The #MeToo movement has given women a voice, revealing the prevalence of sexual harassment, assault, and predation in our society and exposing its scope, and I’m no different. But, what next?
First, Reflection. All stages of life, all ages, all countries, all states. Friends, acquaintances, strangers. Teachers, coaches. Those trusted with a young person’s health and welfare.
The random strangers (aka total fucking assholes) on the Métro? I can get really furious about them and yet not carry the weight of those assaults (sort of); same with the few male chauvinist professors during my All Women’s College experience. (Yep. That.)
— Pablo Viñales (@pablovinales) February 15, 2021
But the friends, too. That’s the deep affront, the ultimate betrayal. Sick, really; isn’t it?
Even one of my most treasured friends, someone who really gets me, who I am closely connected to emotionally – a lovely, evolved, empathetic man who was repeatedly sexually abused by family members as a child and has done tons of work to exorcise his own inner demons – tells me, matter-of-factly: “Every guy you know wants to fuck you.”
Great. (I guess it’s no surprise that most of us have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault.)
Two slightly older friends from my life-long neighbourhood team, considered my big brothers. Really good guys. No, really. Community-oriented. Coaches. Not into drugs. Into Eagle Scouts. Each incident within a few years.
Rollerskating at our main hang, the house where we gather daily to play sports, listen to music, make food and have new adventures. I’m skating laps around the giant circular driveway while the guys shoot hoops. When I start to lose my balance, J grabs my waist to help me up – and fingers me. (I will never forget the green shorts I wore that day – my faves at 14 years old.) Later – maybe days? weeks? – one of the boys says to me in passing: “J says he’s sorry about the other day.” I reply: “For what?” Dead air. The incident is never mentioned again, and the perp-friend never brings it up. Neither do I.
Backpacking with our larger group comprised of about ten high school and college kids. I am woken up from deep, nature-induced sleep with K fingering me. I let him because I’m too scared to do anything else. Disgusted with him and, more importantly, myself, I don’t talk to him directly for months even though we see each other nearly every day.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Four thoughts for we women crushed by rape culture
- A ‘little bit’ of sexual harassment is still too much
- Me too: One actor’s observations facing Weinstein’s Hollywood
My pal G and I, we’re in a band together and really enjoy each other’s company. Her family invites me along to their beach condo for a fun weekend, which also, unfortunately, includes some super creepy praise-the-lord shit at the local Calvary Chapel. (Here I’m bullied by strangers to claim Jesus as my guy at one of the large-scale recruitment events disguised as a concert. Rest assured, my inherent three-generations of devout atheism keeps me glued to my seat. I just like to sing.) At a fish house on the pier, a twenty-something (or older?) dude on skates looks up to the window and spies us dining. He then spends many, many excruciating minutes gliding back and forth, wildly making gestures clearly directed at me. G’s father notices (for the record, he was a super creep, too). G’s mom announces: “What on earth is that man doing!” Exactly. WTF is that guy doing. I’m thirteen. The wacko puts his V’ed fingers up to his mouth and flicks his tongue, making the universal sign for oral sex. Classy. No one notices this but I and I’m certainly not going to say anything.
My high school history teacher is having an affair with one of my close friends. (Fun fact: I won’t discover this until after high school. She babysat his kids for half a decade, and they actually got married years later.) His classes were some of my favourites, and I was a good student. In my senior yearbook, teachers write best wishes for college and all that’s appropriate to positively send off young people into the world. His sole contribution to my future: “Boy, you in that red dress! Wow!”
My high school track coach develops a completely bizarre flirtation with me, the initial details of which I cannot recall. (Another fun fact: I get really good at blacking out truly horrible events as years fly by.) He routinely breaks into my locker, leaving me love notes and small sprigs of sweet peas. For months. I tell no one. It creeps me out and yet also exhilarates me at the same time. A secret admirer, my first. Sets the tone.
Also during high school, one of my best friends (since junior high) knows I have had a crush on him since 7th grade. We play tennis one night, late, and he forces me to give him a blowjob behind the courts. I comply. And, that’s that.
College is a repetitive shitshow: drunk, drunk, drunken nights that result in two date rapes, STD and pregnancy scares, and far too many pathetic, inebriated hookups and blackouts. It’s a disgusting time of self-loathing and zero female empowerment at a women’s college that prides itself on empowering young, smart girls. It’s not the college’s fault; it’s mine.
Sophomore year, we are sick and tired of young (drunk or not) male coeds staring at our breasts first, and then, maybe, engaging in eye contact. J and I decide that at the next party, we’ll first stare directly and intently at male crotches, and then slowly move our gazes up towards the eyeballs.
(It’s like that 1970s SNL skit, “Women Who Have Eyes on Their Breasts; Women Who Have Mattresses for Backs“; newer version: “Their Eyes Were on Their Breasts!“)
The response is mildly amusing. Uncomfortable. Lotsa fig leaf positions. One guy immediately responds with dismay: “Hey! What are you looking at?”
Golden Gate Park. (I think every woman I know has a jerk-off story set in Golden Gate Park. Jerks.)
Walking home in the dark, in the light, in the day, in the night. Just. Walking.
Networking events and art openings.
Coffee meetings at Chambers of Commerce.
Yoga. Always after fucking yoga class.
Taking up space. Taking up far too much space with their bodies and stances, their voices and requests and commands, their force of habits. Their habits. Their force.
Even our “safe” colleagues and friends undermine women (and LGBTQA and everyone else who’s “other”) often, whether they realise it or not. Such “harmless slights” are so ingrained in our culture that small offenses are often overlooked. Many, perhaps most, women don’t want to demonise men. We just want to showcase a slice of what it’s like to walk in our shoes.
I love the men in my life. I do have terrific, supportive friends who haven’t tried to fuck me. These lovely, supportive, “on it”, enlightened men offer their ears and compassion, give space and listen, cheerlead and defend, and apologise and apologise and apologise.
What are we to do? Some women, now more than ever, are telling their stories, encouraging others to do the same. Some women are offering support in different, brave ways. Some are boldly confronting their oppressors and abusers.
It’s a confusing and empowering time.
Am I supposed to call my fringe friend who 10 years ago texted me a live pic of him getting a blowjob for no apparent reason (the pic, and also possibly the blowjob)? I blasted him then, but the more I think about it, the madder I get. Call out the guys I grew up with who sexually assaulted me? (One’s dead, so that’s easy.) Is confronting oppressors for their past crimes helpful? And, for whom? Does it matter how serious the affront is? (Aren’t they all?) Are we to offer men a chance to apologise? It all depends on so many factors and intended outcomes, and certainly depends on the victim’s volition to relive or rehash the past.
Many of my women friends are confused about what they want to do with the #MeToo movement. There’s so much bombarding us right now (and then poof!, it’s gone quickly). Many have mixed feelings about what to do or say in public forums. I sure did, immediately, and even weeks out, still do.
One thing is for certain: we’re pretty clear on what we want men to not do. To stop doing.
But what do we really want men to do? What goes beyond listening and #IBelieveYou?
(I’m directly asking you: What do we want men to actually do?)