I was overwhelmed that weekday morning to be confronted with the #metoo campaign. Only one friend had made a public declaration of suffering from sexual harassment by 8am on my feed. I felt empathy and rage and wrote a response of condolence, praise and solidarity. Apologising for her hurt. Admiring her courage to speak out. Admitting being a victim myself but telling her I could not voice it.
She asked me a question I had never been asked before, “Why don’t you feel you can talk about it?” for which she already assumed the answer, “I am ashamed”.
The feeling is certainly shame. I had never addressed it before. The entire morning my mind was swimming. Recounting the events repeatedly which I had tried for years to forget. No detail has been lost in those attempts. I picked apart every moment and finally brushed aside the denial.
Encouraged by the women I had connected with throughout the day, I made my status #metoo.
Amongst several responses which were otherwise positive I was sent a personal apology from a man which read…
“I saw your (#metoo) status… I hope they weren’t about me but… I apologise if they were.”
The first fundamental problem here is people not recognising what sexual harassment is. A man who is unsure if they have been harassing or sexually abusive towards somebody really ought to take a long hard look in the mirror. If you are in doubt that your behaviour is abusive then do not do it.
Secondly, by this point in the evening I was not in a particularly forgiving mood. Though neither was my messenger. As the message really insinuated that if he was not actually the perpetrator of the abuse then he wasn’t sympathetic at all.
I knew the scale of the problem was large, but I didn’t comprehend the true magnitude. I wanted to believe that it was only me and that other women had been spared of the trauma but that was purely wishful thinking and ignorance. From the first assault I was persuaded to keep silent, a statement that convinced me that what I had been through was part of being born a woman.
2 weeks since the #metoo campaign was re-ignited by Alissa Milano. In the harsh light of social media I have reflected heavily on my past. There are 3 sobering conclusions which have resounded with me following this:
The most serious sexual assaults I have suffered were at the hands of men who loved me.
The abuse I suffered as a teenager has impacted every relationship I have had and made me accepting of abusive behaviour. It has also made me belligerent in my treatment of men.
Harassment in my life hasn’t been a single incidence but rather a timeline of events from my early teens to the last year.
Honestly, I must admit that I feel worse. I am sure, I am not alone. The aftermath of #metoo has left me feeling adrift in an ocean of doubt that I can ever expect to feel safe. Personified by the sheer scale of the issue highlighted in the last few weeks.
This does not detract from the success that the campaign has had in its objective to encourage people to report and speak out against abuse. To continue to combat the stigma around discussing abuse with men and other women.
We must keep this conversation alive for the future and think about what can change for the better. No one should feel pressured into discussing traumatic experiences. However, the discussion can take a positive step in asking ourselves and others what constitutes harassment, how do we recognise it and what can we do to negate the culture of abuse.