If you're on Facebook, you have seen countless "Me too" status updates blanketing the landscape (on Twitter, it's #metoo). If you aren't, you may not be aware that a couple days back, in response to the Harvey Weinstein revelations and fallout, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a note that read "Suggested by a friend: 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."
The number of affirmatives in my feed -some strong, some quiet, some timid, some furious, some resigned, some now empowered- seems to be at 99%. This number doesn't surprise me; in fact, I'm surprised that I've seen one, just one, who says she hasn't experienced harassment or assault. I am inordinately grateful for her fortune, and I hope she remains free of such a disgusting experience for the rest of her days.
I have always felt pretty lucky in this regard. I have never been sexually assaulted, an experience that is not rare enough when you look at the ugly statistics. Actually, when I look at the statistics, I'm flabbergasted that I haven't been. It's wrenching to know that vast swaths of women have been violated with such regularity and impunity.
I have not, to any memory that I can recall, been made to feel stupid or incapable or less than for being a woman. I was raised by a father who absolutely felt my sister and I could do anything we wanted to, and I married a man who is a total feminist. I have had multiple male mentors who believed in me deeply and proudly, and for them all, I am grateful.
But I have been ogled, cat-called, and put in positions by many male bosses (in Chicago, New York, and Boston) that were and are unacceptable. Scenarios in which I was sexualized and in which their suggestive, leering looks, words, and behaviors made me exceptionally uncomfortable and pissed off. Only once can I remember feeling unsafe (again, I am profoundly lucky), but the sleazy, goosebump, hair on the back of my neck sensations were as upsetting, albeit in different ways.
It puts a woman in the position of having to keep herself safe, employed, and/or not ridiculed or demeaned further. Being in a position of unequal power when sexual overtones are blowing through the air forces women to start rapidly calculating the best way of handling a sick situation. Do I blow it off? Confront the man? Run?
And all of it sticks. Last night, I had trouble falling asleep and just a few hours in, I awoke to Tom hugging me and saying, "Honey, honey, it's just a dream. You're ok." I had been screaming out, for in my nightmare I was being assaulted and I was desperate for help. Something about seeing everyone's me toos must have lodged in my psyche, loosening the knowledge of how many of us have experienced degradation just how many times.
Like I said, I am not remotely surprised by the number of women writing "Me too" or by the number who are coming forward to share how and when they were violated by Weinstein. Just look at all who came out against Cosby. Against the grotesque being who is now our president*.
Harassment is such a regular experience in most women's lives. It's like white noise, and that is sick. Assault is stunningly common. It is about power and dominion by some over others. Those who cover it up, who pay it off, who perpetrate it, who excuse it, and who discount the women who bravely speak out are all equally culpable for perpetuating an unequal, unsafe, unsavory, obnoxious, offensive world in which too many women must live and navigate. And that is the power of this social media campaign: it shows the extent of violation and intimidation that women have been subjected to.
If you're surprised by the numbers then you need to do some reading.
If you have ever doubted women when they share their experiences with you, stop it. The numbers of false claims of assault are stunningly low.
If you have ever acted in a way that would cause a woman to say "me too," you need to do some thinking and change your behavior. It is UNacceptable.
If you are raising sons, it is never too early to talk about respecting others' bodies and minds. It is never too early to talk about the strength of women, the value of emotion, the importance of listening, the importance of being able to say and hear "No." Our sons must be the sort of men who would stop the Weinsteins and Cosbys and trumps of the world rather than enable, excuse, or cover for them in any way.
It shouldn't be luck that keeps us safe.
**Claims against trump: