Ever since #metoo broke I have tried to figure out how my story fits within the emerging narrative. When my social feeds flooded with stories of sexual harassment, heart breaking and harrowing, I did not see my experience.
Plenty of women have written about this. Their hesitance to say #metoo. Some have gone on to detail levels of sexual harassment that I find horrifying. But those women felt unqualified to say #metoo because their experience did not include rape.
Then there are women who have had said #metoo whose experience of sexual harassment probably mirrors mine. The garden variety of social accepted micro aggression that many of us have never thought to challenge. Some have considered this a dilution of #metoo.
But rather than making the problem smaller, I think taking into account those so-far socially accepted norms, shows how large the problem is. It’s the platform of accepting the “lads will be lads” behaviour that has allowed the more terrifying actions to happen on such a large scale.
That’s where my narrative comes in. Actually looking at why I reduce my experiences to nothing and challenging that.
This rising of solidarity is important. So important. It’s marking a new time where men and women are being held accountable. When we are all questioning what is socially acceptable and creating a fairer, kinder world.
I am part of that reckoning.
As a teenage girl I went to school dances with my friends. It was a foregone conclusion that in a sweaty, crowded room of hormones, we would be grabbed by the boys. Our bums would be grabbed, our waists, our breasts. And yes, we thought it was creepy but we didn’t really call it out. In fact, and I’m sad to say this, there were grope counts and the higher the number bestowed a certain cache. Proof of attractiveness.
This continued into the night club scene where often we would pinch the men back in what we saw as an act of defiance. But really we were just buying into the same game.
None of us told those boys and men “this is my space and I did not give you permission to invade it”. And none of the boys and men seemed to see a problem with it either. After all, wasn’t it all in fun? Weren’t we all young and beautiful and having a wonderful time? Wasn’t the attention a compliment?
I was at a work event not long after my first son was born. I was unsteady feet as to my own power, which used to reside in my career, my confidence and a svelte body. All had taken a battering. One of my young male colleagues and I had a few drinks and we got quite tipsy. He shyly told me that I was considered one of the “MILFS” at work. Do you know how happy that made me? How ridiculously happy? And how awful is that? That so much of my self value was connected to the male gaze. In this case the male gaze of someone much younger and less senior in position.
I don’t think I’d feel that way now. I think I’d be much happier if he had said “you are one of the smartest, kindest people I know”. And I would take the same value from a woman saying the same thing. Perhaps more. But it’s taken me a while.
I think this is an important part of #metoo. Getting young women to this point so much sooner by acknowledging, challenging and changing the toxic behaviour that has been accepted as normal. And we will all, men and women, be better as a result.