This week my social media was flooded with two words and I can guess yours probably was also.
Me Too. A campaign focused on bringing awareness to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault.
As post after post popped up with the hashtag and two words, I saw reactions ranging from ‘I’m sorry’ to ‘boys will be boys’. People who fully embraced this opportunity to share and others who disagreed with the movement. The stories I read went from uncomfortable to horrifying but what struck me most were the amount of stories I read that made me look back on my own life and say, “I thought that was just part of it.”
A catcaller who follows just a little too closely for a little too long walking to get lunch, a grab while making my way to the bathroom at a restaurant, an inappropriate message on Facebook or Instagram. These blips on the radar happen so often I’m sad to say, I’m almost numb to them.
Here’s the problem: If I’m numb to these fleeting violations then I’m numb to the culture that has perpetuated them– the culture of ‘it’s just part of it’.
This past year, I was in New Orleans on St. Patrick’s Day weekend for a bachelorette party and it was our last night in town. It was a perfect spring night and I decided on a skirt and long sleeved top. We had finished dinner and were making our way through Bourbon Street to the bride’s favorite piano bar where we had established ourselves as mediocre albeit passionate singers of everything from Alabama to R. Kelly. Then, in the middle of the street, surrounded by people, I felt a hand go up my skirt and grope me. Hard. I instinctually turned, hands covering my hem and looked directly into the face of a man smiling at me before disappearing into the crowd. Smiling. I wanted to scream at him but I didn’t, I froze. Would yelling cause a scene? Would it even matter?
Let me be clear: this story is one of harassment, not assault. This is not me wishing for a hard story or trying to measure up in some way to the stories I read that have left scars I can’t imagine. This is me acknowledging my place in this narrative as a woman. My story did not traumatize me, of course it left me flustered, embarrassed and mad, but it did not keep me up at night. I was just angry. Next time I would know what to do, next time I would be ready. It occurred to me when I considered the idea of next time, it wasn’t as an ‘if’ statement but a ‘when’.
The week after, I was catching up briefly with an acquaintance I ran into, they asked me how the trip was and if everyone stayed out of trouble, I mentioned the incident only to be met with, and I will never forget these words, ‘Well, what did you expect?’
My face flushed, my fists clenched and I couldn’t speak. That person looked me in the face that morning and reinforced this idea that my getting groped in public is not ‘just part of it’ but more so, partially my responsibility. I should have seen this coming, I should have somehow been smarter, more prepared, more covered. I was furious. And again, I couldn’t find words.
So, now that I’ve had some time to compose myself, here are the words I’ve wanted to say:
Oh, HELL no. You know what I expect? Not to be touched unless I want to be. Know what else? That the people who I surround myself with don’t expect me to expect anything less and that is what this campaign is all about.
To the women who have stories I cannot comprehend, I am so sorry.
To the women who don’t feel like their stories are big enough to matter, they do.
To the fathers, brothers, sons, partners and men who care about us, please know that every one of these stories has been done to someone’s daughter, sister, mother or loved one, just like yours. Understand in the moments you choose to make the joke, stand by or stay silent, you do so on behalf of the women who need you to have a voice.
And to every woman, who just like me, played small in a moment they wanted to be bigger, I want you to know it’s okay to say ‘f*ck politeness’ and I hope you do.