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With very few exceptions, I don’t jump on social media bandwagons. Granted, I am a white suburban mom (with a blog) who lives in the town she grew up in, so trust me, I don’t claim to be a rebel. But I’m not a follower, either. I tend to think pretty independently in most parts of my life and when it comes to social media, I don’t post because others are posting. But #metoo was different.
Let me admit, I have a few significant concerns with #metoo, the first one being that the hashtag seems to put sexual assault and sexual harassment in the same category. I have never been the victim of sexual assault and I would never suggest that the two are equivalent experiences. Even within those two categories, the degrees of harm vary greatly. A hashtag seems like a gross oversimplification of so much pain but still, earlier this week I did a quick cost-benefit analysis and made it my Facebook status.
This morning on my way to work, I got to thinking more about that hashtag. About the stories that led me to join the millions of other people who posted it. All of the sudden, I wanted to write. That’s what I want to do when pain enters my heart.
I thought about what I would say. But quickly, I was flooded by all the reasons I could never write about the most painful parts of the sexual harassment I have experienced in my life. I’m not talking about the ridiculousness I saw in the restaurant industry when I worked as a waitress in my twenties. Back then I somehow found the strength to tell most of the men who called me “Hon” or “Babe,” “That’s not my name.” After those brave assertions I am certain I went from “Honey” to “Bitch” but that was (pretty much) fine by me as long as I made the money I needed on my shift.
I’m also not talking about the time on the crowded Orange Line a few years ago when a random stranger (a professionally dressed middle-aged white guy with dark hair and a briefcase) grabbed my butt as he exited at Back Bay. I was so shocked and felt so dirty and so violated that I didn’t even tell Brian right away. I’m not talking about that, nor am I talking about the time a car full of boys screamed the awful "c" word at me while I was running or the time a colleague called me a "f--cking princess" or the time a boss made a lesbian joke to me referencing my short hair as it grew back after chemo. I'm okay sharing all of that.
But the truth is that I would never share about the most painful parts of the sexual harassment that I have experienced in my life because I still know those people. Because they may read this. Because in many ways, I like some of them and/or members of their families. Because they have struggles, too. Because of shame. Because time has passed. Because I was younger then and they were, too. Because maybe they aren’t like that anymore. Because maybe it was my fault for not stopping it when it first started. Because it’s not as bad as what other women have experienced. Because I don’t remember all of the details. Because my husband and my dad would be mad. Because other men reading this may think it was them, and it wasn’t. Because what’s the point.
In many ways, #metoo was just easier.
And that’s what got me thinking today. Did I take the easy way out? It’s in the past. Don’t bother now. Focus on your job. On your family. On being grateful. On the piles of laundry in the basement.
Most of the above somehow processed through my brain before 5:30AM. Yep, it was still pitch black this morning as I sat in one of two lanes at the main traffic light that leads out of my town. The sun hadn’t risen yet but somehow I had already worked up feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and confusion about #metoo and the experiences that resurfaced with it. I know, it’s ironic. Because I know I’m not alone.
Truthfully, I sat down at my computer after school today to plan lessons for next week. The house was quiet and the weekend is packed so it was the perfect time to get ahead on work. But something led me to a blank document. Something led me to this.
Maybe that force was #metoo and the other women I deeply respect who posted it. Or maybe that force was the Irish girl I met on a ferry from Long Island years ago. I don’t remember her face but I remember that she told me she had just been raped didn’t know what to do. Or maybe that force was a combination of other secrets women have told me about similar experiences. Maybe it was my mom or my sister or my daughter. Granted, all of them are crazy strong and they don’t take shit from anybody. But that doesn’t mean anything; the very strongest women have been victims.
In the end, I think I know what led me here tonight. It was the car stopped next to me this morning at the traffic light. That car was right beside me in a parallel lane so that if I looked over, I could catch the driver's eyes. Only I almost never look at anyone stopped beside me at a traffic light. Of course half the time it’s a woman, but still, I don’t risk it. Because one too many times, a stranger-man-driver-beside-me has made a disgusting gesture or given a flirtatious look or blown a dirty kiss when our eyes met. A perk of getting older is that these looks are very rare. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget how those looks and gestures and kisses made me feel. Too gross to talk about. Which is why I never did.
Because this morning, just after I decided to just “let it go,” just after I decided that “it’s in the past,” I realized that I still dread being stopped at a light right next to a stranger-man. And I still would never share about the other harassment I have experienced. Because those dark feelings -- the ones behind my #metoo -- still haven’t gone away. And I’m still yet to decide if #metoo has changed any of that.