Over the past several weeks, the #metoo movement has gained serious momentum. From celebrities and high-profile figures to regular women, my social media feeds have been inundated with personal stories of women being harassed and assaulted by men. As a survivor of sexual assault and a woman who believes very strongly in the importance of gender equality, this movement has been especially difficult for me, and here’s why…
I was raped ten years ago, and I shared my story publicly for the first time a few weeks ago on my Facebook profile. Before I posted my #metoo story, only a handful of people (besides law enforcement) actually knew I was raped. A few close friends, my (now) ex husband and my nuclear family. I felt compelled to share because since the rape, I’ve built a life for myself that I’m really proud of—one that encourages personal growth and honesty. That incident does not define me, and I really do believe that courage is contagious. I thought maybe my story will help someone else find the strength to come forward about their own trauma.
So I shared. For those of you who missed it, here it is:
Now, I don’t regret posting this publicly. In fact, I’m really proud of myself for finally putting it out there. I view myself as a strong, capable feminist. I don’t see myself as a weak person or a victim. So I wanted the world to see that this can happen to anyone. It’s not about what you wear, how promiscuous you are or aren’t, what you look like, whether you’re physically or emotionally strong enough to prevent it… none of that matters. Rape is about power and privilege. And I’m proud of who I am, who I have become and how I handled myself through the entire ordeal.
I’m also grateful for the support I received on Facebook from friends who saw the post. I have some seriously badass women in my life, and I’m absolutely a better person for knowing these women.
That being said, you may have noticed that I only referenced women, just now. That was not a typo, or a feminist declaration. I only reference women because the only people in my life who reacted to or commented on that post were women. To say that I was shocked by this is an understatement. I was blown the fuck away.
This movement has inspired HOARDS of women to come out of the woodwork, bare their souls to the world, and share their deep personal traumas with complete strangers, and for the most part, we’re only being supported or heard by other women. We are preaching to the choir. Women know harassment and assaults happen to us. This is not late-breaking news for us. Unfortunately, almost every woman I know has experienced it firsthand or seen it affect a woman they’re close with.
#metoo isn’t just supposed to be an opportunity for women to talk to one another about our experiences, it’s supposed to be an opportunity for the men in our lives to hear our stories and hopefully reflect about the behavior that created the pervasive rape culture we live in. So why isn’t this happening?
Now, I’m absolutely not saying that all men are to blame for rape culture, but many contribute to it—whether they know it it or not. Just because you’re not attacking women on the street doesn’t mean you don’t contribute to the problem. I don’t expect every man to understand this and change these things about themselves just because I said so. I’m just asking for a little self awareness and for them to join the conversation.
Step 1: when a woman says she’s a victim, let her know she’s heard. And guys, if you’ve logged into Facebook in the past month, I promise there are multiple #metoo stories you can start with.
I realize that self reflection is hard. It’s not easy to look inside yourself and try to understand all the ways you’ve failed as a decent human being. I’ve done this quite a bit over the past few years, and here are some takeaways:
- I am a middle-class white woman who is privileged in ways I never even realized. Because of this, I try to be more aware of how my privilege affects both my situation and the situations of those around me—be it people of color or less affluent communities.
- Everyone is probably a little racist. Even me. I hate this about myself, and I hate it about our culture. I’m liberal and engaged and would never actively discriminate against someone because of their race. I was also raised by pretty open-minded people who constantly reminded me I’m no better than the next guy—for any reason. Unfortunately, racially charged stereotypes are ingrained in people from an early age, and I work hard every day to fight back against those thoughts, notions, actions, etc.
- I am guilty of sexism. This one is weird for me… I’m a feminist, but I still have these weird, antiquated views that I just can’t seem to shake of girls and boys, men and women, heterosexual relationships, gender roles, etc. It’s like the rational side of my brain is like, “gender equality, duh,” but something else in there is screaming “But my innate femaleness is inconvenient and I should apologize for that!” Again, I work every day to ignore the parts of me that give any energy towards feeling like I’m less than just for being a woman. But it’s hard work, man.
None of this is easy. I know that. But guess what? Neither is walking around in a world where you feel constantly on guard because you literally don’t know which men you can trust and which men feel entitled to your body (and will do whatever it takes to get it). Neither is living with the trauma of being raped or assaulted. Neither is being a victim whose voice isn’t heard or respected by law enforcement—the people we’re supposed to turn to for help.
I know I’m on a soapbox here. I know this is precisely the kind of feminist rant that many men tune out because it’s not fun to hear. And I know that I can scream and shout my story from the rooftops, but at the end of the day, I can’t force someone (let alone an entire gender) to hear me. I don’t have a solution—only a glimmer of hope that there are good, decent men out there who are on our side enough to do something about it.