Me, too. (If all the women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed wrote “me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.)
Thanks to the allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein that have recently come to light, there is a “me too” campaign on social media asking women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed to post “me too” on their media sites. I’m amazed how many men are surprised by the sheer numbers of women who are posting this. Instead of being surprised by how many are speaking up, I am surprised there are not more women standing up.
As a woman, especially a woman of my generation, sexual harassment has always been a fact of life. When you are out in the world sporting a female body, you will inevitably get unwanted attention from men. It’s not because all men are pigs; it’s because there are just enough men out there who feel that they are entitled to comment on, and sometimes touch, a woman’s body whether she likes it or not.
As usual, a popular social media site offered me an accurate microcosm of how the world reacts to a woman’s claim of sexual harassment or assault. I was honestly a little shocked at how quickly the conversation devolved into stereotyped responses.
A male friend, in an effort to better understand the situation, asked if it was possible a woman could carry pepper spray with her at all times so she could defend herself if she felt threatened. This was a perfectly reasonable question and I admire that a man was honestly trying to put himself in a woman’s shoes.
I responded to him explaining that sexual harassment is not as simple as being violently attacked. Too often the harassment comes from someone you can’t afford to piss off. It could be your boss, your friend’s husband, or someone else you know. You are often too shocked to react when it’s someone you know and never expected it from.
The male friend then said he was actually referring to a specific case where there was physical assault involved. Fair enough. Placing harassment and assault under one umbrella can make it difficult to address a specific incident appropriately.
At that point, a male friend of my friend responded that pepper spray was too likely to blow back into the face of the person being attacked, and that women need to carry guns and be willing to use them. I agree on the spray and I never carry pepper spray for that exact reason. However, I’ve also known for years that I would hesitate before shooting someone and that hesitation would most likely put the gun in the hands of the assailant. So, carrying a gun would never work for me. However, I appreciated this man’s respectful, thoughtful response.
Then, another male responded with a tirade on women who say “yes” and then change their mind and cry “rape.” Excuse me? What a tired old stereotype. This man has obviously had experiences where he felt victimized by women. This response also devalues the very valid issue of sexual harassment and assault. I uttered a quiet “Wow,” to myself and read on.
Next, an older woman responded by putting all the blame on the women. They were dressed provocatively, they waited too long to report it, and they were obviously “asking for it.” This response made my head and my heart sore. This reaction is the exact reason why women have historically hesitated to report harassment or assault. Victim blaming is an old game and one that obviously lives on today. I am still struggling to find words that are adequate for my outrage that in today’s world there are still people who feel comfortable voicing this opinion on a social media site.
At that point, the conversation ended. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could have commented after that last response. I certainly didn’t.
The lesson I learned from this exchange of honest opinions on a social media site is that for all the progress we’ve made, we still have a long way to go. There are still people who hold on to the old arguments and stereotypes.
My ample rear end was first pinched by a teacher when I was in 6th grade. In 8th grade, all the girls knew you didn’t stay after class with a particular male teacher unless you wanted to get chased around the room. As a young married woman in my early 20’s I had a boss walk up behind me and grab my chest. None of these were pleasant, but none of them were reported, either. Frankly, it never occurred to me to speak up against an authority figure for such “minor” offenses. No one told me I had to put up with that behavior, but no one told me I should stand up against it either.
I had thought our society had moved past the point of accepting this behavior as “normal,” or “no big deal.” I was wrong. That behavior didn’t go away; it just became less acceptable to voice those opinions. Unfortunately, there are still people today who feel comfortable with racism, sexism, and the condemnation of people who worship and love differently than they do.
Fortunately, there are the occasions, like this week, when something comes to the attention of the American public and we react by sharing our stories. I don’t always like where the conversations go as a result of that sharing, but I love that people are willing to talk, share, and try to see the conversation from more than one point of view. #Metoo