Me too. And fuck that.
20 years old, I was studying abroad, living in a communal flat at The University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Where’s Karl?” I asked.
“He went up to Arthur’s Pass to hike for a few days by himself.”
“Whoa, really? How’d he get there?”
My thoughts went dead. You could’ve heard a pin drop inside my skull.
And then I was seized with conviction and clarity. I wanted that. I needed that. That freedom.
I had only just learned to backpack that semester, encouraged by more experienced friends, and our trips often required us to hitchhike, something we did in pairs or groups. I remember the first ride I ever got. It was a big old van driven by some Kiwis. I piled in with a few other friends and this sense of adventure infiltrated my cells, my heart pumped with joy. The spontaneity, the utter trust, the unknown. After so many years of intense anxiety and depression, I finally began to lean into the present moment and find freedom and aliveness in these adventures. I was hooked.
When I heard that Karl just up and left all on his own to see what a hitch and a hike might reveal, I was insanely jealous. For days I thought about it obsessively. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I could have these adventures on my own. My adrenaline spiked just thinking about it. I’d have to entirely trust myself. Anything could happen. I wanted it.
“It’s not safe for you. It’s not the same.”
I had made the mistake of telling people what I wanted to do and immediately was met with the “you’re a vulnerable woman; you can’t even look down an alley without getting raped” speech.
Good thing my frontal lobes weren’t fully developed at that point; I was scared, sure, but I wasn’t having it. I wanted that freedom more than security. And the end of a few days, I hurriedly loaded my pack and left.
After taking a bus through the Pass to Pancake Rocks, I was ready for my first solo hitch attempt. I remember wondering if I would die as I walked to the side of the road and put my thumb out in front of an approaching rickety pick-up. A middle-aged man opened the door, smiled, and asked me where I was going as he reached for the rifle that lay across the seat meant for me. I froze. He put it behind the seat.
God, I hope I don’t die. I hope I don’t die.
I got in. The rest of that ride was so uneventful and boring, and this was 13 years ago anyway, I can’t remember what happened, except that he dropped me off and, well, I’m here writing this. For a week, I hitchhiked alone along the west side of the South Island.
I spent 3 days in the mountains alone in that span of time, too, and it was terrifying. But then I met Jay and Peter at one of the backcountry huts littered all over that gorgeous country and we had a great time. They never laid a hand on me. I went to sleep relaxed and happy.
That week changed my perspective on everything I had been told so many times in my life: how unsafe the world is for me as a woman, how I must always be vigilant for danger, how a serial killer rapist that looks just like the guy from Silence of the Lambs lurks around every corner. I traveled alone in Alaska, Peru, and Bolivia. I hitched in places all over the American West. I backpacked into the mountains many times alone.
Look, I’m not saying it was smart. But I’m not saying I regret it, either. People were endlessly generous and kind to me. Some even took me under their wing in ways that were far beyond what I expected. Over and over, my faith in humanity was renewed. And my fear of stepping into the unknown fell away.
Now let me say something about this “me too.”
First of all, and sadly, me too.
And also: fuck that.
I don’t want to be another goddamn statistic, another woman who has to deal with living in a world that laughs at her boundaries and desire for freedom.
I wish I could say all my forays into the unknown through travels and solo hikes resulted in my space and body being respected as they were in New Zealand. They weren’t. At times trips were ruined, fun nights became miserable, my first masters laid to rest in a coffin sealed by a man who wouldn’t just allow me to be another human being with a right to her freedom.
I hate being another statistic. And when I was young, I raged against that statistic with reckless abandon and hopeless naïveté. I ended up being lucky that I never experienced worse, that’s all.
And it would be so easy to dismiss this all as luck in the face of denial as so many people over the years framed it to be. But that drive for freedom was not just the blind idealism of a young woman; that was my birthright and I knew it.
Just because the world is the way it is doesn’t mean we have to deny the purity of that longing and its potential to catalyze massive change in the world were it grounded in wisdom. Because it would be too easy to descend into bitterness and despair at the sight of a newsfeed stacked with “me too”s, at the 15th lecture that I was just a yet to be victim. To merely accept that this is “just the way it is,” to feel too afraid to move about the world as I please because of the potential for assault and harassment is socially-reinforced patriarchal terrorism.
So me too. And fuck that. It doesn’t mean being reckless or in denial at all. I can be honest about the way the world is and still honor that young idealist in me that refused to let the world chain her. It means finding the part of us that is whole and vibrantly alive, that won’t tolerate this predation, this wholesale disregard for our sovereignty any longer, and steps fiercely committed into that unknown in full defiance.
It’s simply not enough to end with “me too”
And not follow it immediately with a “fuck that.”
I want to be able to follow my yearnings and inspirations and excitement without having to factor in the reality of sexual predators into my journeys. And goddamn it, I shouldn’t have to. I so deeply believe that if women want to be more than just somber, resentful victims, we have to tap into this. We have to want our freedom more than anything and unapologetically rage on towards the creation of a society that guarantees it.
Let us step into our power driven by our deep clarity that we fully deserve this freedom.
So me too. And fuck that.