During the week of 16 October 2017, women were invited to write #metoo on their social media status if they had been sexually harassed or assaulted. The idea was that writing ‘Me too’ might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.*
Initially I felt uncomfortable about speaking up. I was anxious about people’s responses – or what I thought their responses might be. I thought that perhaps a quarter of my friends might post ‘Me too’ and I really, really didn’t want my post to lead to conversations about the specifics of my own experience.
For a full day I sat with whether or not to post. Eventually I felt so triggered by the whole thing that I decided I had to post. I realised I could stay silent no more. I didn’t go into specifics about my circumstances. I just posted ‘Me too’.
The fear around posting that reminded me of just how deep these wounds go. Here’s why I did it anyway; I knew that if I kept silent, I would be maintaining a system of oppression which I’m passionate about breaking down. Silence gives men an excuse not to act, not to notice, not to change.
So I posted and for the last 48 hours my Facebook feed has been completely dominated by women saying ‘Me too’.
Watching this unfold, I was reminded of just how significant visibility is. I remembered just how important it is to speak up.
I realised that without speaking up, not only don’t men know the magnitude of the damage they’re doing, but we – as women – suffer alone and in silence.
And in our isolation we can take on the mistaken belief that the abuse or harassment or assault we suffered was about us. That there was something wrong with us that attracted it to us.
We torture ourselves wondering what we did wrong or could have done differently. And our very cells emanate with the message we’ve internalised throughout history (since Eve ate the apple); ‘It’s your fault. You’re the problem. You caused this.’
When we try to speak up in isolation, men often turn to gaslighting (where, rather than accept our account of our experience, they turn the problem back on us and tell us it’s in our heads or it’s our fault, and make us question our reality). We say, ‘This happened to me’ and they say, ‘Don’t be silly, you’re imagining it’ or ‘You wish’ or something equally insulting and offensive.
Most problematic of all; when we’re dealing with this on our own, we fail to see the systemic nature of the problem.
We don’t see that this is what it is to be a woman in the world.
We cannot change the system with lone voices. We need to speak as one loud and collective voice.
As we become more visible, men will become more accountable. And when men become more accountable, we’ll finally start to see the changes we’re all seeking in this world.
(This too is true of all of the other forms of oppression which the patriarchy imposes by privileging white, heterosexual, cisgendered, and ably bodied. It’s the same system of oppression, silence, and invisibility repeating over and over and over again. And until all of these interlinking systems are dismantled, none will be truly free.)
Here’s the post I wrote in response to the ‘Me too’ campaign.
My prayer is that the men of the world are paying attention to our posts.
Men, do you see what you have done? Do you see that this must stop? Do you see that every single one of you has a role to play in stopping this?
Next time one of your mates sends a ‘funny’ sexist video or meme or makes a mildly sexist comment in the office, remember that what seems harmless, actually causes untold damage.
And the damage isn’t just in that moment but in the mindset it creates and condones. It’s in the behaviours – sexual harassment, sexual assault – that become normalised as a result.
Do you see how frightening it is for women to name this? Do you see that as women we live, at best, with a low level of anxiety about what you might do to us on a daily basis?
In managing that anxiety – an anxiety that’s so normal we think of it as ‘everyday life’ – we subconsciously look for men we believe will keep us safe and we keep them as close to us as possible. Or we stay primarily in the home with good locks and alarms. Or if the danger is in the home, we stay quiet and complacent, hoping that by becoming a small target, we’ll not be attacked that day.
When we step into public spaces, we consciously avoid dark streets and dodgy lane ways. We stick to safe areas and we try to move in packs. We’re all to aware of what has happened to our sisters who’ve found themselves alone with a dangerous man at night.
And in the workplace, we walk the finest of fine lines. We try to be attractive because we’ve been conditioned to believe this matters. But we know that we won’t be taken seriously if we’re too attractive and so we reach for that elusive middle ground. We try to contribute but we know that you won’t take it well if we speak too often, or contradict you, or God forbid, show any sort of emotion. We all know who the lecherous male bosses and colleagues are, and while we work to climb a career ladder that’s not tipped in our favour, and juggle the domestic responsibilities that too many of you leave in our hands, we’re also expending hours and hours of mental energy thinking up strategies to avoid being left alone in a room with the groping men.
This is the war that’s waged against us on a daily basis.
When that war goes unnamed and instead, is called ‘society’ or ‘the way it is’, it’s difficult to find the courage or the energy to take action.
When we try to speak to you about these things, you often tell us ‘you’re overreacting or imagining it’ and because these things I’ve described are so normalised, we start to question and doubt ourselves. Worse, we start to believe your crazy stories that we brought this on ourselves.
Men did this.
Once we were powerful Amazons.
Somewhere along the line you decided this was unacceptable and set about systematically trying to break us.
You burned and drowned and tortured us. You removed us from positions of authority and you rewrote the history books. You took chapters out of sacred texts. The chapters that spoke of our power and our presence.
You reconstructed the social and political narrative and convinced us we had but one role to play; in the home caring for children.
But you had to find a way to control that too. So you diminished the role and coined the term ‘women’s work’ deeming it minor, insignificant, less than. And then you set about building a system where money was King and you allocated none of that to the hours and hours and hours of labour we undertake in the home.
You stripped us of our sacred wisdom around birthing and our menstrual cycles and you called us whores and murderers if we dared to control our reproductive systems.
And then you harassed us in the streets and in the workplace. You raped us and you tortured us. And you lied about it. You blamed it on us. You said we were asking for it. We wanted it. Even when we were unconscious, you said we wanted it.
How dare you.
You have used every possible opportunity to remind us that you have the power to humiliate and destroy us.
None of you is innocent on this one. All of you have stayed silent when you should have spoken up. Or you’ve turned a blind eye to the guy yelling at his girlfriend or intimidating and bullying her with his larger physical frame.
Perhaps you’ve let your partner carry the mental load at home, or you’ve failed to take care of the girl who’s drunk in the corner of the party you’re at.
Perhaps you’re the guy who rolled his eyes at your male colleague when a woman became really assertive in the workplace, or you laughed at the sexist comment, or you didn’t speak up against it.
Perhaps you’ve woof whistled at women walking down the street. Or you haven’t stopped your mates from doing it.
Perhaps you assumed consent when consent wasn’t forthcoming. Perhaps you made your partner feel inadequate or uncomfortable because she didn’t want to perform the sex act you saw on the porno you were watching the other night.
Perhaps you assumed your mum would do your ironing or your washing or feed you while you sat around doing nothing.
Perhaps you refuse to watch movies that focus on female characters and experiences, because they’re ‘chick flicks’ and women’s lives hold little interest for you.
Whatever your role, please remember this; NONE of it is benign and YOU are the one who has to stop it.
We can’t do this alone.
We need you to take responsibility for your complicity and choose differently. We need you to stop the war you wage on us and our bodies every. single. day.
Please make this choice for your sisters, your mothers, your daughters, your nieces, your aunts, your friends, and your colleagues. Because as we stand, at this moment, none of us have escaped unharmed.
*Me too was a movement started by Tarana Burke to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of abuse in society. Alysssa Milano then initiated the hashtag in response to the allegations of sexual harassment levelled against Harvey Weinstein.