If you’re sick of hearing about #MeToo, you’re part of the problem.
We are sick of having to tell these stories at all. We are sick of feeling like we are “attention-seeking” or “self-victimizing” when we speak out about these experiences perpetrated by other people, experiences that often define your life. We are sick of moments of (primarily male) entitlement and aggression that are just moments for the perpetrators, but are memories that stain our lives. We are sick of knitting ourselves together, like everything is A-okay, with smiles on our lips as we pretend that we feel safe with the men in the room, can take a joke, yes, we know, it’s a compliment. We are sick of “compliments.” We are sick of daylight sidewalks that feel like hell because we dared to step outside as women, whistles and hollering and entertained laughter from the hands of men we fear might kill us, because it happens all the time.
We do not have the privilege of knowing that your harassment was not predatory, that it was just a joke. We do not know how to distinguish the bad men from the good ones, not because we hate men but because we want to live, and there are a lot of men who hate us for existing at all.
I am seventeen years old and I am accustomed to sexual harassment. In cities. In suburbia. On the metro. Walking to school. In a supermarket. In public. At night. In the daytime. I’m wearing shorts, and the wolves attack. I’m wearing a parka, and the wolves attack. They don’t discriminate. I am seventeen years old and I have been groped, flashed, screamed at, whistled at, laughed at, and made a small thing by random men. By strangers. This started happening when I was eleven. It hasn’t stopped. Not at all.
The #MeToo campaign is not meant to pressure victims into speaking out. It is meant to empower all victims to understand that they are not alone, that their experiences are valid, shared. That what happened was not okay, but that we are all here and we all are ready to fight back. This isn’t about politics. This is about treating human beings like human beings worthy of dignity and respect. This is about not terrifying a pre-teenage girl into never trusting men again because you decided impulsively to holler at her, for fun.
This happens to every gender. Women sexually assault and harass as well, but the majority of assaults are committed overwhelmingly by men. This isn’t our responsibility to solve. It’s yours. I speak to the men out there who have maybe never harassed anyone, but whose friends have. To the teenage boys I know: joking about rape? It’s not funny. Diminishing the experiences we have, trivializing them, excusing them? It’s not okay.
It is an unnerving, sickening thing, to recognize that even if you’re not one those men, you are still a man, and quite an immensity of people of your gender treat women, and other people, like this. I understand the urge to be defensive, to deflect or derail, to whip out the “not all men” card, but please listen to me: we know not all men. But we don’t have the privilege of knowing which men. And as a man, you need to call these behaviors out. You need to stop condoning it, being complicit or quiet. You need to be adamant.
I am seventeen and sexual harassment and assault is everywhere in this world. Us teenage girls know it all too well, but to talk about it feels impossible sometimes. We fear being belittled, or told to “toughen up.” I’d prefer if men who sexually harass would be held accountable for their actions. We dismiss this insidious behavior, let it slip, try to ignore it, but we need to stop holding our tongues. When women are afraid to speak up, constantly living in fear of a boss or a coworker who has the power to ruin their careers, gender equity is not reachable. We need to create an environment in which we feel safe to speak up, validated and understood - not blamed nor shushed.
The seemingly inconsequential moments - older men staring at your chest in the supermarket like you're something to eat, carnivorous glances on the sidewalk, the “hey sweetheart” to the “suck my dick” - all of it hurts. All of it is etched into our memories, perhaps forgotten but not erased. These moments add up. To say “hey there sweetie” to a woman on the street may seem innocuous but if that women has experienced sexual assault, it can feel like a puncture to the heart. It all is imprinted, embedded in our psyches. We learn how to ignore it, train our brains to be unflinching, to pretend it away, but the small traumas of the female everyday should not be our responsibility. They should not be so commonplace, so unsurprising, so tolerable. They should be unacceptable.
I almost never respond. I'm walking alone, usually, sometimes late, and as cathartic as shouting something back would be, the fear of what could happen, what men can do to resistant women, tells me not to risk it. So I swallow my anger and let it simmer underneath my skin. It's become like breathing.
But. I am terrified. I am terrified of my little sister having to grow up in this world, grow up being belittled, demeaned, dismissed, to start fearing the world before she’s even a teenager. I am terrified of the complicity. What I fear most is how surprised so many men were at the #MeToo campaign, utterly shocked that harassment is such a commonplace occurrence. To me, there’s no surprise left. I don’t think that a lot of them realize how bad it is, and I understand that, but at the same time, we all need to be aware of these behaviors. We cannot rely on women to fix primarily male problems.
#MeToo is meant to speak up for those who cannot, who do not have access to be able to do so. #MeToo did not begin with any one entitled man, but ten years ago, because of all the entitled men that have always existed and will continue to if we don’t collectively say, enough is enough.
And men shouldn’t care because they have sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, and daughters. This trope implies that women only matter if they’re in some way connected to men. Men should care because women are human beings, just like them. I do not think that is too much to ask.
Molly Ringwald published a personal, harrowing essay this week about the harassment she’s faced in Hollywood, and what sums the problem for me is this one line: “Stories like these have never been taken seriously. Women are shamed, told they are uptight, nasty, bitter, can’t take a joke, are too sensitive. And the men? Well, if they’re lucky, they might get elected President.”
We elected one of these men already. Let’s try to not let that happen again.