I used to frequent the indoor trampoline park. One time while playing trampoline dodgeball (best sport ever), there was an incident.
I was walking backwards on my side of the trampoline court. Trying to get farther away from the “enemies” who might throw at me. Leaning forward in an athletic posture, my knees were bent and my hands were to the side and slightly behind me to center my weight as I retreated. Then, one of my hands came in contact with somebody’s crotch. I felt the impression of a penis.
Silly me. Should have glanced behind me before backing up. Or at least held my hands closer to my body. Then again, it had never occurred to me this might happen. The unlucky collision caught me totally by surprise.
I never saw who it was that I had touched. I didn’t want to embarrass them by turning around to say sorry and have them know I knew who they were.
How did this event affect the person? Did they brush it off as nothing and forget about it? Did they joke to their buddies about that 1-second hand job they got in the middle of a trampoline game, and laugh together? Or were they traumatized?
Maybe they laid awake at night feeling violated. What if they thought I had done it on purpose? Did they open up to a counselor about the klutz/perv who took advantage of them on the trampoline court? Also, what age were they? I was at least 21 at the time. They could have been under 18 for all I know.
These are the worried thoughts that come to mind when I remember. And these worried thoughts give me at least a little clarity I can contribute to #MeToo.
The trampoline trauma that day doesn’t apply to most #MeToo, but it does illustrate some reason for caution.
Most instances of #MeToo are unmistakable violations. The aggressing party knowingly touched without consent. A rapist whose victim tells them no, no, and no has many chances to back off, but they don’t.
That’s what I’m always concerned I’ll make light of if I share my bucket of frazzled feelings about #MeToo. I’m sorry for each person subjected to the R word. It’s terrible what was done to you. We should live in a world without this crime.
What I am wary of is that sexual assault, as opposed to rape, can be committed with a single slip of the hand. Then it’s over. No way to turn back or take it back.
Reports of #MeToo I’ve seen have also included ogling eyes, or sexually charged sentences spoken out of turn. These actions certainly speak of a person’s character, but again, they are very quick. They are finished before the perpetrator receives signals of You’ve gone too far, dude; turn back now.
I can’t count on my fingers, toes, and teeth how many times I’ve given a compliment and wondered if it was too much. Or stared too long and prayed to Cupid nobody noticed.
I hope this validates why one may reasonably feel hesitant to automatically assume every #MeToo claim is 100% accurate or judicious.
Men groped me on purpose. Yet, I feel like defending them more than blaming them.
I once shared a hug with someone I met at a grassy park. He grabbed my butt during the hug and said, “Nice ass.” When I discontentedly parted ways with him, he ironically added, “Be safe out there.”
Another man, a different time— this one probably drunk and/or high — deliberately groped me from behind and made noises. A patrol officer went up and confronted him as I hobbled away from the scene in disbelief.
Do I wish I could file a claim, or launch a social media campaign, against either fellow? No. Best case scenario, they would just realize what they did was wrong and not do it again. If an intervention is needed, then an intervention is needed—consent classes, please!— but I don’t want them to suffer.
Moreover, preventing them from groping anyone else is one thing, but the best thing I could do for myself was just to feel compassion for everyone involved, forgive, forgive again, not blame (especially myself), and move on.
What if they did change, and they go on to do good work in their communities, but then 20 years later I show up and inspire a boycott of their leadership?
Okay, I hear your objections to my inane analogies. After all, I am no survivor of a more deeply upsetting situation such as rape or ongoing workplace harassment. Most assaults never get held accountable, and many that do involve patterns of behavior, not just one-time goofs. Plus, our citizens and most of all our leaders ought to have exceptional character. There is a high chance anyone who behaved so poorly in the past hasn’t fully changed, that the same disrespect or lack of self-control that prompted their past harassing would affect their performance now. It’s rational to be strict about this.
I can’t help, though, but empathize with the fear of a past mistake coming back to bite you. I’ve been there.
The flip side of #MeToo is #IHave, and most of us “have.” At least in small ways.
Count my unintentional trampoline fondling as an #IHave or not. Either way, my closet is far from clean, and I’m just an average person. The miniature skeletons dancing around in there discourage me from ever calling anyone else out if I can help it.
Without setting the whole oven on fire, allow me to briefly “roast” myself.
One time I ogled a guy and I couldn’t believe that I had. We were talking in a formal networking setting when suddenly I made lecherous eye contact. Looking back, I was under pressure that weekend. I felt desperate to find someone, or get sexual validation. His personality came across as very agreeable, submissive, and English was his second language. Perhaps I sensed that vulnerability in him; I acted entitled or took advantage with my inappropriate gaze, which may have made him uncomfortable.
With online dates, I was too eager to satisfy my kinks. I asked guys if they’d wear something specific for me. It’s not like having odd desires or asking for what you want is a crime, but I felt guilty about objectifying men. In the vault of my mind, I valued my own rush of pleasure based on looks and clothes over getting to know a man. I may not have done anything officially wrong, but dating total strangers didn’t hold me too accountable. I was less aware than usual of how I came across, and that left me worried I might never know if I had crossed a line and given someone an unsavory memory.
I sadly tend to recall the questionable things I do more vividly than the virtuous. So that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But to add in an additional twist, “I have” been called out for a touch offense which I thought was overblown.
The touch offense happened on the van ride back from a high school field trip. I didn’t know this, of course, until I got called into the principal’s office the following Monday. Bewildered at first, it took me a moment to remember and realize: I had tapped my classmate’s knee to get his attention. He had been lightly dozing off when I thought of an idea or comment that I thought would be interesting to tell. He opened his eyes from my knee-tap.
“What is it?”
Meh. I changed my mind about what I was going to say. It no longer seemed interesting or worth sharing. “Never mind,” I said to him.
I never thought anything of it. Touching someone you’re not BFFs with when their eyes are closed in a nap is certainly NOT a great idea. The knee tap just seemed out of proportion for a principal’s visit, but I guess that was the way he felt comfortable communicating the boundary.
At that stage in my adolescent self-confidence, I always sobbed uncontrollably whenever I was accused of anything. This was very embarrassing in front of the principal, and I quite grew to resent my classmate who had sent me there. It seemed strange he would think I was coming on to him or something, as I harbored no crush. I was transgender in a largely anti-gay religious town, however, so perhaps some of that fear factored into his response. (And I am assuming by using he/him pronouns to describe them, by the way. You never know.)
All of this is to say: If being summoned to the principal’s office over peanuts can feel that annoying, I can only imagine being publicly called out as a creep on the internet.
It may be necessary! If the harasser is giving nightmares to those they abuse, then the counter-nightmare of a callout (or legal proceeding) can be what it takes to stop them. I’m just saying that the anguish of being defamed is not to be taken for granted. As social creatures, this is a major fear that all of us can understand, regardless of our gender or our personal relationship with #MeToo.
And that bring me to my final round of points.
I believe #MeToo is net positive, but it still drives me crazy not to be able to express its nuances and counterpoints.
Equality for women has grown by miles in many places. As has the right of each person to enjoy consenting relationships, free from coercion. #MeToo is both a reflection of and a contributor to these developments. Thus, I often battle myself internally for having too many qualms about it. In general, I believe the excesses of social justice are so much better than no social justice at all. I want to be firmly on the side of progress!
To wrap up this reflection, I made a short list of potential pros and cons I’ve perceived in public callouts of the #MeToo variety.
- Show zero tolerance for abuse, especially abusive leadership. This raises everybody’s standards for the future.
- Empower people all over the world who have been harassed and who had once blamed themselves. They should know it’s not okay how they were treated. That we deserve better.
- The survivor who does the calling-out can find some relief. They can always keep it anonymous if naming the abuser is beside the point. Or they can open up to people privately if it works better to process their experiences that way.
- The accused and their loves ones may suffer pain and embarrassment. What’s more, the assault survivor may wind up feeling overexposed or be continually reminded of the trauma. Larger communities could be torn asunder (although in the long run, they may recover into healthier ones).
- #MeToo stories can trigger in the onlooker a negative sense of sexuality in general. As well as a distrust of men, and glorification of feeling like a celebrated survivor as a woman or femme. I personally notice these effects from overexposing myself. I feel more sex-positive and empowered when I haven’t seen any #MeToo content in a while. Yet, it could just be my own issues and not everyone gets triggered the same.
I try to touch people with my writing (though many still won’t like it). Touching a fellow trampoliner was an accident I never wanted to happen. To me, that one ambiguous memory sums up my mixed feelings about #MeToo. And it evokes my hope, for all people to have freedom from unwelcome touch, and freedom from shame and blame as well.
Forgive yourself, forgive those who made you feel pain, and let’s try to hold ourselves with pride and with respect for others today. That’s all I have left to say. Thank you for listening.
Update on May 26, 2021: If you thought this post was misguided, I apologize. I have since written a follow-up article about how I struggled with MeToo and came to what is probably a more mature perspective. Much Love!