To those boys, what happened seemed fairly harmless—even funny. My boyfriend just wanted a kiss. But even at 10, I knew that what happened was far more than a kiss. That was force. I told my boyfriend’s mother what he did. She just said, “Oh, you know, boys will be boys,” as a way of dismissing the behavior. I went home that day, broke up with that boyfriend (after giving him an earful over the phone), and I never spoke to him again.
Does this experience sound familiar? That’s because it is a little similar to what Christine Blasey Ford shared of her sexual assault experience, at great personal sacrifice to her privacy and safety. (And yes, I believe her.)
When I was 18, I worked at a less-than-glamorous motel as a front desk clerk. There was one weekend a year where the motel always booked solid, and that was the weekend of the big car show. That year, the motel had reserved all of the rooms before I even arrived for my shift (where I worked alone at the front desk until closing, which was at 10pm). One group of guests who were staying in several different rooms, were going to arrive late that night. My manager asked me to stay late to ensure they were checked in and received their room keys before I left to go home.
The guests arrived close to 11pm. When I opened the office door to check that they were all set, a few men approached me… laughing. The man in the front said that the light wasn’t working in his room. He was grinning, and I could smell alcohol on his breath. My instinct said not to trust him, but I was supposed to make sure he was okay in his room before I could leave. So, I responded that I would check the breaker.
As I walked across the parking lot to the utility closet, he followed me.
I paused and told the man, “No, I’ve got it, I’ll be right back.” After seeing that the breaker was fine, I turned around, and the man was right behind me. I saw several other men who were with him, hovering in the parking lot close by. They started laughing and saying “What are you doing, man?” So I looked at him and said, “Your light is fine.” He insisted that his light would not come on, and when he told me his room number, I realized he was staying in the one room that was located at the back of the building. You had to climb an indoor staircase to enter the room, which is what I would have to do to manually check his lights.
An alarm went off in my head. I did not believe there was anything wrong with his light, but I felt that I had to go—it was my job. I was nervous because I was alone, and if anything happened to me, would anyone even know? Would anyone even see me? I decided to run ahead of him, up the indoor stairwell, in order to check his light switch. One flick, and there was light.
I realized at that moment that I was right to be nervous.
As I turned around to go down the stairs, I saw that the man was halfway up the stairwell, staring at me, with a grin on his face. He looked at me and stretched his arms to touch both sides of the wall in order to block me from leaving. He didn’t say a word. In a split second panic, I decided to charge him. I ran down the steps towards him, shoved his arms and torso to the side of the stairs so I could squeeze past him. I ran to the front office, locked the door, and called the owner of the motel to report the guest.
Now, I probably should have called the police, but the man hadn’t technically done anything, and there were no witnesses to his attempt in the stairwell. I wasn’t sure what the police could even do. The owner assured me he would no longer rent to this group of people. He advised me to stay in the locked office until someone could pick me up. For a half-hour, I crouched in the dark office, listening to the laughter of the men as they hovered outside, terrified until my ride arrived.
When I was in college, I would spend most of my summer weekends at a friend’s house. At that time in my life, many of my friends were male. I was just “one of the guys”, or so I thought. Each weekend, we would play drinking games like Beirut, flip cup, and card games, or we would just hang out and watch movies. Since it was the summer and I was staying back home with my mom, and I didn’t have a car, I would usually opt to crash on the couch at my friend’s house. I had done this many times and always felt comfortable.
One night, I decided to meet up with my friends like usual. At some point in the evening, I became really tired. I wasn’t drunk, just really, really tired. One of my guy friends offered to let me sleep on the pull-out couch in his room instead of the living room couch, because everyone else was still hanging out in the living room. He said I could sleep quietly in his room, and he would, of course, sleep in his own bed. I remember having a moment of hesitation, but he was the same friend that once gave me a ride to safety after a near-attack at the motel where I worked.
I thought I could trust him.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt someone next to me. There was movement, and I realized there was a hand down my pants. I was confused for a moment because I remembered going to sleep alone, and I didn’t know who was touching me. I opened my eyes and saw the familiar face of my friend on the pull-out couch next to me. His bed was empty. I realized that he had one hand down my pants, and as I stirred my body slightly, he moved his other hand around my neck and down my shirt.
I was shocked, and scared. I had not invited him there. As I tried to pull away from him, he tightened the crook of his arm around my neck, placing me in a sort of chokehold. I couldn’t move without obstructing my airway.
I thought, if he is capable of molesting a sleeping woman—a woman who went to bed alone—he might be capable of anything.
I tried not to move and considered a strategy for escape. I decided to pretend like what was happening was “no big deal.” In that moment, self-preservation was far more important than outrage.
I slowly stirred my body as though I were just waking from sleep. Then I said, in as calm a tone as possible, that I had to use the bathroom. Once I was in the bathroom, with the door locked, I used my cell phone to call my mom. I told her where I was over whispers, and begged her to pick me up immediately.
Eventually, I had to leave the bathroom. I didn’t know what this person was capable of anymore, and I was afraid of how he might react to my fear. As I waited for my mom to arrive, I sat in the living room, not saying anything to acknowledge what had happened. I felt like a hostage as the “friend” insisted on waiting with me. Once I was safe in my mom’s car, I started to shake uncontrollably.
After a little while, my fear turned to anger. I told our mutual friends what had happened. Some of them believed me but shrugged in a, “well, what can I do?” kind of way. Some of them believed me but thought I must have misremembered part of what occurred and invited his behavior. Others didn’t believe me at all. I felt so furious and victimized further by those whom I had considered to be my friends.
About a month later, I received a phone call from this “friend.”
He said he was sorry that we weren’t friends anymore, and he was sorry that I was upset, but he didn’t understand why. It was his turn to pretend, as he seemed oblivious to what he had done. I asked him if he understood that what he did was wrong, and he apologized… but only for the “misunderstanding.”
I thought about reporting him to the police and to our college, but there was no physical evidence, and once again, I had no witnesses. The rest of my male friends either didn’t believe me, or weren’t willing to publicly take my side. I felt powerless.
I wish I could say that these were the only times in my life that I have experienced sexual assault in some manner, but that would be a lie. I’ve experienced many unwanted touches and instances of sexual aggression in my life. I just never thought about them too much until the Me Too Movement brought so many others’ experiences into the light.
I am in no way sharing this to demonize men.
Some of my closest friends are men, and I’m married to a man that I’ve trusted to keep me safe since day one. I judge individuals for their actions, not their gender. But did I grow a thick and suspicious skin because of these experiences? Yes. To this day, I can’t walk outside of my house at night to walk my dog without fear of who may be lurking there. That may be an irrational fear, but it’s a deeply rooted one, and I’ve heard from so many other women who share this exact same fear.
The thing is, we dismiss most of these experiences, particularly the microaggressions, as just part of what it means to be a female or a member of a vulnerable community. Without bruises or witnesses, my experiences were dismissed, either by me or by “friends”.
Women are raised to always “be careful,” to watch how we dress, and to never walk alone. As females, we are sexualized whether we want it or not. If something terrible does happen, we are socialized to keep it quiet, because our reputation may be ruined, we will be judged, we won’t be believed, and we could put ourselves in further danger.
I’m not saying that I never put myself in risky situations. To be sure, I did. That is particularly true when alcohol was involved. But did that make any predatory behavior toward me acceptable? No. Never. The argument that women sometimes put themselves in situations where they could be assaulted or raped, is victim-blaming. Those harmful statements place responsibility on the shoulders of the victim, and it gives the predator a pass for bad behavior.
Ask yourself, why should someone’s gender even make a situation “risky”?
This is why the Me Too Movement can’t move on. It can’t go away. We need to keep a light on predatory behavior because if we allow it to continue unacknowledged, it will continue to propagate like an invasive weed. We have to speak up, because like with so many social issues in our lives, silence is complicity. Silence allows abuse and violence to thrive from generation to generation. It allows people to feel comfortable standing silently by when we need people to feel empowered to stand up, speak out, and to protect the sanctity of each individual’s body.
As the mom of a young boy, I worry what social constructs he will learn throughout his life that will guide his decision-making toward women or other vulnerable communities in the future.
His father and I play an essential role in guiding him on what is proper behavior, but his peers will play a huge role too. I need all of you to consider your roles as well—we all have to guide our little humans toward equality and away from privilege, toward respect, and away from entitlement. We have to be brave and call out injustices. We have to ensure that those most vulnerable to predation don’t grow up afraid to walk their dogs alone in the dark.