If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine today, it's probably full of posts from women with that simple declaration. Some of those posts may include this explanation: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' in their status, we might give people an idea of the magnitude of the problem. #metoo
At first, while saddened by the sheer number of these posts, I was encouraged by the courage of my friends to step up and raise their hands as victims. I was encouraged by the support offered to them for speaking up. I was encouraged that this might actually work. That if we tell our stories, people might finally understand that sexual assault and sexual harassment are happening all around us, and it isn't something to be excused away or swept under the rug. But I'll be honest. The more of these posts I see, the more my optimism shifts to anger.
I am angry that this has happened to so many people. I am angry that people continue to make excuses for it. But most of all, I am angry that sexual assault has to be made relatable to be condemned. This is not a new thing, especially when the victims are women (though I completely acknowledge that not all are). For years I've heard pleas for respect for women based on their relationships to other people, often men. "Treat her with respect. That's someone's daughter/sister/wife/mother." Or, "How would you feel if that was your mother/sister?" I know that people who say these things are trying to be helpful, but here's the thing: It. Doesn't. Matter.
A woman doesn't deserve respect because she's someone's daughter. A woman doesn't deserve respect because she's a mother. A woman doesn't deserve respect because she's a sister. Or a wife, or a friend, or your cousin's next door neighbor. A woman deserves respect because she's s a human being. Full stop.
We shouldn't have to put sexual assault and sexual harassment in the context of your personal circle to make a difference. We should be just as angry about the abuse of a victim we've never heard of and will never meet as we are when it happens to someone we know. We shouldn't have to flood your timelines with our own stories to get your attention. We just shouldn't.
A good friend of mine shared this quotation from Lindy West, which I think is perfect: "Iwish women didn't have to rip our pastsopen and show you everything and letyou ogle our pain for you to believe usabout predation and trauma." I, too, wish we didn't have to, but apparently we do. So in solidarity with the many women I know who have bravely stepped up, I'll share a story of my own.
Several years ago, I went out to dinner with some people for a friend's birthday. We had a great time at dinner and decided to move the party to a bar down the street to have some drinks and maybe do a little dancing. Shortly after we arrived, I had gotten a cocktail and was standing with my group, just chatting. I had my back to the dance floor, and I felt someone come up behind me and put a hand on my right hip. Startled, I looked back and saw a stranger's face, but a familiar sight.
This man wasn't flirting with me. He was looking back at his friends, laughing because he was "grinding on the big girl." Apparently in some circles, that's good entertainment. I was not amused, but I tried to laugh it off and asked him politely to stop. This has happened before, and I didn't want to make a scene.
Afew minutes later he returned, and more sternly this time, I said, "Do not touch me again." I went back to talking with my friends, and I thought he went away. Soon, though, I felt the back of my skirt being lifted up as his hand grabbed my rear end. I spun around, pushed him away, and found the nearest bouncer.
I pointed out the man who had grabbed me and told the bouncer, "You need to get him out of here. He's out of control."
The bouncer laughed and replied, "Nah, he's just having a good time."
"I don't think you understand," I explained. "He lifted up my skirt and grabbed my ass. He needs to go."
"Calm down, he's harmless," the bouncer told me before walking away.
Harmless. The man who had just assaulted me is harmless. That's what the bouncer believed. That's what I was supposed to believe. That may be what some of you believe, but it's just not true.
Truth be told, this isn't my only story. I could give you less aggressive examples. I could give you more aggressive examples. But I'm sharing this one because that night was the moment I realized we have to change the conversation. We can't expect the problem to get any better if we don't address it. And to address it head-on, the current conversation has to stop.
Stop making excuses for people who commit sexual assault and sexual harassment. (Because it's ALWAYS wrong.)
Stop blaming victims. (Because it's never their fault.)
Stop asking what she was wearing. (Because it doesn't matter.)
Stop asking how much she had to drink. (Because it doesn't matter.)
Stop asking why she didn't report it. (Because she was scared she'd be blamed, shamed, or dismissed.)
Stop asking why she didn't come forward sooner. (Because she was scared she'd be blamed, shamed or dismissed.)
Stop asking why she waited until someone else spoke up to tell her story. (Because there is strength in numbers and comfort in knowing that you aren't alone.)
Stop waiting for it to happen to someone you know before you speak up. (Because it already has.)
Instead, let's start a different conversation. One that starts with compassion for victims and accountability for abusers. One in which victims are heard and supported. One in which we all---men and women---work together to find solutions to these problems because they affect all of us. One in which the solutions don't include teaching people how NOT to become a victim. One in which we speak up on behalf of people we don't even know simply because what happened to them is not okay.
As angry as it makes me that it's gotten to this point, maybe this Facebook trend is a good start to the conversation we need to be having. As you see these posts, make sure you share your support and encouragement for those who are speaking up. Use what you hear from them to examine how you can be part of the conversation and part of the solution. Let their stories be a catalyst for change. I think it would mean a lot to them.