I’ve written and re-written versions of this in my head about 20 different times this week. I figure it’s time to throw my hat in the ring, if only to get my thoughts out of my head and into the world. All week long I’ve seen women and men using their voices to bring attention to the issue of rampant sexual assault and harassment. Women have been all over my social media feeds using #metoo to share their stories or just let it be known that yes, they have also experienced these things. Each time I see the hashtag I think to myself, “This isn’t surprising. You want to surprise me? Find one woman who hasn’t experienced a moment of harassment/assault in her life. Now, that will be a surprise!” I kept thinking to myself that while this is a great way to spread awareness, it can’t possibly be a surprise to anyone.
Then I see the responses from men. Shock. Surprise. Disbelief. Many of them genuinely cannot believe that they know that many women who have experienced assault and/or harassment. It’s in their responses that I realize we have been living in two completely different worlds.
I recall a conversation I had with Riley about a year and a half ago. We were on vacation eating dinner and, somehow, the topic of harassment and feeling unsafe came up. I asked him casually, “Just tell me, how many times have you ever felt unsafe living in Williamsburg?” I anticipated an answer that reflected maybe half the number I had in mind for my own experiences. His answer? “None.”
My husband has lived in our town most of his life and he NEVER feels unsafe. I thought for a few minutes about what that must feel like. What it must feel like to go to the gas station and not have to pretend I don’t notice the sketchy guy watching me intently the entire time I pumped my gas. Or to quickly get in my car once he gets closer and starts smacking his lips and telling me, “yo girl, you’re beautiful!” This literally happened last week at 8:00 in the morning, by the way, and no, it didn’t feel like a compliment.
I imagined what it must feel like to have a part-time hostessing job at 19 and not have a manager who insisted he “get the kinks out” of my shoulders and massage me in full view of the restaurant, including the older male co-workers who did nothing. To not have a co-worker tell you they’ve ranked the legs of the women in the office and they’ve decided yours are the best. To not be called a bitch for turning down a drink at a bar or be told, “whoa whoa, honey, it was just a compliment!” when you try and stop the catcalling. I tried to imagine walking down a street and never encountering a man grabbing his crotch and moaning as I walk past him. Or following me for a couple blocks.
I’ve had many other experiences that I don’t feel like discussing on here. Others that are still a bit too personal to put on the internet, but the ones above are pretty run-of-the-mill for just about every woman I know. We’ve been dealing with this since we hit puberty (or earlier, unfortunately) and most of us have built up a pretty thick skin. I rarely say something when stuff like this happens because if I did, I’d be complaining constantly and I don’t have time for that. I’ve been dealing with this shit since I was 13 years old. I also don’t say much because, like a lot of women, I feel guilty complaining about it because so many women have had much, much worse.
I think that guilt is part of the problem. When we don’t say anything out of fear that it’s not “bad enough” to “count,” the good men in our lives have no clue it’s happening. Riley’s experience in life feels so foreign to me, but I imagine if I were in his shoes I’d probably be clueless to the scope of the problem. When we shrug it off and go about our day, men don’t understand the impact it has. Of course, when we do say something, we run the risk of being accused of “overreacting,” or “reading too much into it.” There are many reasons why women don’t speak out about their experiences, but I’m extremely grateful for the ones who have.
This past week has been eye-opening for many people. For me and most of the women I know, though, it has literally been the least surprising thing to happen all year. All I can do is hope that every time a conversation like this gets started, a handful of people decide to make a real change and, in turn, things continue to get better little by little. Someday, maybe we’ll all feel safe in our own towns. Every day.
So, I guess….#metoo