This weekend, countless brave individuals took to social media under the hashtag #MeToo to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment. It started by someone suggesting that others reply with the hashtag to show just how prevalent this issue is in society despite it still having taboo strings attached. This was in response to the latest scandal in Hollywood where women were victims of sexual assault, and in some cases, rape, by men in power.
Thousands of people bravely came out sharing that they, too, were victims. Many also came forward because they knew that others could not due to personal circumstances. The overwhelming amount of responses, both on Twitter and Facebook, reinforced what we have sadly seen on the large stage for a long time: for every person who said #metoo there are those who either dismiss these accounts as “boys will be boys” or say there will be no resolution to bringing the issue to light. When the candidate who became our commander in chief dismisses predatory behavior as “locker room talk,” and women supporting the statement (which is a story for another day), Brock Turner getting away with rape with only a slap on the wrist, and still others speaking out in support of men like Harry Weinstein, it’s no surprise sexual assault carries on in our society.
We are told not to “dress provocatively” if we “don’t want trouble,” while men are not held accountable for their offensive behavior. As if men are not able to control themselves. As if men are unique creatures that cannot help themselves to what does not belong to them. You know what we call those?
Robbers of innocence. Stealers of peace.
They are also entitled scumbags. And, as a society, nothing is done to promote a change in culture, not even in religious circles. Which is why #metoo was so sorely needed as a means to show just how rampant this sick culture is.
I remember the first time I was objectified sexually. Growing up in the hood afforded me street smarts that most young Americans don’t ever have to worry about, but the moment I’m describing happened much earlier. I was 11 or 12, boarding the Q66 bus in Queens with my mom and siblings. Finding seats for four can be a challenge sometimes in NYC public transportation, but luckily the bus wasn’t that full. However, it required walking past several rows of seats. That’s when it happened.
An older man, easily over 70, slowly ran his thick tongue over his lips like a starving dog at the possibility of food dropping on the ground before him.
He was in need of a shave and possibly a shower. And his tongue, that lascivious tongue, was covered in the tell-tale signs of poor hygiene: a white, furry topcoat that had countless little rivers running across, revealing the pink flesh beneath. He was seated in the first row facing the front of the buss, wearing a tan trench coat, a white V-neck sweater that revealed a hairy chest, with a gawdy gold-chained necklace and a large gold pendant. He was also holding a cane.
I remember that he was sly enough to wait until my mother walked past him before he acted in such a repulsive way. As in, he knew he was acting inappropriately towards a CHILD, and he wouldn’t have gotten away with it had she seen it. Deep down I knew it wasn’t normal. Deep down I knew he sneaked that gesture in knowing that I wouldn’t say or do anything.
I remember being repulsed by him, but at the time, I wasn’t aware that this was a form of sexual harassment. I was simply too young and too innocent to put two and two together. I know that if others saw him, he would have been called out (as many New Yorkers are keen to do). As if going through puberty wasn’t uncomfortable enough, I now had to learn how to protect myself from these situations.
To this day, I instinctively choose silver-toned jewelry over gold-toned pieces, as gold-toned jewelry often reminds me of this rather disappointing day.
Is this an example of the type of sexual harassment that first comes to mind, or the kinds of abuses that the #metoo thread intended to shed light to? Probably not. My intention in writing this is not to impart a woe is me plea of sympathy.
My purpose in writing this is to get it off my chest, and to give it an outlet to join the chorus of other women saying #metoo. I’ve only told a few people about this experience because…I mean, how do you incorporate this into an otherwise “normal” conversation, ya know? Like, I don’t wear gold jewelry because some sick f*ck did this to me on a bus?
As a thirty-something year old, this was only the first of many negative experiences. I won’t recount every instance of sexual harassment I’ve experienced or witnessed partially because they’re too many to list, and partially because you can read the #metoo thread on Twitter. Many others have endured much, much worse than I have. Every time someone dismisses disgusting behavior, they are also dismissing how violated the victim continues to feel every single day.
I’m not really sure how to end this, as it is an uncomfortable topic to begin with. However, if you see something that’s not right, speak up. If you see someone who is afraid of speaking up, be there for them. If you experience sexual harassment, in any way, shape or form, know you did NOTHING wrong and seek help from a trustworthy person. If that person downplays the situation, seek help from someone who will take action.
You never know the difference your voice can make until you try.