Avoiding Friendly Fire in the #MeToo Moment
He hurt me, but my friends nearly broke me.
My friends were the reason it took me so long to put a stop to it. I knew it would fracture the group in irreparable ways. I tried talking to him, as though he just needed education about how to not put his hands on me. Anyway, I’m not here to talk about his escalating harassment of me and women who would eventually speak up with their own stories about him. I’m here to talk about what everyone else in my community did when I finally said, “He wouldn’t stop touching me, so he can’t come to parties at my house any more, and I don’t want to hang out with him.”
Here’s a partial list of responses I have been feilding from all kinds of people, nonstop, for years now as a result of speaking up.
The Apologist — “He’s just awkward. He’s really a feminist. He cares so much about consent.”
The Victim Blamer — “If you would just talk to him, you could work this out.” Oh, the hours I spent talking to him, over the course of months, coming to him in good faith as a friend! I talked to him so many times that I started talking to him about how many times I had talked to him about it. I talked to him about it so many times, he mocked me with the fact that he knew I didn’t want to be touched as he pinned me against a countertop.
The Peacemaker — “You should reconcile for the sake of the group.” It is not my job to reconcile with this person, who has been unrepentant and who, from what I keep hearing, continues to do similar things to more women. You think you are being fair but really you are telling me to shut up and take it.
The Critic — “This doesn’t sound like a big deal. You didn’t suffer that much. Why can’t you just get over it?”
The Privileged — “I refuse to listen to this because I don’t like drama.” Congratulations on occupying a less vulnerable space in our society, but this is not idle gossip for low brow entertainment. This is a safety concern. (Also, I hope it never happens, but you should know that you are not immune to being victimized. This effects everyone.)
The Emotion Police — “You’re too upset. I sympathize with the person who is the most collected and calm when they tell me their side because it’s easier to hear.” I get that it is hard to witness people’s strong emotions and being a victim doesn’t give anyone the right to verbally attack others. But crying or expressing anger doesn’t make their accusations wrong. Maybe they are crying because what they are saying really did happen and it was hurtful.
The Parole Board — “He has suffered enough for this.” I have never tried to make him suffer. All I have said is that he can’t come to my house and I won’t hang out with him. This has never been about making him suffer. This has been about advocating for my own safety.
The Confused — “I’ve never experienced anything like this. Help me process my emotions about this until I feel better about it.” Sorry dude, that’s a bottomless emotional pit. You’re not going to feel good about it because it’s not a good thing that happened.
The Misdirection — “What about this other person who was at your party even though he did xyz?” We can talk about that. I want to make my house a safe space, and I don’t pretend to know everything about everyone. However, one person’s guilt has no impact on a different person’s guilt in a totally unrelated situation.
The Psychologist — “Did something else happen that makes you want to hurt people with your story?” No, no it did not.
The Competitor — “Well, he never did that to me. I guess he doesn’t think I’m as pretty as you.” It’s not a compliment. When it happens to you, it does not feel like a compliment.
The Crier — “You have to warn everyone. Keep telling them until they believe you.” It’s not my job to make people believe me. I have told my truth.
The Moralist — “You are responsible for not protecting all the other women he might do this to in the future.” If I see an effective way to create safe spaces, I want to do that. But the only person responsible for his behavior towards women is him.
The Chessmaster — You don’t say much to me, but you are trying to use this to gain political and social leverage in unrelated situations. I see you.
The Advocate — “I see why you don’t want to be around him, but you should talk to all these people (listed above). They are innocent.” If I have stopped talking to someone about this, it is because that person was demanding more emotional energy than I had to give. When I had the emotional energy, I gave it.
The Exaggerator — “He’s a rapist.” He didn’t rape me, and none of the women who spoke with me told me that he raped them. Great, now you got me defending this jerk. If someone else says he raped them, I’m prepared to believe it. But that’s not what happened to me.
The Gladiator — You want to kick his ass. I understand. I appreciate the instinct to protect me. But please don’t do it. I don’t need anyone hurt in order to feel safer. In fact, it makes me less safe. And it won’t change his heart or correct his behavior. The same goes for non-physical retaliation.
The Ally — “Are you ok? What do you want?” Thank you, allies. You let me be in control of my own narrative. You reacted from a place of care and concern for me. You sought to understand and empower me rather than take control of my story.
The (not exclusively female) Sisterhood — You had your own stories and you needed support. You shared your pain and you honored mine. We continue to draw support from each other and we continue to grapple with how to create safety in our community while preserving our own mental health.
The Ghost — You couldn’t handle this at all, and you ran away from it. I assume you had your reasons. I don’t see you anymore, and I want you to know that I respect your need to take care of yourself. I hope you found a safe place.
The Sabbatical — You’re not out of the conversation entirely but you need a break. You deserve a break. I have to take breaks, too.
These responses run the gamut from hurtful to neutral to helpful. Some of them, I downright cherish. I’m not writing this to shame people for things they did and said. I’m writing because I feel the need to articulate the overwhelming stress of the cumulative impact of other people’s reactions.
Imagine having to hold a space for people expressing each of these reactions, one after another on a loop. Each of these people is dealing with their own emotions over this conversation. Each of these people has probably had to endure less-than-ideal responses from someone at some point. Almost all of these people have good intentions, but also they are trying to exert some type of influence on me. I have to hold my boundaries from every direction. I have to manage my own emotions and hold space for theirs. I have to maintain the integrity of my story despite the pressure to compromise it. This is emotional labor that I’ve been doing for scores of people for over 2 years. I am exhausted.
I called it “Friendly Fire,” because this does not even get into the people who have tried to overtly bully me into silence or the people who have tried to hurt each other through me, using my story like a weapon.