Women are indicating in huge numbers that they’ve been the victim of sexual harassment or assault with a short status on Facebook or a #MeToo on Twitter. The aim isn’t sympathy, writes Nicole Brodeur; women want the abuse to be acknowledged and to stop.
In the morning, it was a couple of drips, but by Sunday afternoon, there was a deluge on my Facebook feed.
“Me, too.” “Me, too.”
These were accomplished women like Chef Tamara Murphy. Businesswomen like Megan Jasper of SubPop. Published authors like Jennie Shortridge and Jennifer Worick. Lawyers and deejays and musicians and designers. All had been sexually harassed or assaulted, and were gathering in a virtual town square after Hurricane Harvey Weinstein uprooted a system that has been buried deep in our culture for generations.
On Sunday, actress Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me, too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
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“OMG, me too,” I posted. “Me, too.”
When I was 10, a boy named Donald asked me what my, uh, vagina smelled like. (He didn’t use that word.) I remember walking to the front of my fifth-grade classroom and telling the teacher, my voice shaking, what he had said. She told me to move to another desk.
In high school, my boss in a Jersey pizzeria cornered me in the stockroom and kissed me. I told one of the other waitresses, who told the owner’s wife. She fired me.
And just last week at a wedding, a guy from the old neighborhood, emboldened by booze, told me: “I could have had you.”
“Had” me. As if I was a sandwich, something to be consumed, to satisfy. That’s how he saw me. Whether I was interested didn’t matter at all.
On Sunday afternoon, my best friend texted me to ask what my “Me, too” post meant. When I told her, she expressed sympathy — and surprise that I had never told her.
I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t. Shame, of course. But over the years, the anger and confusion had been buried deep. There was just no point in bringing up something that, for women, felt as inevitable as menstrual cramps. Nothing to do but endure, accept that it would happen again — and be a lady about it.
Thanks to #MeToo, the memories are rushing back. It is painful, but it is also cathartic to see the numbers and understand that we had nothing to be ashamed of. We simply existed in a world where some men just take what they want.
One friend remembered watching a St. Patrick’s Day parade as a kid when someone behind her reached up under her Irish skirt and groped her. Another recalled a male family friend wandering into her room during her parents’ cocktail party, pressing himself against her and sliding his hands down to her crotch. She told her mother, who didn’t tell her father out of fear of what he would do to the man — who was invited over again.
Their stories made me sad, but I was never shocked. The numbers — in 24 hours, more than a half-million tweets and 4.7 million engaged on Facebook — were numbing.
By Monday afternoon, #IHave sprouted, with men posting about having been complicit, or silent, or being angry toward women who refused their advances.
Yeah, well … It’s a start.
In truth, women often pay the price for enlightenment with their privacy and personal trauma. It was that way with the #ShoutYourAbortion movement, and it is that way now.
And yet, many have chosen not to post at all, or to remove their posts. That’s their right.
Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards addressed this on Twitter, saying: “Women shouldn’t have to share our most personal stories just to generate a modicum of sympathy. But too often, we do.”
We don’t want sympathy. We want the harassment and abuse to stop, and we want outrage. Where was the outrage from my teacher? Why didn’t my friend’s mother refuse to invite that man back? We all went on our way like good little girls.
Outrage isn’t likely, though, in a country that elected a man who felt free to grab women by the crotch, then brag about it.
Meanwhile, the “Me, toos” keep coming. Some from transgender women, some from gender-nonconforming people. Some from men.
An accomplished magazine designer told me about the guy at her 35th high-school reunion who went down a line of women, pointing at each one: “That’s hot,” he said. “That’s hot.”
“That.” As if they weren’t grown, established people of substance. They were just objects in his own personal showroom.
It just never ends.
But maybe it will now. We’ve not just opened a dialogue here. We’ve exposed the abuse of power, and shown there is strength in numbers.
I just wish they would stop growing.