On Sunday night actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” By Monday morning, tens of thousands of women had answered her call, and, at the time of this writing (Wednesday morning) people are still tweeting the #MeToo hashtag.
Milano wanted to offer a glimpse into the number of women who continue to be victimized, and the size of the response has taken many by surprise.
It’s taken me by surprise. Because #MeToo. I have a legitimate claim to that hashtag, even though I never considered myself a victim.
I thought what happened to me was a normal part of being a woman. The sad thing is, I was right.
I remember in my teens it was a point of pride to be catcalled on the street. It meant you were “pretty enough to f–k.” Not being catcalled meant you weren’t attractive to men, and that was shameful and humiliating.
That was normal.
When I lived in my first apartment, the male friend of a friend came over to help install a ceiling fan. When he was finished, he started kissing me. I’ll admit, I was fine with the kissing. But then he led me over to my bed and tried to turn it into more than kissing, and I wasn’t fine with that. I told him—nicely—to stop, and he ignored me. I told him again—nicely—that I really meant it, and I wanted him to stop. He still ignored me. I stopped being nice and told him in a very firm tone that he needed to leave now. He stepped back and apologized for scaring me. And he left.
He wasn’t the only guy to apologize for scaring me when I took that tone with them, but I only ever took that tone after they ignored my less assertive attempts to get them to stop. These weren’t strangers. They were men I’d liked and chosen to spend time with, and I didn’t think it was necessary to become confrontational the moment they crossed the line. Sometimes they honestly didn’t know where that line was. But simply telling them wasn’t enough. I had to be ‘scared’ in order for these ordinary, non-rapists to leave me alone.
I wasn’t scared; I was pissed.
These are men who consider themselves good guys because they would never force a woman.
This is normal.
A coworker I’d become friends with began making suggestive comments and passing them off as harmless dirty jokes, only to accuse me of having no sense of humor when I told him I didn’t appreciate it. When he continued even after I told him to stop, I informed him that what he was doing was sexual harassment and I would report him. The dirty jokes stopped, and were replaced by snide comments about how I was a prude and wanted to destroy his career. Several other coworkers—men and women—kept their distance from me after that.
This is normal.
Even when I was groped on a crowded subway, I wrote it off as it being “my turn” that day, because it happens to everyone. It’s normal.
It’s normal for women.
And it shouldn’t be.
There’s a meme of comedian Peter White saying, “I think the golden rule for men should be: If you’re a man, don’t say anything to a woman on the street that you wouldn’t want a man saying to you in prison.”
I appreciate his sentiment, and it may serve to help men understand what it’s like for women. But think about it. Really think about it. Men in prison are in a hostile environment where they have to be on their guard all the time. That’s normal, everyday life for women.
With the possible exception of my experience on the subway, what I’ve described here usually isn’t even considered sexual harassment or assault. Why not?
There’s a photo of a man walking in a crowd of women. He’s wearing pants but no shirt, and he’s holding a sign that reads (in Spanish): “I’m half naked surrounded by the opposite sex…and I feel safe, not intimidated. I want the same for women.” Understandably, this photo went viral. It shines a spotlight on a twisted reality that most people don’t notice or realize, because this reality is considered normal.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the man holding this sign has a history of domestic violence. But the truth of the message should not be diminished by the hypocrisy of the messenger. A scantily-clad woman walking alone in a crowd of men would not feel safe. Furthermore, she would most likely be blamed for anything that happened to her. “What was she doing there in the first place?” “Why wasn’t she wearing something less revealing?”
This is normal.
This should not be normal. What happened to me should not be normal.
So I say me too.