I’ve written this blog in my head a thousand times. The stories and events are always the same but the thoughts and feelings continuously change.
When the news of Harvey Weinstein broke a year ago, I read the articles, joined in the conversation with family and friends, and proudly posted #metoo on my Facebook page. Like so many other women, I’ve felt conflicted, not only about what it’s like to be a female, but about my personal experiences of sexual harassment.
Along with many women I know, throughout my life, I’ve been harassed by men. Amongst other things, I’ve been touched inappropriately without my consent and I have received degrading comments from strangers while I walked down the street. I’ve even had a man look down my shirt and comment on my breasts, while I was quietly working at my desk.
Yet, as I read each victim’s story, I would tell myself I shouldn’t feel bad or complain about my own experiences. I wasn’t subjected to the traumatic acts that Dr. Ford experienced. I didn’t go through the horror that Harvey Weinstein’s and Les Moonves’ victims did. In my justification, what happened to me was simply, “not that bad.”
While I worked through these feelings, something else was happening. Female client after female client, would sit down on my couch and tell me how angry, frustrated and confused they felt reading the news. There would be silence and then a far-off look. Quickly, they would look back at me and say, “I can’t imagine what it’s like for the victims. Nothing like that has happened to me so I really shouldn’t be angry or even complain.”
There it was… my own thoughts and fears being said back to me. It finally clicked. As women, we’re taught to think about other people’s feelings, to be humble, and not to make a “big deal” out of our emotions.
The #metoo movement forced me to look back on my life and to examine the way in which I had been treated as a woman. I developed breasts at age 10 and was a solid C cup by the time I was 11. I looked like a woman in the 6th grade.
My developed body started getting the attention of the boys in the class, but not in the way a preteen girl desired. At first, there were comments. Then, the staring and grabbing followed suit. Somehow, having large breasts to these young boys, meant that I was literally “up for grabs.” They had no problem regularly grabbing and squeezing my breasts or trying to touch my crotch.
One time, I must have gotten really mad and the boys who were harassing me stopped and laughed. They acted as if, up until this point, it had been a game we all played together. I don’t know if they thought I “enjoyed it” or “tolerated it,” but they definitely didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. It was as if I had no right to my body.
When you develop early, you look older than your age. Soon, it wasn’t just the 11 and 12-year-old boys who were paying attention to me. Men on the street felt they had the right to comment on my body, and in my young mind, I thought that this was my fate. My breasts were big, so I had to accept that they will be looked at, commented on, and possibly touched.
I told very few people about the daily harassment I experienced. My friends must have seen what was happening, but they were as confused about their bodies, as I was about mine. It never occurred to me to tell the school or even a teacher. All I felt was shame. That would become the beginning of my own love/hate relationship with my body.
Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to get through the days. I don’t know why I didn’t speak up and I don’t know why I didn’t fight back. All I knew and felt was shame; shame for having a body I didn’t believe I had control over.
Brene Brown says,
“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”
When each of us dig deep inside of ourselves, it’s not being good enough that creates the most fear and shame. There was nothing I did to deserve what happened to me, other than being born female.
It’s been almost 35 years since I was in the 6th grade, and as I write these words, I still feel the same feelings of shame and sadness. The child in me wants to hide and delete each word as I write them, but the adult knows that my story is important. There are far worse stories than mine, but in the end, the tie that binds each #metoo story is the simple fact that we’re all female.
#Metoo isn’t about the severity of your story, it’s about the feelings attached to it. Each of us knows, when you hear a catcall from across the street or a man in your office leans uncomfortably close to you or corners you at a party, you feel a little smaller, a little less than, and most critically, not good enough.
We’ve got to stop measuring our stories and apologizing to each other about whether or not we should even be sharing or telling our stories. We need to keep telling our stories. We need to shout our stories. We need to demand to be seen and heard.