If you’re on the internet, you’ve seen or heard of the #metoo ‘movement’. This is my first and only input on it. What it comes down to is that victims of sexual abuse, assault, misconduct or sexism of any type are encouraged to post a #metoo, to count themselves in the numbers of people who have been privy to unwanted/unfair sexually/sexism charged encounters. Pretty basic concept, right? It seems a simple enough way to gather strength in numbers and to let the world know that these things are happening more than many may realize. But from there, a widespread opinion has been formed that these people have not admitted their experiences in the past due to fear. Some have even gone so far as to assume that if only everyone had spoken up previously that perhaps we could have put an end to all sexual assault/abuse/exploitation/harassment/discrimination long ago. But those that assume would be wrong.
My opinion is that we have created a culture where attention spans are a thing of the past, and I fear this ‘movement’ will carry on for another couple of days and then be left in the dust and forgotten about just like the last social media frenzy… can you remind me what that might have been again? And it seems to me that things of this nature may very well modify our online interactions with each other, but very few actually carry those sentiments expressed in the virtual world into the real one. I fear it will blow by as mostly (well intentioned) bandwagon jumping and that no real change will have been affected.
This has all been primarily prompted by the now numerous allegations against Harvey Weinstein. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of him, he runs in the Hollywood crowd, and his name up until recently was one of some repute. The number of celebrity victims coming out with details of their own Weinstein experiences cite fear as the primary motivator for not having done so before. But what of those that knew of his behaviour previously? Was their reason for not speaking out or attempting to put a stop to it borne of fear, or was it because in an industry that thrives on sex and all things related to it, that they simply did not care, did not think it a big deal, or because they benefitted from his association?
By typing out a #metoo, do we really expect to stop predators from preying, do we really expect that survivors afraid to speak out prior to #metoo will all of a sudden find the courage to go social media level public with their victimization, or can we simply hope that maybe those that do speak up will find themselves a few more supports out there and to enlighten those with their heads in the sand that there are more victims out there than they had otherwise believed?
You see, we’re not all afraid to speak out about our experiences. I may not speak freely of all of mine, but I have spoken out about numerous of my experiences, have told people of them, have even gone so far as to have written on social media of them. I admit I was scared when I was young to admit these things, but that fear dissipated in my early twenties. I stopped trying to hide things, stopped feeling ashamed and stopped feeling as if I had done something wrong by admitting these encounters when I was in my early twenties. But I admit that I have not spoken up as voraciously as I could because while some of us are not afraid to speak up of our experiences with sexual assault or intimidation, some of us have become so used to at least sexism and harassment that while we may be fearful of, intimidated by, annoyed of, or used to it that it becomes not worthy of note in our eyes. We have been conditioned. We have become numb to much of it. We have ‘accepted’ it as being part of the way things just are.
As for the response I received when I wrote perhaps a year ago about my experiences as a female on social media, some close friends and family became uncomfortable and embarrassed. Some shared their own experiences. Some friends were very supportive and others commented that they hadn’t known this type of thing happened to people they actually knew. And then many went right back to liking pictures of cats and posting sexist memes. What did it change? It opened up a few people’s eyes, and hopefully lended some support to those who have not yet found their courage. Though one person laughingly wrote my experiences off as just complaints about excessive male attention and told me to ‘stop being so damn pretty’. This person was female.
Within just hours after that post I was already receiving inappropriate private messages from unknown men and acquaintances making untoward advances at me. We can discuss privacy filters and filtering better who my online ‘friends’ are, but before you dismiss my experience here based on assumptions that I should be more careful there and guard my digital ramblings better from strangers, keep in mind that the majority of sexually charged offences are committed by those known to the victim. Working in court I can strongly attest to this. Back to the inappropriate messages though, I can only theorize that they did not read my lengthy and atypical post, that they did not recognize their actions as belonging to these same categories of behaviours, that they simply did not care what I had to say, what I had gone through, or how it made me feel, or that they were incited and motivated by my post to do such – as predators are wont to do. And I am not the type of female who classifies every innocent flirtation, compliment or pick up line as being harassment simply because a man addressed me, or because it happened to be coming from a man that I felt no attraction toward, let me make that very clear.
For those of you that believe that you are being sexually harassed because a man you find unattractive simply compliments or dares to speak to you, and think that men forcing their own agenda against another – such as the character from the Fifty Shades series does – is okay so long as they are attractive and wealthy, you are part of the problem. I just want you to know that. Reverse the genders to fit as is appropriate.
And for the record, #metoo.
I won’t get into the worst, and quickly forget the less bothersome, and certainly won’t list them all, but #metoo when:
- I was 17 and dropped a class I thoroughly enjoyed and was doing quite well in close to the end of the school year. The teacher was getting too friendly and had progressed to walking up behind me and starting to give me shoulder and back rubs and sitting beside me, rubbing my legs and thighs. If I was in the room alone for one of the frequent chats he would ask me in for, he was always beside me and his hand was usually on me, often resting on my inner thigh. I never said anything as I had little experience with this kind of thing and was young and shy, and terrified of interacting with people – especially men. It was not one brief encounter, but it was constant. I didn’t know at the time if it was innocent or not, only that I was uncomfortable and embarrassed and he seemed so nice that I didn’t want to get him in trouble for something I might have been imagining to be worse than it was. I was scared and confused and I didn’t want to go through it any longer. If you’ve read any of my blog previously, you have probably taken note of the fact that I was diagnosed 8 years ago with a personality disorder, the mental health professional had no name for it for me, but had a list of many of the traits and behaviours associated with it, it having all the earmark traits of Aspergers or some similar disorder. I was in no position to handle it appropriately at the time or to know what to do, or to interpret it properly or to talk about it with anyone. I needed one more credit to graduate. I received a failing mark on my exam in one other class, which brought my A to a failing grade in that class. It was easier for me to tell my parents that I would have to go back to school another half year to graduate than to tell them what had really happened.
- I was 18 and walking to work and back regularly along the same route. A man one day parked his car ahead of me and came running out to me. He introduced himself. It was merely annoying at first, but I quickly felt as if there was something very wrong. He said he had passed me regularly and was driving watching for me that day as he had hazarded a guess I would be around that area around that time, as he had determined about what my daily routine was, and pulled out a stack of pictures. They were pictures he had been taking of me daily. It was a very busy roadway and I was able to rid myself of him quickly. But I started to notice his vehicle over the next little while – always around the same time and place. I started taking a more laborious route to work when I couldn’t get a ride or would take a taxi just so I would feel safer.
- I was 18 and on the dance floor of a popular club when one of the guys that joined my group of friends worked his way through the crowd, undid his pants, pulled out his penis and thought it was hilarious as he tried to rub it against me.
- I was 19 when a man I had once dated beat me up and pinned me to the floor and ripped my clothes off and told me he had needs. He played defense and was captain of the football team. I don’t know if he realized I had it in me to hurt him in the manner I did, as I had at one point thought better of him. He should have focused his hands elsewhere. I was successful that time in getting away.
- I was on my way home from my 19th birthday dinner spent at my sister’s house. I took the very last C-Train (you may call it a can, tube or subway) of the night back as close to home as I could, then had a bit of a walk home from there. I became cognizant of a person walking behind me in the dark. It was late and quiet in that part of the city. I became mindful of footsteps getting closer and had an apprehensive feeling. I looked back to find the person quickening their pace to get along next to me. It was a man. He started to talk to me and was obviously mentally ill. He tried introducing himself politely and I muttered the usual nice to meet you, have a good night or whatever awkward niceties girls are tend to spew out to try to not provoke a man that may turn out to be violent while still moving away and trying to extricate themselves from the situation. All the time I kept walking, as briskly as I could, focused on getting to my apartment building as quickly as I could, fumbling with my keys in my pocket and considering their uses as a potential weapon. The man kept increasing his stride to match my pace. He started telling me how beautiful I was and how he would like to be friends. All the while I was not responding and fixed on my goal of getting to safety. I was trying to lose him and he kept up with me, saying things of a similar nature and eventually progressed to telling me he was a master of sex, that he wanted to show me and teach me what he knew, and I kept trying to widen my distance from him (we were literally the only two people in a sparsely populated area of Calgary on the street, no traffic, in the dark and this was back before cell phones were widespread – there was little to nothing else I could do but to keep moving), thankfully seeing my secure apartment building come into view, and then I took a few quicker steps before breaking out into a full run. I didn’t even know if he was still behind me. My only thought was I had to get to that door. My heart was thudding through my chest as I ran, without looking back, towards that building and that door, my key clenched in my fist as tightly as I could hold it, held at about lock level as I got closer, and hoping that I could steady my aim as to hit the keyhole perfectly and maneuver the lock swiftly. I was fortunate. I pulled open the door, which was some reinforced or bulletproof glass of some sturdiness and ran through, pulling it closed with all of the speed I could muster behind me. As I felt it lock into place my knees started to give way and I leaned on the wall for support and turned back at the sound of the door pounding behind me. He was standing there on the other side of the glass trying to get in, inches away, and if I had stopped to even look back to see if he had continued to follow me, I wouldn’t have made it. He yelled and screamed at me that he was going to have sex with me, that he knew where I lived and he would be waiting because I was going to have to leave one day. The police were unsuccessful in locating him.
- I was 20 and had just finished dinner with an old roommate and co-worker. He was reserved, intelligent, considerate and very well liked. He then informed me that since he had cooked that evening that he expected to be paid back for it before he’d let me leave.
- I was 27, in Mexico, at a bar that caters to tourists, with my sister. My ex husband was supposed to be there, but was unable to come and she had taken his place. I was dressed in a pair of jeans and a strapless top. A group of men sent a drink to our table and approached us. They introduced themselves. They were from Seattle. They were very flirtatious. We said thank you for the drink, but we would like to compensate whoever had purchased it, and rebuffed the flirtations as she was young and disinterested and I was married. They didn’t seem to mind and were very cool about the situation, except the one. He kept trying to get friendlier and kept trying to grope me. His friends were very apologetic and upset about it, and we asked them to please leave and keep him away. They seemed embarrassed for his sake and apologized profusely as they left and physically dragged him with them. He kept getting away from them and coming over to me, trying to get physical. I told him repeatedly I was married and not interested – not politely at this point by any means – and that I wanted to be left alone to enjoy visiting with my sister. He then became hysterical and looked as if he was bordering upon violence. He grabbed my arm with enough force to be painful and in a rage started yelling at me, telling me that if I was his wife he would fucking kill me. Repeatedly. He would FUCKING kill me. That what kind of slut bitch wife goes out dressed the way I was. He used the words fucking and kill, interjecting slut and bitch profusely enough I thought he was going to assault me. My sister ran off to get a male staff member, and it took several of them to haul him away, fighting.
- I was 27 about to turn 28. I went to buy myself a new car. I went in and dealt with the men in the dealership alone. This was the final price. The commission had been all but completely lost. There was zero room for movement because the dealership would lose money otherwise. It would cost the dealership money to sell it any lower than it already was, so they would rather lose the sale than give me a better price. I had been in there two days, I had done a lot of research and knew the markup on it had been tremendous, and wasn’t budging. But they reiterated they would rather lose the sale. My ex husband walked in. Literally, walked in. The price went down 5 thousand dollar, “And here’s $500 in gas vouchers for ya buddy”.
- I was 28 and opened my private messages (and I’m starting to finally figure out why I have a distaste for and feel apprehension over using messenger services) to find one from an unknown man that was a little bit too friendly in nature. He lived in a different country. I did not respond to it. I then received follow ups to it telling me what a bitch I was for not replying, what a slut I must be, and how he hoped that my house would burn down and it was his most fervent wish that I would die. It was quite a lengthy message, actually. I wish I hadn’t panicked and immediately deleted it when I did.
- I was 34, walking down the street and had a male I previously considered a friend – a married one – private message me to tell me how good my legs looked and how he wanted to hump them.
- I have been and still am propositioned by or asked for intimate photos from strangers and men who have no business asking, or that know and do not care if I am disinterested or that I am in a committed relationship. (This is not to be confused with innocent flattery, or harmless flirtation from a man who may have no prior knowledge of you or that you are in a relationship – I can tell the difference between a compliment or a well intended pick up effort and a lewd or indecent request or sexually charged aggressive behaviour meant to embarrass, humiliate, shock and intimidate.)
- At a young age I became wary of male attention. Many of us when approached unexpectedly by a male in public or online worry, “If I do not engage with this man am I being a jerk and unfairly judging him based on past experience? Am I being conceited assuming this person means me no harm and has just innocent or friendly intentions in mind? If I do reply to/engage with him, will it be giving a creep an opening or think it’s an invitation to harass me just because I was nice?” How would a man who will hopefully never experience that feel to know what it’s like to have to make those types of decisions every time they meet (or open a text/email/message from) a member of the opposite gender?
What I can tell you I have learned from my innumerable negative experiences is this:
- It doesn’t matter what age a woman is. I can recall incidents going as far back as 24 years.
- It doesn’t matter what your state of attire. I’ve been harassed wearing sweat suits and oil stained (from my job working labour) men’s wear with no make-up and messy hair the same as I have been wearing the skimpiest of attire.
- It doesn’t matter if you’re blonde or brunette. I’ve been both.
- It doesn’t matter if you’re over or severely underweight. I have been both.
- It doesn’t matter if you carry that thing called ‘white privilege’ or not, if you are classified as middle class or not, if you are from a family with a good name or not, if you’re a virgin or more experienced, or if you’re a ‘good girl’ or not. Victims come from all manner of backgrounds, lifestyles, teachings and cultures. It shouldn’t be more or less expected or more or less surprising because it happens to anyone from any class or heritage – it should be upsetting that it happens at all. To anyone.
- It doesn’t matter if you are successful or barely getting by. I have been both and everything in between.
- It doesn’t matter if you try to avoid them, ignore them or are friendly with them. Predatory people do not care if you are a stranger passing by them on the street that hasn’t even realized they are there, they do not care if you are friendly and flirtatious with them, they do not care if you have been friends for years. They do not care if you do not reply to that crass message they have just sent you, and they do not care if you do. You can even show a romantic interest in them and they will take it as invitation to harass/assault you, or you can be haughty and rude, and they will blame it on you getting what you deserve. You can be anything in between. They care only to harass, assault, embarrass or demean you in some manner and exert some power over you, and your interest, reciprocity, enthusiasm and participation or lack thereof is of no concern to them. They will accomplish what they have set out to do regardless of what you say and/or do.
- It doesn’t matter if you are married or in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if you are single.
- It doesn’t even matter if you are already in a relationship with that person.
You know what does matter? That you’re female. That’s enough. Though I admit, men and boys can be victims as well. So let’s start over. You know what does matter? That you have a pulse. That’s enough.
Why do I tell you all this? Because if my experiences – uncomfortable or unpleasant as they may be to some – can somehow help even just one single person, can encourage one single person, can lend strength or support to one single person, can make just one single person feel like they’re not alone, or even just open the eyes of another, then maybe just maybe this all will have been worth it.
Do I think plastering #metoo all over the internet for a week or two will change a damn thing? No. I think Harvey Weinstein will be tried and convicted – or not – based on whatever real evidence can be roused for the court. I think that a predator being told a hundred more times that rape and harassment is wrong will have the same deterring effect as the first time they were told it – which is none at all. I think that those who sit idly by while it happens will continue to sit idly by, for the same reason as they knew it was just as wrong prior to us plastering #metoo as they do now after. I think we will celebrate as a society when one or two of the well known ‘celebrity’ deviants are knocked off their pedestals, and then will revert back to our state of wilful blindness and ‘ignorance is bliss’ touting ways as the millions of others that would hurt, that would be enablers or sit by pretending it isn’t happening just become better at keeping their secrets. I think that victims will still fail to come forward because of fear, because of stigma, because of ignorance, because of shame, because of conditioning, because of victim shaming.
I would hope all of this might encourage others to come forward and tell their stories. I would hope it would create a network of support that reaches around the globe for those that have experienced sexual abuse or discrimination in all of its incarnations. I would hope for this to be a starting point to something, instead of merely the climax and slow descent back to where we started. But because of all of the aforementioned variables, I really don’t see this having any more effect on society than it already has. Though I would love to be proven wrong. We will celebrate the fall of each Harvey Weinstein as ten more sit in wait in the wing, just waiting to take his place.
But at the end of the day, every dark cloud must have a silver lining, even if it is a thinly patched up ghost of one we painted up there our own damn selves. At the end of the day, #metoo has forced those who would in this information age – with the internet, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, advertising, other printed media – still feign ignorance as to the fact that sexually charged violence, harassment and sexism happens everywhere, to anyone and everyone, to finally pull their heads out of the sand and join in the conversation.
So for that purpose alone, I again reiterate, #metoo.