…obviously, me too.
While all of my friends have been posting their #metoo statuses over the past few days, I’ve found myself unable to process what I was feeling. I knew this happened to all women, it wasn’t surprising. But I was confused, angry, sad. I wanted to say me too. I felt I needed to say me too. I think it’s important to say it, to speak up. If for no other reason than that so women know they aren’t alone. And we need to draw attention to a major problem in our society. We need to fix this.
But for some reason, like so many other women, I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t simply say “me too” without adding the disclaimer that others have been through worse. Without second guessing myself. Was I somehow asking for it? Does that even count? Will anyone believe me? What if this just gets twisted into another political argument with two sides so that we all fight each other instead of talk about the actual problem? Is it even worth discussing, knowing that this movement will likely be hijacked and given a divisive label, so that people know which side they should be on and who to hate?
Will anyone even care?
This has been a topic of discussion with nearly every woman I’ve talked to over the past few days, though none of us really want to talk about it. We are all questioning ourselves. But at the same time, we are boldly sharing our stories with our friends, exposing our scars, and confidently telling each other, “that was absolutely not okay,” “that should have never happened,” and “yes, that definitely counts.”
These were the answers to our own questions too, of course. But we are constantly taught, both directly and indirectly, that boys will be boys and it’s up to us to stop them from touching, drugging or raping us. So much so that we even start to question and doubt ourselves when these things happen to us. We ask ourselves what we did wrong.
The way the stories are told – there is always some reason to blame the victim, some way to make it their fault, some way they could have prevented it.
Why did you let him buy you a drink? Why did you let him take you to dinner if you weren’t planning on spending the night? But you had sex with him before, how was he supposed to know that it wasn’t okay now? Why did you let yourself get drunk? Why were you wearing that dress if you didn’t want that kind of attention? Why did you get in the car with him? Why were you walking home by yourself after dark?
We are asked these questions as if the obvious consequence of any of these actions is rape. And so, naturally, we can only blame ourselves, because they’re right – if we hadn’t agreed to go out with them, they couldn’t have raped us. And if we hadn’t let them buy us a drink, they couldn’t have drugged us. And if we could just make sure that we’re home before dark every night…
Over the past few days, I’ve become more and more horrified as I’ve come to the slow realization that apparently many men didn’t know it was this bad. Or they’re claiming not to have known. They’re condemning the men who do this, implying that they themselves have not participated, that they’re one of the “good guys.” Similar to all those celebrities who said they had no idea Harvey Weinstein had done any of that. We all knew that was bullshit. But now we are seeing the exact same thing play out on our social media feeds, men all over the world saying, “that’s horrible, I had no idea!”
I’m calling BS. You knew it happened. You’d heard the statistics. You’ve seen it happen, witnessed it, discussed it in the locker room, and didn’t speak up against it. You’ve either been an active participant or have observed it from the sidelines. But now…. now you are completely shocked by the number of women saying me too?
I was not shocked. I highly doubt any woman was shocked. I would be more surprised if there was a woman in my life who hasn’t experienced this. What is shocking to me is the number of men who say they had no idea it was such a problem. And the fact that now women are having to relive their trauma, put themselves in a vulnerable situation again, be made to feel uncomfortable–in order to prove, at a global level, that we are not lying, and we did not ask for this. In hopes that maybe if men see that this actually affects real women in their lives, women that they actually know, they’ll start taking it seriously.
If nothing else, they can no longer say that they had no idea.
So my story… since we’re doing this….
(Warning… stop reading if you don’t want to read real accounts about sexual harassment and assault. This will likely be uncomfortable for people who know me personally. But we as women have been made to feel uncomfortable for far too long. And I’m done staying silent.)
The first time I was cat-called? I was young enough that I didn’t even comprehend that was what was going on, or what it meant. That was just what happened when you walked around the block in your neighborhood—people yelled stuff at you. That was normal. From the time we were old enough to walk around the block to get ice cream from the restaurant on the corner, we were cat-called. Every. Single. Time. This had to have started before the age of 10.
When I started to develop, in elementary/middle school, the harassment was constant. Boys snapped my bra and talked about my “milk jugs,” or compared me to Dolly Parton. They’d come up with stupid little sayings and rhymes to chant at me (and all of my peers who had also developed breasts by that point) about my body. If you weren’t well endowed, it was even worse, you were “flat-chested,” a member of the “itty bitty titty committee,” there would be conversations about whether or not you were actually a girl, and were told no boy would be attracted to you because you look like a boy. We were told by teachers if we would just ignore them, they’d eventually stop. They only do it to get a reaction out of us. The implication being that they’re not doing anything wrong, it’s us. It was just something women have to deal with. It was normal. Boys will be boys.
When I was 15, I was a counselor-in-training at a summer camp. I supervised a group of 9 year olds. Several of the 9-year-old boys, on multiple occasions would sneak up on me and grab my breasts, and yell “headlights!” And then run away laughing about it. I told an older male counselor, and he told me, “that’s just how 9-year-old boys are, don’t let it get to you.”
They’re just boys. Again, this is normal boy behavior.
When I was 16, I worked at a retail store after school and on the weekends. I was sexually harassed by multiple department managers there. Men in their 20s and 30s. Mostly it was just verbal harassment. One of them told me if I wanted to bring some friends over to his house to spend the night, he’d buy alcohol for us and get us drunk. Because there’s nothing suspicious at all about a man in his 30s having a bunch of drunk 16-year-old girls spend the night at their house, that’s totally normal…
I met a guy who was in a band there. He was a year older than me, and I thought he was so cool. I really wanted to hear his band, I’d heard they were good. He asked me to go on break with him and told me he’d play his band’s CD for me in his car. I was so excited that this cool older guy (one year seemed a lot older at the time) who played guitar was actually talking to me. It never occurred to me that anything other than listening to his CD was about to happen. We went to his car. He put the CD on and then didn’t waste any time exposing himself, grabbing my head, and then physically forcing me to give him oral sex. I tried to stop it from happening at first, saying no, this isn’t a good idea. Plus, we only had 15 minutes, so now’s not a good time, I needed to get back to work.
Because in these situations we say stuff like that instead of directly saying, “NO YOU CANNOT RAPE ME,” because we’ve been trained all our lives to protect the male ego. What if that’s not what he thought he was doing? What if he gets upset that I accused him of rape when he thought it was consensual? These are the thoughts women have…because we are taught to think that way. We are taught it is our fault. Because I should have known that’s what he meant when he asked me to listen to his band in his car on our break at work.
When we came back from our 15-minute “break” that had turned into at least 45 minutes, I got in trouble for taking longer than I should. I got a warning, the first step before being written up. He didn’t.
Of course, I didn’t tell anyone because I still thought it was my fault. I should have known better. I felt stupid for thinking he actually wanted to listen to music. I shouldn’t have put myself in that position. After all, I knew by then that boys will be boys.
Several months later I started dating a guy who also worked there. He was sort of friends with Car Guy, but not really outside of work until my boyfriend ended up joining Car Guy’s band. Again, I never said anything, because all I felt was shame. After a little while, the band decided it would be better for their image if the lead singer (my boyfriend) was single. So, they tried to get him to break up with me. And if he didn’t break up with me, at the very least I shouldn’t be allowed to go to their shows anymore, because the lead singer needed to appear single.
When he refused to break up with me or tell me I was no longer allowed at their shows, Car Guy told him that I was a slut that couldn’t be trusted, and told him his version of what had happened in his car that day, which was remarkably different from my version. He told him that I had wanted it. I asked for it. And that was the whole reason we went to his car all along. So, clearly, my boyfriend should break up with me, because that’s the type of person I was. And did he really want to be with someone like that?
My boyfriend broke up with me. I told him my version of what had happened, and he didn’t believe me. It took me weeks to convince him that I was forced to do that, that this guy literally held my head down. He made me apologize again and again that it happened, and would always bring it up in arguments saying I couldn’t be trusted because look what I did with his friend (before we were even dating, as if that matters), someone I barely knew. And how does he know I was telling the truth? It was my word against Car Guy’s. And if I didn’t want it, then why didn’t I fight harder, why didn’t I bite him? Eventually, it was used as his reason for why I wasn’t allowed to have male friends anymore. Or female friends. I had confided in him before we started dating that I sometimes thought I was attracted to women. So, obviously, I couldn’t be trusted with them either.
So again, my fault, shouldn’t have been in his car, should have said no in a different way, should have fought harder if I didn’t actually want it to happen. You hear this so much that you actually think, “Why didn’t I fight harder? Why did I just give up and wait for it to be over? Maybe there was something I could have done….” Though research shows this is a normal reaction in this situation. Women don’t want to make it worse, they are scared, so they just give up, and wait until it’s over. Because if I try to fight him off? He’ll overpower me. He’ll do it anyway, and possibly worse.
Let’s see…. My next job? Bartending/serving at what I can only describe as a country redneck bar when I was 18-20.
My boss sexually harassed more than a few times after the customers were gone and we were closing up. He’d make sexual comments. He’d pass by me behind the bar, where he’d act like there wasn’t enough room to get by without touching me. He’d slip his hand around my waist, and let it linger on my bare skin, as if to move me out of his way so he could get by. He’d talk about how he only hired girls who were sexy, and asked me to rate the women who applied while he wasn’t there.
The sexual harassment from the customers was even worse. Comments about my body were the norm. It was just the culture there. “Kelly, you’ve got birthing hips, when are you going to start having babies?” “Kelly, you’re too skinny, you don’t have a butt, you need to eat more,” “Kelly you were tanner last year, why are you so pale this year? You should get a tan,” “Kelly, can you reach up really high to change the TV channel or bend over to pick something up in front of me?” “Kelly, have you stopped working out, your butt looks a little bigger today.” “Hey Kelly, if every man at this bar gives you $20, will you flash us? I mean, that’s like $180…. For doing nothing. Man, I wish I was a girl, I could make so much money. You don’t know how good you have it,” “Oh, you won’t do that? What, you don’t like money? You don’t want a tip today? Stop being such a prude. You should be flattered…nobody would pay to see OtherBartender do that.”
Men in their 40s, 50s, 60s and older would say these things to me. Every day. In addition to the customers and my boss, at least 3 of the men who worked in the kitchen grabbed me or touched me at some point. Unwanted and completely out of nowhere. While I was putting in an order, or making a salad, or getting ice from the back. But maybe that was my fault too? I mean, I should have said, “hey guys, I’m just hanging this order up, I know I have to walk in front of you, and turn my back to you while I reach up to put this order in line, but please don’t take that as an invitation to grab my ass…”
Next, I moved on to a corporate restaurant, as a server, where I worked for several years. The customers weren’t so much the problem here. It was a different environment. No, this time it was the other servers, and the managers. One example? I had a manger grab my ass and repeatedly verbally harass me one night… then he put an extra $20 on one of my tables that had just left and told me to go back to that table because I must have missed part of their tip. I.e. you better not tell anyone.
My first year of college? Multiple professors made me feel uncomfortable… I had just gotten married and one repeatedly asked me to stay after so that he could share advice about being married (because that’s totally appropriate). An English professor wrote sexual comments on my first essay. It was supposed to be a descriptive essay about some event in your life. I wrote about a trip I had recently been on in which it rained most of the trip. He told me what he would have done if it had been raining and he was there.
But that’s just normal, right?
Do you need some more recent examples? Maybe it’s just because I was so young?
One time, a friend of mine invited me to a concert. I went because it was music I really enjoyed, and we had become friends because of the music to start with. I hadn’t dated men in years, not since my first marriage ended when I was still pretty young. I was in a relationship at the time. He knew this. But because I said yes to the invite, he assumed it meant I wanted to have sex with him and got really angry when I wouldn’t go home with him. Why did I even come then, he asked. Why would I lead him on like that?
At a conference I was at recently, there was a panel discussion in which we discussed some of the issues of sexism, misogyny and harassment in academia, and the unequal hurdles women have to overcome. We discussed how we can address this problem, how we can fix it. Very few men showed up, though everyone at the conference was invited. One of the men who did come proceeded to interrupt repeatedly, trying to rationalize some of his own sexist behavior. For example, he argued that maternity leave is a legitimate concern when he’s hiring. Because they still have to pay you for the weeks you’re not there even though you’re not producing any new data while on maternity leave. So it’s just better business to hire men.
(Sidenote: It’s totally fine for men to have children in academia. Studies show that men are actually more likely to be hired if they have a family. Because it shows they’re settled down and responsible. And because their wives should be taking care of the kids. Obviously.
…And people wonder why women don’t stay in academia?)
Later at that same conference, one of the women who was a speaker/panelist at that discussion (the one about how to address sexism and harassment in academia), came and asked me and several other young, early-career women, if we would come kiss this old, white, male PI. Because it was his birthday, and he wanted a bunch of young women to kiss him for his birthday. A person none of us had ever even met before, but apparently was well known in his field and a big name, and thus could potentially be involved in whether we get a job, grant, or publication.
The woman was so surprised when we politely declined. She tried to convince us, “oh come on, it doesn’t mean anything,” “but it’s his birthday, come on, it’s just for fun,” “do you even know who he is?!!” As if we were the ones who were being unreasonable. It’s totally normal for young women to kiss an old man they don’t know just because he wants them to.
There are so many examples. The ones I’ve given so far were all people I knew. But complete strangers do this too. All the time.
Like the random guy on the train or at a concert who grabs or gropes you and then pretends it wasn’t him. The people you walk by on the street who yell stuff at you (does this ever stop?) and then get upset when you don’t respond to their cat-calls. The guy in the elevator who is standing obnoxiously close, even though it’s just the two of you, and asks you why you aren’t smiling, because “you’d be so pretty if you just smiled.”
I’ve had a guy follow me home and into my building. When I realized what was happening and that he was following me, I quickly tried to slam the door behind me, so that he wasn’t able to make it in on my swipe. Unfortunately, I ended up just slamming my fingers in the door, and he got in. So then I took a ridiculously long time in the mail room, hoping he’d get on the elevator, and I could catch the next one. He didn’t do that, though. No, he waited for me. He didn’t call the elevator. He was waiting to see where I went. I ended up walking right past him, down the hall and out the exit on the other side of the building. When he saw me leave, he turned around and left the same way he came in, and I snuck in the back of the building, and finally made it to my apartment. Even then, when it was so obvious that he was a predator and had followed me into the building, I questioned myself. Am I just being paranoid? Was it crazy of me to do all of that to avoid him? Should I have given him the benefit of the doubt?
My wife and I can’t hang out in Wrigleyville without being harassed. Because none of the drunk frat boys are able to accept that maybe we’re happy together and don’t need a man in our relationship. (I use that term loosely… most of them are actually grown-ass men that still act like frat boys). Because if we hang out in Wrigleyville, the obvious conclusion is that we’re trying to pick up a man, not that we might just be Cubs fans. They tell us we just haven’t met the right man. They come up, put their arms around the two of us, and tell us that we are turning them on. (And no, we weren’t doing anything provocative, we were just talking or playing pool, we weren’t “asking for it”). They ask if they can buy us a drink. Then get offended when we say no. They ask us if we have ever had a threesome. They ask us if we want to.
But this is the world we live in. A world where we are constantly told this is normal, we’re over reacting. It’s your fault. A world where men like Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and other men in positions of power feel entitled to objectify women. A world where this has become so normal, that a man can be accused of rape by many women, including his ex-wives and underage women, and can then “settle” outside of court (which of course includes a non-disclosure agreement, so that these women are silenced), and this doesn’t raise any red flags. A man can brag about sexually assaulting women, moving on them “like a bitch” and not even waiting, just start kissing them, “grab ‘em by the pussy,” and can openly brag about how, as the owner, he could always walk in on naked girls (including underage girls) at beauty pageants and that they couldn’t say anything about it. A man can do all of this, and even admit, on camera, that he’s a sexual predator, and even so, that doesn’t disqualify him from being president.
Do you still not see why this movement is necessary? Why so many women are speaking out and marching? All of the questions we’ve been torturing ourselves with our entire lives… Will anyone believe me? Will anyone care? Is this really our normal?
In the past year, all of these questions were answered definitively for us.
It’s not about politics. It never has been about politics. This has never been a partisan issue, though you wouldn’t know that based on the reports. This is a problem on both sides of the aisle. This is a problem with our society as a whole. This is an issue that affects all women (and yes some men, too). It’s about power. Power over women. Power over their jobs, their finances, their tips, their safety and security. And of course, physical power over women.
I don’t doubt the women’s stories about Harvey Weinstein. Or Bill O’Reilly. Or Bill Cosby. Or Bill Clinton. Or Donald Trump. Or Brock Turner. Or anyone else who has some sort of power over a woman. We all know how men in power behave by now. We all know that “boys will be boys.” We’ve seen it. We’ve been there. We know these women are absolutely telling the truth.
Do you believe them?
Do you believe me?
Did reading this make you uncomfortable?
Maybe it made you uncomfortable because you’ve seen it before. Or done it before. Or maybe it’s because you know that my story isn’t unique. It’s normal.
So now, how do we as a society fix this, so that those who come behind us don’t also learn to think this is normal?
Start here: believe us.