#MeToo – A movement I can (reluctantly) join

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I’m not going to lie; I didn’t want to write this post.  I hesitated for a significant amount of time, before I finally made myself sit down and write it.

There are lots of reasons why I didn’t want to write it.

Part of it was that I didn’t just want to jump on the latest bandwagon.  But then, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  The whole point of the #MeToo movement is to start a conversation.

It was a bandwagon I SHOULD be jumping on.  Because, of course, that’s how change happens – when everyone steps out of their comfort zone and says enough is enough.

Another part of my reluctance was that the thought of sharing made me uncomfortable.  I’ve spent a good part of my life NOT talking about it, trying to forget it, just ignoring it and hoping for the best.  Certainly not the best approach, but it’s all I had.

The reason I finally sat down and started typing was because, let’s be honest, my HESITATION is actually the problem, isn’t it?

I hesitated because sharing that it happened to me makes me feel a lot of things that I really don’t want to feel: unsafe, shame, fear (of people’s reactions).

What is #MeToo?

Let me take a step back for a second and explain what #MeToo is for those of you who might not know.  #MeToo is a movement on social media trying to bring to light the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault towards woman.  By putting #MeToo as a status update on their social media accounts, women can identify themselves as having been the victims of sexually inappropriate and/or sexually violent behaviour.  The hope being that the non-believers, those people out there who think it’s a small problem, will see how truly systemic it really is.

 

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Every woman has a different story.

So, what’s my story?

Actually, I don’t want to share the details, and I don’t feel like it’s necessary for me to graphically describe all the things that have happened to me over my female journey to honour this movement.  I feel that raising my hand and saying that ‘yes, it happened to me,’ is where my comfort level is at – and that’s okay.

But, I can tell you a little bit about the scope of my experience, to give you a better idea of where I’m coming from.  My experience wasn’t a single, isolated event nor was there a single perpetrator.  My ‘encounters’ occurred in different phases of my life, in different settings and ranged from sexually inappropriate comments and sexual harassment to sexual assault, but on the grand scale of all the types of sexual violence that can be perpetrated on a woman, my experiences were rather minor – which, by no means, makes their impact minor.  Although from the standpoint of being taken seriously, they’re probably easier to dismiss as being nothing.

To me, they aren’t nothing.

Along with not describing what happened, I also feel strongly about not naming names; there are several reasons for this, but the main one is that for some reason, to me, pointing my finger and saying it was ‘them,’ feels to me like I’m giving them power.  I know this isn’t the case for everyone, and it certainly isn’t necessarily the right choice – but it’s MY choice.

They already have so much power over me – I’m not giving them any more.

I feel their power over me when I worry if what I’m wearing gives the wrong impression about what me.  I feel their power over me in the impact it has on every new relationship I have with a man – whether that is trusting a male boss to have my back or being suspicious of the stranger who ‘likes’ my Instagram post or something else that might seem innocuous to someone who hasn’t been tainted by sexual violence.  I feel their power over me when I question whether or not it’s safe for me to ride my bike home on the trail by myself after I get off work at 10pm.  And, I feel their power over me every time I encounter a man I don’t know – and sometimes even the ones that I do.

I’m not afraid, exactly – it’s more like I’m uneasy, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak.  Even though I’ve had countless encounters that were absolutely fine, part of me remains tensed and waiting for it to happen again.

You see, I knew every single one of the men; there wasn’t a stranger in the bunch.  And to make it all worse, there were situations where sexually inappropriate things were said, and men, who I thought of as my friends, didn’t stand up for me or call the perpetrators out on their behavior.

To say the least, I have trust issues.

And these trust issues affect every new male relationship whether I want them to or not – I feel powerless to stop it.  I feel awkward because I’m trying to act like I’m completely comfortable, but I’m not.  I’m still that teenaged girl and young woman whose trust was violated (multiple times).

It’s not my intention to paint every man with the same brush of doubt.  And, I believe that consciously I don’t, but my sub-conscious mind is not so ready to trust, at least in the moment.

My own trusting nature probably played a huge part in the entire thing.  I’m not blaming myself – I’m not responsible for other people’s actions – but, maybe, I ignored warning signs because of my personality.

 

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This part of my past affects every man in my life.

While I’m on the topic of the men in my life, let me just say, that there are numerous men in my life who’ve always treated me with respect.  I’m reasonably sure, and remember I have trust issues, that these men, had they been witnesses, would’ve stepped forward in my defense.  Unfortunately, they weren’t there, and I guess, as unfair as this is, I maybe blame them just a little bit for not being there – not the rational part of me, the other, irrational part.

Since at the heart of this problem is the way men (not all men) treat women, it’s easy to lay all the blame on men, but as women, we aren’t blameless.  I’m NOT talking about victim blaming here.  We’re in no way responsible for the actions of others; we ARE, however, responsible for how our actions help perpetuate the culture of sexually inappropriate behaviour that we’ve found ourselves surrounded by.

What do I mean by this?

 

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Women can be enablers too.

It’s been my experience that women aren’t any more likely than men to step forward and call others out on their inappropriate behaviour.  When sexual jokes and comments were being made about me in my workplace, it wasn’t just my male colleagues who witnessed it and did nothing – there were women there too.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the reluctance to get involved.  I cringe when I think about some of the jokes that I’ve laughed at.

I’ll be honest; I laughed at those jokes to fit in.  I was working in a male dominated environment, and I wanted to fit in – to be one of the guys – so, I laughed; I thought it was what I had to do (because that’s the message that runs rampant in our society).  I laughed right up until the point when the comments started to be about me, and then they weren’t quite so funny.

I laughed because at the time, I didn’t really understand the impact the jokes would have – they were just jokes, right?  Now, I understand.  Now, I know better, and I wish I could go back and change my behavior.

It’s hard to step forward and call people out on the inappropriate things they’re saying or doing.   It’s hard because very likely, they’re going to turn on you.  But, if we let the little things go, then we allow the BIG things, like rape, to happen.

What do I need to do?

I know, for myself as a victim and as a friend and co-worker, I need to step up my game.  I need to be the voice that says, ‘that’s not okay.’

I need to be brave.

Now that I’ve raised my hand and identified myself, what’s my next step?

I need to make real changes in the way that I interact with others.  I need to make sure that I’m not inadvertently enabling the perpetrators.  I need to be vigilant at work, at sporting events, and at social engagements, that I’m not standing witness to inappropriate sexual behavior – no matter how minor it might seem.

I also need to work on healing that part of me that’s still raw from those words and hands from my past.

I don’t spend all my time ruminating over those events, but they do impact my life; they influence my behavior on an unconscious level.  They’re part of my history, and therefore, they have a lasting impact on my current behaviour – they’ve, unfortunately, helped to develop who I am today.

 

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So, while I’m working on helping, I’m also going to work on healing.

I invite you to join the #MeToo movement and speak up through whatever medium you have available, if you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual violence.  The comments below are a safe place to say #MeToo.

Let’s show the non-believers that it’s a REAL THING and it’s a REAL PROBLEM that affects every woman and the men that know them.

I spoke up because by keeping silent, I continue to give them power.  I’m taking back my power.

Nicole

 

 

 

 

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