Yeah, you read that right. I’m writing a blog post about the Me Too movement. I’ve gone back and forth over whether or not to write something, but I started with a sentence and my thoughts took off like wildfire. My fingers could barely keep up. I guess I was meant to write this.
Where the actual heck do I begin, though? At this point, there’s no sense in explaining what it is, we all know. To be honest, there isn’t even a NEED for me to SAY the words, because of course I’ve be affected. Is there a female who HASN’T been sexually harassed (or worse) in some capacity?
But since I’m here, and this is what my post is about, I’ll say it. Yes. Of course. ME TOO.
When the movement first went viral, I didn’t copy and paste the status. I didn’t feel comfortable doing it. It felt a little too personal, for me. I felt a little too vulnerable. But I watched.
I watched my newsfeed fill to the BRIM with “me toos” and as much as each one hurt, (knowing friend after friend had been sexually victimized,) I was not surprised. Sexual harassment is commonplace for young females. It’s part of our lives. It’s part of our growing up as girls.
I was immensely proud of the women who wanted to share. They wanted to call people out. They wanted to expose rape culture in general. With every “me too” that I saw, in my head I was thinking “I’m with you. I believe you. And I care”.
I also felt a solidarity with those who stayed silent. Whether they did it because it was too painful to speak, or because they KNEW they didn’t owe anyone their stories, I cared about them, too. And I understood.
And I stayed silent about my own experiences that day. I shared a couple articles that resonated with me, but that was it. I went to bed thinking “that was something new. I THINK it was something good…but I’m sure that will be the end of the discussion.”
Except that it wasn’t.
Things are blowing up. Everyday it seems that some new celebrity/media figure/household name is facing the music. And instead of dissipating, it’s being discussed. As a result, it’s become something that I’ve thought a lot about.
For the record, I still don’t feel entirely comfortable sharing a few of my “me toos”. Some are too personal and some are still too painful, even with years having passed.
But something struck me today, and I want to talk about it. It seems that every time I open a news site, another big wig is getting fired for “inappropriate work place behaviour” and it’s literally one after another. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Gregg Zaun. Boom. Boom. Boom.
I have mixed emotions because yes, of COURSE these men need to be called out and face the repercussions. So there’s a satisfaction in that. But there’s also a sadness and an anger that I feel every time it happens, because it’s a reminder of just how prevalent sexual abuse is, and just how deeply embedded sexism is in our society. The roots are so strong that they touch everyone and everything. They’re literally inescapable. And yes, the tides SEEM to be turning, but they can’t turn fast enough. I look at my innocent three-year-old daughter, and I know they wont turn fast enough. I know I can’t protect her forever, and I know she wont get off scot-free. And it kills me.
But back to my point. Powerful men are losing their jobs left, right and center over “sexual this” and “unwanted that”, and good riddance. Don’t let the door hit your harass-y ass on the way out. But with this has come the inevitable tidal waves of commentary from the “other” men who “JUST can’t believe it.”
It’s become a “witch hunt”, they say.
“There can’t be THAT many harassers, assaulter, RAPISTS, right? Women are jumping on the band waggon. That’s the only explanation. Women are making it up. Women want attention. It can’t be EVERY work place that experiences sexual harassment, can it?!?”
And that’s when it hit me. Something I didn’t realized until that very moment. EVERYWHERE I’ve ever worked since my very first job has included experiences of sexual harassment and unwanted touching. And I do feel ready to share some stories, if only to illustrate the prevalence.
My first “real” job came in high school when I was around 16 years old, but let’s jump back even a little further, shall we? At age 11, I had a couple paper routes that I did with a friend, and though they were mostly uneventful, (and rarely did I have to interact with people,) I would say my first taste of “workplace” harassment came in the form of a naked adult male who stood in his front window and purposefully exposed himself to me as I darted up and spiked that rolled-up newspaper at his front porch. Though I turned and ran away at lightening speed, it had happened, and little did I know it marked the beginning of a trend.
During highschool, I began working at a retirement home. After school and on the weekends and I served dinner to the elderly. Though I was only around 16, the (married) man who hired me would openly ask me about pornography. He was easily in his 50s. He would watch my naive self avoid eye contact, squirm, and give a non-answer. He’d chuckled at how uncomfortable I was.
His second-in-command was a cook there. They were like besties. This other man was probably in his 40s, and he liked to take things a step further. He’d sneak up behind me when I wasn’t aware and wrap his arms around my waist. He’d tickle my stomach and try to pick me up, despite my resistance. He’d comment on my body, and ask me if I was a swimmer. I’d see his eyes rove up and down as he made notes aloud to himself about my physique.
I didn’t say anything. I watch the other young girls experience the same thing. I shrugged it off and put it out of my mind. It was part of the cards we were dealt. It was just what we had been conditioned to expect. We were children, but we were becoming adults and so sexuality was part of life, right? I was a naive 16. I’d never been on a date or kissed a boy, but I was already getting used to strange men having opinions about my body, and feeling entitled to my sexuality.
Next came the jobs I held during university, and no, things didn’t get any better. One summer I worked with a man who continually asked me to dinner. Harmless, right? At first. He was married, and I was taken, so I said no. And no. And no again. He persisted. He began offering me rides home. The nagging feeling in my gut made me turn them down, as much as they would have made my life easier. Since I knew he was married (and he knew I had a boyfriend) it felt suspect. As a defence mechanism, I talked a LOT about my boyfriend. I thought it might get him to stop with the comments, the “tickles”, the hugs, and the PRESSURE to go out. I also genuinely liked my boyfriend. We’re married now, with two kids, but that’s besides the point.
One day, my boss called me into the office. He wanted to “warn” me about Mr. Friendly. He explained the scenario as if it were a simple math problem. This guy had a history with the young girls employed during the summers. YES, he had a wife, but he liked his side pieces, too. Every summer he would target a specific girl, and it was always one who had a serious boyfriend. He wanted a young piece of ass, but he also wanted to make sure she was in love with someone else. He didn’t want her to get attached to him and mess up his marriage. Turns out my “tactic” was doing the exact opposite of its intention. It made me his perfect candidate.
I sat through the talk with my boss, and then walked out of the office feeling a new kind of icky because something had dawned on me. I was made to feel responsible for the situation. I was made to feel that it was now MY job to avoid him….to “be careful”. In fact, it was no secret that he and the boss were friends outside work, so I knew I would never have my boss take my side or stand up for me. The onus was entirely on me. It felt weird, and gross, and as ridiculous as it sounds, I felt guilty. I wondered if co-workers judged me, if they thought I had led him on.
I’m getting a little long winded here, but I’m not quite done because my first job after university offered no reprieve.
I was employed by a lovely lady, but she had a rage-filled husband who would routinely threatened, scream and snapped at the (all female) employees. After one woman left for maternity leave, he told me – and I QUOTE – if I got pregnant next, he’d have to “punch me in the uterus” and “take care of that.” Then he laughed. Because it was just a joke. “Don’t take it so seriously”, he said. He only made the joke because I was a good employee and they didn’t want to see me leave.
I left, eventually, but I left for jobs where my breasts were commented on ROUTINEY…where they were sometimes even touched. Jobs where I was asked if I had implants and what size bra I wore. You know, water cooler type stuff. Shrug if off and don’t worry about it, I reminded myself.
It never changed. It was a new form of the same crap each time.
What should I have expected? I was a 16 to 29-year-old female with ample boobies. Of course workplace harassment was to be expected.
And so my point is this: it may SEEM far-fetched. It may SEEM extreme. It maybe SEEM unbelievable that all these women are coming forward, and that no workplace is “safe”. It may shock you, the volume of the accusations, but this is the actuality of the culture we live in. Sexual harassment is SO normalized that it took a random man on the internet ranting about “witch hunts” to knocked me off my feet and make me thinking back over the years. It took a stranger to make me realize that yes, EVERY singe job I’ve ever held has included sexual harassment and unwanted behaviour. EVERY workplace I’ve stepped foot in has been accompanied by inappropriate comments and actions. Every. Single. One. And that’s just WORK. I could write another twenty blog posts on rape culture in schools, bars, at parties, in dorms, walking down the street, taking a bus, going to the mall.
I’m not going to. I feel like I’ve said enough for now. I hope I’ve made my point.
I don’t have solutions, though. I don’t have answers. I don’t KNOW what to do. I AM realizing, though, that the onus really shouldn’t have to be on me to DO anything.
I will say this. I have a little boy, and the one thing I am going to do is MY BEST to raise him to challenge this culture of toxic masculinity, female objectification, and predatory sexual behaviour. And I know his father is on the very same page. We’re going to do our best with the one little male in our charge, to take a step in the right direction.
I guess the other thing I’m doing is writing this. Maybe it will resonate with people. Maybe it will open an eye or two. Maybe it will have some kind of meaningful impact.
And lastly, a note for the men: it’s SO easy to brush off everyday sexism, but it’s also just as easy to learn to recognize it and not tolerate it. Actually, it’s really easy to be part of the solution. There isn’t any great mystery when it comes to what is and isn’t appropriate/wanted, but if you’re STILL not sure, here’s a good rule of thumb: If you work with women, just don’t be sexual. Period. Just don’t! A) It’s a work place, and B) women are more than their sexuality, so stick to conversations around travel, hobbies, school, family, food, weather, etc. Oh, and keep your hands to yourself. That’s it! Don’t say sexual things and don’t touch in sexual ways. It’s really not hard.
Anyway my peeps, thanks for your time, and making it here, to the end. I appreciate it. And I ALWAYS love to hear your thoughts and feedback, so don’t hold back. Love to you all.