#MeToo: One Reason I Run

“In the end, anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing — anti-humanism.”

— Shirley Chisholm

Nine-year-old me, pre-braces

I was nine years old when my mother first talked to me about sexual assault. My mother, father and younger sister were spending the afternoon exploring the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. My eye caught an aquarium filled with exotic fish, so I ran over and pressed my face against it.

A man came up behind me and asked if I wanted to see the aquarium that was just above my eye level. Of course I wanted to stare at the colorful fish swim hypnotically through the water. He picked me up so I could see and began to grind his pelvis into my back and breathed into my ear. I stiffened. I knew I didn’t like how this felt, but I didn’t know what to do.

A woman from the crowd shouted, “Drop her!”.

He let go of me and ran. I remember feeling intense waves of shame and embarrassment. I didn’t want to cause a scene, I just wanted to see the fish. We were escorted down to the office and filed a police report. As the museum closed for the evening, we had to watch crowds of people exit and try to identify the man who touched me. Despite my mother telling me it was not my fault and that adults should never touch me like that, I felt like I had ruined my family vacation by allowing this to happen.

Most people are appalled by this story, and see it as a rare incident that was luckily stopped before getting worse. But as innocent girls grow into women, this type of assault doesn’t stop, and neither does society’s shame and blame.

We need to look no further than than Donald Trump’s touting the permissibility of grabbing a woman’s vagina, Tim Murphy’s hypocritical ask of his mistress and the ever-growing list of women in Hollywood sexually harassed by Harry Weinstein.

Some (mostly men) are no doubt appalled that these acts still happen.

Others (mostly women) are not.

In 2017, we are still stuck in a misogynist continuum where women have access to power, but only to be labeled as aggressive, judged by the tautness of her skirt and told she looks tired because she skipped her morning makeup routine.

This isn’t an accident why it happened. It happens because when women are not at the table, they are on the menu. But if we are at the table, they will pull up a chair and invite another woman to sit next to her.

This has never been more true, than in politics.

Pennsylvania is ranked 49th in the country when it comes to women in elected office. When I talk to women who are serving or have served in public office, regardless of party or age, they share appalling stories of sexism. These range from disrespectful interruptions despite having the floor to being caricatured as an angry witch when fighting for their constituents.

Our state government shows what a lack of women means to the residents here. It means that in Pennsylvania pregnant women often need to choose between having a healthy pregnancy and holding their jobs, because employers are not required to make temporary accommodations for them. It means domestic partners of victims who file a protection from abuse are not required to remit their guns to the authorities. It means we are at risk of banning medically necessary, safe abortions past 20 weeks, and that we haven’t yet prioritized funding for universal Pre-K.

These are not women issues. These are human rights issues, that disproportionately impact women. Women tend to be the ones who suffer the most consequences when our state house can’t pass a budget or a bill. Does it surprise you that in Pittsburgh, one in five women live at or below the poverty level?

I hope to have children one day. I think about what it would be like to have a girl and how I will talk to her about having autonomy over her body — how it is very likely someone will sexually harass or assault her, and how when it happens society will make you feel ashamed. That it will not be on her to carry that shame alone.

My stomach drops, as I think about what it will be like to tell her what happened to me at the aquarium, what happens at parties, the workplace or walking down the street, everything that’s happened to me, my sister, my mother and all of us for generations.

Until then, I will fight like hell for our seat at the table.

Sara Innamorato is running for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Pittsburgh in 2018. Learn more about her campaign at www.saraforpa.com and follow her on Twitter @Innamo.

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