I heard about Me, Too from a friend on the phone yesterday afternoon. Today I spent several hours reading about dozens of my friend’s rapes.
For hours I didn’t repost because of the already cited reasons: it perpetuates the bearing of responsibility on women, it creates a clearly totally false paradigm in which women who *don’t post* haven’t been traumatized (as if), it’s falsely gendered, it perhaps pressures people who are presently trapped in situations of abuse to either remain silent or out themselves to their abusers and face punishment, it makes it seem as though anyone might owe you their story, it doesn’t give enough space for men to express the ways that they’re really fucked up too by the cultural mandate that they never be sensitive or kind or whatever. Me, too, is all of that. It is also groundbreakingly, earth shatteringly potent to uncover that hidden thing and realize that all along you haven’t been any less human for having hid a part of yourself in the first place.
Finally I have realized that the problem I have with Me, too is that it actually doesn’t go far enough. Here is a brief reminder of how serious this gets. Of how embedded it is. Of how many various levels this pattern is operating on. This is an essay for the people in my life who have said some iteration of, But have you really been catcalled in Mammoth? But have you really been hit on inappropriately at the crag? But do you have to be so sensitive? I want you to read this essay, to suffer through the reading of all of it, and then walk around with the statistic ⅓ women in your head. I want you to go to a male dominated space and ask yourself, if ⅓ of women, then how many of the men in this room? And if you have the thought “But is it that really that bad,” and you read this and you still aren’t sure, then I want to open myself up to you emotionally so we can sit down and figure out how you can get on board and help.
In 2015 I was housesitting for a friend who had Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl” on her bedside table. I disliked it in the vague way one dislikes something created by a powerful woman, and I read it in the hopes of finding an articulable reason to continue disliking her. It didn’t happen.
What was planted instead was an idea for an art project that’s never been born. In one of the book’s stories, Lena describes pitching a “funny” rape scene to her producers.
Murray shakes his head. “I just don’t see rape being funny in any situation.”
“Yeah,” Bruce agrees. “It’s a tough one.”
“But that’s the thing,” I say. “No one knows if it’s a rape. It’s, like, a confusing situation that…” I trailed off.
“But I’m sorry that happened to you,” Jenni says. “I hate that.”
Later that week, I was sitting on a bench in a city park watching pigeons and thinking about this story when an alcoholic man approached me and started to graphically describe to me what he thought my cunt must feel like. Okay, team Girls, I hear you: one really isn’t that funny. But a list of every time a complete stranger has explained to me what they think it feels like inside me? How many times would you have to read that before it became funny?
The first time I remember it happening I was about 12 and standing on a street corner with my neighbor, also female and 13 but unlike me prematurely very busty. We were making lewd gestures at male strangers twice or three times our age because that seemed like an appropriate way to play. It seemed appropriate because we were in a rough neighborhood and actually got to witness our older female idols of hipness get assaulted on the reg.
Fast forward eight years or so and I’m in a bustling French-style farmer’s market on Reunion Island and a man is suddenly in front of me and coming up with metaphors for the softness of my imagined cunt that I can only half understand because they’re in creole. Fast forward one month and I’m having lunch alone on a beach with my nose in a book until I realize there’s a man’s dick in my face and he starts telling me he wants to know what I smell like. Still young and relatively undamaged I move closer to a family’s picnic to finish my lunch and to my complete disbelief the man follows me, dick still in hand, and starts masturbating in front of the children. Fast forward another months and I’m sitting on the lap of a stranger, squished between three other men, on the tailgate of a taxi-brousse for 72 hours in Madagascar. After 72 hours of only hearing Malagache and swapping smiles of solidarity, the men suddenly switch the French and begin to detail to me their plans to share me three ways.
Is it funny yet? Are we laughing because we laugh when we’ve never been given the right cultural tools to express our fear and trembling?
That’s part of the reason it feels so damn empowering to say “me, too”: because finally, we’re allowed to say that fuck yes we’re afraid. Because so many male (and some women) friends have confessed to me that they really didn’t have any idea.
To follow “me, too” with the qualifier of being women either harassed or assaulted is a terribly clever culturally trick. It maintains the easy and less complex heteronormativity of our ideas about sexual trauma on the one hand. On the other, it gives us the much easier pill of harassment to swallow. Like, I seriously believe that I don’t know a single woman at this point who both has a fully fledged understanding of the legal definition of harassment and hasn’t experienced it. Of course we’re all saying me too.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s not forget that the magnitude isn’t just of the scale in terms of number of bodies, but in number of experiences one body can hold.
In the first half of 2014, I confessed for the first time the extent of the trauma I had experienced I had as a child to someone I was in love with, and he held me while I wept. Men, this is what we mean when we say we need good men: we literally need you to hold us until we realize that we are capable of being loved without regard to the trauma we carry. I experienced several blissful months of only being abused once (when a stranger chased me home on my bike wielding a chain, cornered me in my friend’s garage with the chain raised, and demanded that I follow him back to his home until I managed to get the cops on the line without him attacking). During this blissful period, there was a serial assaulter on my college campus who would routinely follow my female classmates around in his car and expose himself and, if I remember correctly, did also assault some ladies. Several of my female friends had male stalkers during this time. I also, remarkably, had several close male friends confess to me that they had been sexually assaulted.
And this, mind you, was the “blissful period” in which I wasn’t assaulted that much. I then moved to France, towards the end of 2014, to teach English at a very rough school that was the product of surprisingly successful structural segregation and got to enjoy such rewarding life experiences as having a male student stand on his desk during class and describe to the class how much better suited I was for prostitution than for teaching, and then having neither of the male colleagues or principal to whom I described this event believe me; if anything, they said, I needed to “stop being such a girl about it, and quit being so sensitive.” When i rode the bus home crying that afternoon, I was surrounded by a group of children with various mental disabilities and they took bets about who could grope me for longer. These were kids. They attended the middle school I taught at.
For the coming weeks I was more or less routinely groped on the bus. I got blackout drunk at a party one night to cope, took a stranger home, and he hit and spit on me while we fucked. I developed panic disorder and anorexia and decided to quit my job and go on a bike tour, mostly because then it would be harder to sustain my eating disorder. Five weeks into the trip, a boy of approximately middle-school age sexually assaulted me on the side of the road. The men I tried to wave down for help instead stopped to cheer on the child. Eventually I kept biking. During my 1000-mile bike ride home, I met up with an old friend who, during our first hours together, told me he had recently been raped.
During the following months, my brain opened itself up to remembering and processing, for the first time, the number of occasions I had been raped and sexually abused by male adults and relatives during my childhood.
Is it connecting that all of this is what we mean when we say “me, too”?
And is it funny, yet? Sitting in on a lecture on organizing intellectual resistance last spring, Lewis Gordon explained a re-interpretation of Nietzsche’s ubermensch: as a thought experiment which might allow us to be continually brushing shit off of our shoulders, picking ourselves back up, and getting back in the fight. Our ego, our false god, our etc. etc. that Nietszche might have intended us to get over aren’t the half of it: the ubermensch, laughing hysterically and running down from the mountains, is getting over it, is moving on.
When I returned from France I led a backcountry youth conservation crew. I had male supervisors make lewd comments. I had dozens of strangers tell me I shouldn’t be doing X, Y, Z because I was a woman. I had a half dozen kids confide in me that they had been raped by their parents. I had a male supervisor sexually predate upon me. I had a male child wield an axe to intimidate me because I was just another useless woman, and I watched my male co-leader walk away because it was “my fight to fight.” In the following months I moved in with a man who tried to normalize rape in our relationship. When I told him about the sexual trauma I was processing, he told me he hated it when women were so self-centered and egotistical to think they were even pretty enough to be raped. When I told him about being raped as a child by a relative, he asked if I liked it. He called me a bitch while he fucked me. Then he denied that we had ever been together, left me as a professional reference, and applied to the company I had been working for.
Is it funny that this isn’t where the story of my sexual trauma ends, but simply where I’m choosing to stop typing out the list? Are you laughing yet?
I’m laughing. I’m laughing and thinking of reading about Foucault’s knowledge/power regimes for the first time and realizing that schizophrenia is (while a totally real and chemical medical condition) also a really convenient thing to have in our social lexicon to dismiss people who are willing to make bold claims, to draw too many conclusions, to say that this shit is connected.
These are half-formed thoughts and not well articulated, so work with me here: the widespread silencing of sexual assault, of trauma, of various things that produce sociological “Otherness” being shamed, is a means of maintaining a paradigm. It is the same paradigm in which the sweetest man I’ve ever met tells me he fucks women more roughly because he thinks that that’s what they want, not because he thinks they literally don’t know how to expect or accept male kindness. It’s the same paradigm that constitutes women as subjects of abuse. My abusive former partner used to tell me that he could tell he was triggering me and wanted to see how many triggers he could pull in one go before I fought back. This game went on for months. When he finally told me that this was a conscious act, I asked him if he realized that he was literally creating a version of me that only knew how to accept abuse from him; that he was constituting me as his victim. He had no idea what I was talking about.
This paradigm is the same paradigm in which (according to some study I read recently but can’t now find to cite), men have physical manifestations of anxiety produced by doing a typically feminine act (braiding soft hair) that won’t abate until they have a violent, typically male outlet (punching a bag; harder in correlation to longer times spent braiding hair). It’s the same paradigm that made it unsurprising last weekend that a stranger pulled a knife on my friend for asking someone not to kick his dog in the face. It’s the same system that produces basically every man I’ve met in the Forest Service, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump.
Me, too: Like, me, too, I was also triggered by every speech Trump gave during the election cycle. Me, too, I also had physical symptoms of unhealth manifest during the election and then again during the inauguration because Trump reminds me of the men who’ve catcalled me, who’ve hit me, who’ve raped me? Me, too, I am disengaging from politics because it is making me relive my trauma? Me, too, am afraid of men because I have memories stored in my bones that make me know that society instills in many men the capacity to be the Charlottesville killer or the Las Vegas shooter or the Von Triers and Weinsteins or the men on any of the four continents that have assaulted me? Me, too, because I am awakening to the fact that by opening myself up to love fully and unforgivingly in spite of this all is perhaps the most feminist act that I may undertake?
Me, too, because I know that their is a tremor in all of this that is our instinctual, intergenerational resilience that’s being awoken.