When I first saw the “me too” facebook request pop up on my news feed, I had a feeling it would go viral. But me, I opted to pass. Asking sexual assault and harassment victims to identify themselves on public social media didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t give much thought as to why — and since, many have eloquently explained the problems with asking victims to prove themselves to perpetrators — I just decided not to do it.
As I saw a few more “me too” posts pop up, I briefly wondered about my reticence. But not too much. I kept on scrolling.
It was not until a flood of “me too”s took over my newsfeed that I considered adding my name. And eventually, I did. But the truth is that I hadn’t wanted to think about it. I knew that adding my own “me too” meant shining a light on parts of my life I preferred not to think about. But I got caught up in the current of empathy, and I jumped in. And since then, I have spent a lot of time thinking.
I’ve been thinking about getting warnings from my mother as early as I can remember that yes, many men were good, but also some men were bad, and sometimes it was hard to tell the difference, so I should always be assessing and reacting, protecting myself. I’ve been thinking about how I carry my keys as a weapon when I walk at night alone. I’ve been thinking about how I always sit in the front car of the train after dark, just in case something happens so the conductor can hear me and get help. I’ve been thinking about the countless times I smiled politely or offered a demure “thank you” to an unwanted advance, because I was more afraid of the bitter threats that could follow my honest reaction. I’ve been thinking about the times I had to protect my own middle school students from being hit on by older men. I’ve been thinking about how I could not fall asleep for three nights following my own sexual assault, and how at one point I was sure I’d never think about anything else.
I’ve been doing all of this thinking, and I’ve also been realizing that, for the most part, I’ve always just accepted this as the way things are.
And then last night on the bus on my commute home, a man ran his foot up and down my leg in a way that immediately set off all my alarms. I waited a beat. Maybe it was an accident. He did it again. I looked at him and he looked back, and I immediately moved away as far as I could, but I felt gross. I felt violated. And really, I didn’t even look good. I was tired from work, my makeup had all but worn off, my hair was a mess. I was wearing a long sweater over a high-necked t-shirt and loose-fitting jeans with sneakers. I could not have looked any less like I was asking for attention. I wasn’t asking for attention.
In fact, since I hit puberty, I have largely lived my life avoiding male attention. I’ve cut my hair short. I’ve worn long hem lines and high neck lines. I’ve practiced a face that conveys disinterest and distance. I’ve done most of this unconsciously as a reaction to my environment, and I’ve done a few things on purpose as a response to my experiences.
But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.
Because even with my dumpy clothes and my short hair and my un-made face and my tired eyes, even with my disinterested look and my nose in a book, some man can still feel it’s in his right to violate my space, to make me feel unsafe.
Clearly, it’s really not about me.
And yet, that “me too” is mine to carry.