Disclaimer: I can only speak as a white woman, which comes with an admitted amount of privilege, I realize full well. These are some of the things that nevertheless have happened to me, that I wish to share. (Sexual harassment / abuse trigger warning. )
There’s a lot of bad shit happening in the world, and I don’t even know where to start with most of it.
The truth is, every time I sit down to write about something, or get behind a cause, there’s another Bad Thing™ that rears its head and calls for attention and protest. Like a lot of people dealing with the effects of social media I’m sure, I wrestle every day with which cause should constitute my priority, and feel bad that I simply don’t have the energy to physically care about every Bad Thing that happens. I wish I did. I wish more people cared, too. But I get why they don’t, or can’t. Caring in the face of such a tremendous amount of Bad sometimes feels like holding a candle in a hurricane: scary, intimidating and inevitably, there’s a large piece of shrapnel (or a flying bovine) that’s gonna bury itself in your cranium at some point, turning you into a witless vegetable in face of the storm. These days, trying to manage the relentless avalanche of crap cascading onto my timeline/dashboard is more perilous than being up shit’s creek without a battle. In fact, in terms of my personal mental health, it’s more like navigating in a tumultuous, gale-blown ocean without a boat, or arms. …Good luck with that.
Still, today I’m sitting down to write because if there’s one thing that’s been an unfortunate constant in my life, despite the comings and goings of Bad Things each more horrifying than the other, it’s the reality of sexual harassment. Given the recent revelations regarding Weinscum, like many others out there, I’ve found the subsequent #MeToo campaign to be a painful wake-up call (or simply a quantifiable reminder, for most) for how rampant sexual abuse really is.
And honestly? DUH.
First off, I wanted to say that I’m furious that it took a rich white man’s public fall from “grace” to make the world actively take heed about the fact that this happens. All the time. Every day, on a disturbingly huge scale. It wasn’t enough that victims spoke out. It wasn’t enough that there were dozens of witnesses. It took a mountain of effort to dethrone this guy after years of abuse of power, for anyone to even notice, nevermind acknowledge his transgressions. But I suppose I should be grateful that it even happened at all because unfortunately, the outing of this sort of predator is a rarity.
Because the thing is, it’s all about power. It’s about one person exerting his or her power over others to justify abuse, violence and to compel silence. And as eye-opening as #MeToo has been in the wake of this person’s uncovered abuses, I feel it is a bit incomplete despite its positive intent. It succeeds in starting the conversation, or at least uncovering it, and that’s an extremely good thing. However, #MeToo falls just short from pushing the conversation forward. I believe this is because no one should force victims to share their stories if they don’t want to, but I also think that many victims might feel like they would not be heard anyway.
So I will share. Because I should be heard, and so should you. I am hereby reclaiming my power, because they don’t deserve my silence.
These are some of my experiences:
- Having it being said, during a meeting with 5 of my colleagues, that I “spend a lot of time on my knees” because I had knelt down to pick up a piece of fallen paper. Enduring my colleagues’ subsequent silence and uncomfortable stares, and having the perpetrator, my boss, yell at me in a private meeting when I brought it up with him later, for daring to accuse him of misconduct and for trying to ruin his reputation.
- Having a colleague sitting down at my table during a staff retreat while I was alone, and telling me that he owed me an apology. This was because he claimed he was trying to make amends with the fact that for years now, he’s only ever thought about my breasts and the breasts of other female colleagues in the office when talking with us.
- Having this aforementioned colleague ask me to meet him in a professional context in his office under the pretense of having me illustrate a project of his, only to have this project be about a character representing himself, who walked around naked and whose sole purpose was to do battle with his sexual ardour (represented by a large red penis he wanted me to draw on the character – I could NOT make this up.)
- Having a stranger accost me from behind in the metro when I was about 16 years old, and whisper “hey pretty girl, want to come with me?” directly in my ear.
- Having my boss comment on my appearance several times during the day whenever I would wear red, because I “look like Snow White”. I never wore red again. That same boss would invade my personal space and constantly comment on the appearance of female staff, but no one would say anything because he was very high up in the ranks.
- Having a colleague whom I’d never spoke to in person tell me over Google chat after I helped him correct a document, that I was “the prettiest girl in the office, everyone says so” completely out of nowhere. Again; I had never spoken to or met this man in person before.
- Having a travel booking agent we deal with solely over the phone begin to ask me, unprompted, if I had a boyfriend, if I “liked to party”. Once more, I had never met this man in my life, and only ever spoke to him in a strictly professional context.
- Having to hear a gang of young men berate my friends and I with slurs and insults because I dared talk back to them after having had enough of them making sexual comments every time we’d pass them in the entrance of my apartment building (where they would deliberately block the way and harass women). They threatened physical violence and that they’d find my mother and fu*k her, among other things. A security guard and subsequently the police had to intervene.
- Having to dodge a taxi driver’s inappropriate comments and propositions upon having to sit in the front with him, because the cab was full. He asked us to return to his place with him, because his other job was being an “actor”in a lot of adult films.
- Having a stranger’s hand shoved under my skirt and into my privates while I was dancing with my friends, and subsequently having the perpetrators follow us around the club until we had to talk to security to get them kicked out.
- Being accosted at 1AM on the street on my way home from my sister’s birthday party in a residential neighborhood, and subsequently being called a bitch and a cunt repeatedly while he followed up the street until I yelled at him aggressively to leave me alone. I was violently firm in my tone for him to “fuck off” but was almost never so scared in my entire life.
- Having a teenage boy tell me, while I was in line at a restaurant after having seen a play, that I had “big tits, yes you do, look at those big tits”. Fortunately that time, I yelled him out of the place, asking him if that’s how he spoke to his mother. However, I never wore the dress I’d been wearing again, which I previously had thought was pretty.
- Finding out that I’d only been invited on what I thought was a “friends” trip with trusted people (that I had known for years), because the host wanted to hook up with me. When I refused him, he proceeded to not speak to me for the entire time, and eventually told me he wanted me to leave. I was a 6 hour flight away from home, and terrified. My other “friends” did not defend me, even though they knew exactly what had happened, because I told them.
- Frequently waking up with a non-consensual penis in my mouth, because he justified that I was “in a relationship” and that’s “just how things are” sometimes.
- Dick pics.
- Being threatened with having my “beheaded French-Canadian bitch skull f*cked” on numerous occasions by an online stalker who I had to threaten with a restraining order after years and years of this sort of abuse. By the time I’d asked the police as well as the internet platform in question’s for advice on this, I’d blocked about a dozen of his usernames, but he would keep returning to my page via an IP blocker, and making personally-directed sexual threats. To this day, I still have no idea who this person is/was.
- Discovering, after a boyfriend had left indefinitely for another country and left me his laptop, a number of videos he had taken of us during intimate moments, without my knowledge or consent. He also had videos with a number of other women I did not know. I was fortunate enough that the hard drive was destroyed and that this took place before the days of streaming porn sites.
I could go on, as this is just scratching the surface of the worst experiences I’ve had. This doesn’t even cover the experiences that people (of varying genders) I know and love had had to go through. I had one girl I barely knew from class break down into tears one night in my car as I drove her home, because she was too scared of her ex boyfriend to go home. He had broken in the previous night and sexually assaulted her. I drove her to her sister’s further away instead. Another male acquaintance of mine had been cornered by a woman in a bathroom while he was too intoxicated to refuse her advances but he never spoke about it, for fear of people not believing that a man wouldn’t want sex. I’ve had to hear about my sisters being harassed and persecuted for orientation. Those are just some examples, from a handful of people I know. Out of thousands.
Ridiculously enough, despite all of these and more, I still consider myself “lucky” that my situations weren’t worse. Because I’ve always known that worse happens, and felt I had no right to speak up. That admitting to being victimized meant weakness, assumes attention-seeking, or worse, involves blame. We’re taught that we’re supposed to feel grateful for not being abused more, which assumes a baseline of deservingness for such action.
But the truth is; no matter how big or small the abuse is/was: nobody deserves it.
And I believe you.
Speak out. Denounce sexual harassment and abuse. Help make the world safer.