How #MeToo Awakened Hidden Violations

The #metoo movement has called us to pause and reflect.

I have read countless stories of women coming forward with personal experiences with sexual violence in recent days. Adding to the conversation when I feel the world needs to hear it, here’s an intimate view into the experiences that I typically don’t discuss or share publicly.

I used to have this fear that I was going to someday awaken a memory that I was horribly, sexually abused. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why this was a concern. Why did I have this unrest that there was some memory lurking in my subconscious somewhere?

Perhaps it was because I was told from the age six that men only use women for sex. Maybe it was because I was warned that if I dressed or behaved a certain way I would be raped. Maybe it’s because my own sexual explorations were deemed sinful, dirty and slutty. Perhaps it’s because I was taught to always be on guard when alone as a female — anywhere. Maybe it’s because so many of my friends and loved ones have devastating stories to tell.

Or, perhaps I simply carry the emotional labor of all women — accepting the way men treat us, dismissing our discomfort, downplaying the incident, living in fear, operating always on guard, shrinking our voices and making careful choices about our clothes and actions.

It’s so engrained it’s second nature. I will cross the street yards ahead of a man whose body language, stare or appearance looks threatening. At night, I’ll walk several arms lengths away from car doors so as to reduce the chances I’ll be taken. I sometimes wedge my keys between my fingers so that I could slash someone’s eyes if I had to defend myself. If even get a hint of discomfort, I’ll jog home.

And yet, it’s rarely been in these on-guard instances of high-risk scenarios that I’ve been the subject of unwanted advances. Instead, it’s much more pedestrian, during the day, with seemingly trusted people.

As I read about the #metoo movement, my own memories surface:

Age 10: Riding the bus home from school, a boy reached across the aisle and pointed two fingers inches away from my crotch between my legs.

11: I asked my male teacher if I could go to the bathroom and he asked me if I was batting my eyelashes at him so he’d let me leave the classroom.

13: A boy sitting behind me in class persistently — despite asks to stop — ran his fingers across the top of my pants, reaching for my underwear.

14: Standing outside waiting for a car at a military event, a much older man my dad worked with asked me if it was nippily outside.

15: Getting supplies in the back room at wood shop class, an older male student reached out and put his hand on my boob.

16: Paragliding off the side of a mountain in the Alps, I felt the instructor’s erected penis in my back as we glided 3,000 feet in the air.

21: Riding a crowded metro in Paris, a man standing behind me consistently tried to touch my butt.

21: Biking home from class in college, a guy drove his car so close to me that I had to steer off the road and stop — not moving his car out of my way until I gave him my phone number.

22: Laying in the sun at an open park one day, a seemingly homeless man approached and sat down next to me and asked me, “What would you say if I asked you to have sex with me?”

23: Walking home from the bar with friends, a man on the street told me to get on my knees and give him a blow job as I passed by.

24: Walking down the street with a group of girls in the evening, a guy passing the opposite direction made an attempt to reach his hand between my legs.

25: A guy friend showed up drunk at my apartment late at night, refusing to leave or stay on the couch he forced his way into my bedroom, stripped to his boxers and locked me into his arms unable to move.

26: Running my own business, I noticed that a male client would only make eye contact with my male staffer during repeated business meetings.

27: Navigating through the Timbers game crowd on my way to dinner holding my boyfriend’s hand, someone reached up my knee-length skirt and grabbed my butt.

29: At the end of a meeting, the male interviewer pointed at me looking me up and down as he said to the male counterpart in the room, “She’s an attractive female, she’ll present well in front of an audience.”

It’s the harbored feeling of unacknowledged violation from everyday memories buried in my subconscious without a voice.

In these instances, I most often froze in disbelief or fear, unable to talk or move. Most of the time, I didn’t say anything or even tell anyone what happened. I downplayed it, because I wasn’t raped, right? I rationalized it as the nature of boys and men. I swallowed shame for what I might have done to welcome it.

Sometimes, my assertion that it wasn’t OK lead to ridicule, insults, dismissal or further persuasion. Other times when I told someone, my own perceptions or actions were questioned. Most of the time, talking about it lead to nothing — but unresolved violation, exposed.

In fact, I would bet that some of you read the examples above and thought: Oh that’s not that bad. Are you sure he said that? Maybe that wasn’t his intention. I don’t think someone would do that. He can’t control himself. What were you doing there at that time? Maybe it’s the way you look? Did you say something to provoke it?

I know these thoughts, because they are my own. And therein lies the problem.

I don’t think there’s some major moment of abuse hidden away in my psyche. Instead, it’s the harbored feeling of unacknowledged violation from everyday memories buried in my subconscious without a voice. Today, let’s name and expose these experiences for what they are: sexism, objectification, sexual assault, harassment and abuse.

I’m not alone. Most, if not all of us wear this badge of dishonor with little to no support or advocacy. We judge ourselves and others through a warped, patriarchal, rape-culture lens.

Our steps in changing #metoo begins with awareness, understanding and compassion for this complex, systememic issue:

  • The belief that people are property to be controlled breeds rape culture. This dates back to the times of slavery, to the conquering of new lands, to the possession of wives, to power positions and authority today. You could make the case that it all boils down to an exercise of power.
  • Women are not the only targets. Men are not the only abusers. Heterosexuals aren’t the only ones affected. While we primarily hear about women raped by men, it’s a much broader issue for all genders and all orientations.
  • Saying “she/he was assaulted/abused/raped,” forces the the victim to own the abuse rather than the abuser. Instead, we should say “she/he assaulted/abused/raped her/him” to shift the ownership of the act back to the abuser.
  • The line of consent is quite simply—communication. If there has not been a clear exchange of words consenting the experience, there’s no real knowing if consent has taken place. So many of us freeze giving a false OK to advances. The biggest difference between abuse and not abuse when it comes touches, words or advances — is desire and comfort. The only way you know desire and comfort is to ask.
  • It’s not what she’s wearing, what she said, how many drinks she had, or where she was that caused the assault. It’s the abuser who committed the violating act. We need to stop criminalizing victims and start holding abusers accountable.
  • We’ve also failed abusers. The abused often perpetuate abuse — never learning the boundary of healthy dialog, touch and engagement. And, society has given them the lens and platform that says it’s OK.
  • Most of us, including women, are guilty of perpetuating rape culture. When we describe an outfit as slutty, shoes as stripper attire or ask what the person did to solicit the unwanted advances, we perpetuate the belief that it’s the victim’s fault for abuse.
  • It’s laced in almost every aspect of life. Its our gender roles at home, on the playground at school, in the workplace, in casual public encounters and across media. Women can’t even go to the doctor with a headache complaint without being first asked if there’s the potential for an unplanned pregnancy — stirring feelings of recklessness and impurity of our bodies.
  • Most of us cannot fathom a world without the patriarchy, sexual violence or power dynamics. And, we need to start.

We need to begin imagining, discussing and creating a world where sexual or any type of violence toward others doesn’t exist. We need to discover ways to ensure all feel safe no matter our appearance, gender, orientation, race, status or location.

I don’t know the answer to this. What I do know is that my first step is acknowledging the child and adult in me who has been violated time and again.