At first, I was not sure what I could add to the conversation around Me Too, a campaign started by activist Tarana Burke 10 years ago to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence that recently gained steam on social media in reaction to the accusations of abuse against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
So many facets of the “Me Too” discussion have been written about (largely by queer and trans women and femmes of color). The social justice content creator Call Me They has written about how sexual violence survivors can be triggered by the flood of “Me Too” posts on social media. Feminist activist Wagatwe Wanjuki has written about how the onus shouldn’t be on women and femmes to call out sexual violence. Canadian actress and director Nicole Stamp has written a concrete list of actions men and masculine folk can take to start breaking the cycle of sexual violence, just to name a few.
I, like an overwhelming number of people of all genders, posted “Me Too” as my Facebook status. However, I made this decision after much consideration. At the time I posted, I was still conflicted and decided to do so only out of interest in showing solidarity with other survivors. As a feminist and women’s and gender studies major, I know that sexual violence exists on a spectrum. It ranges from catcalling, to unwanted comments on one’s appearance, all the way to rape and murder. For days after posting, however, I still was adamant that this status – not just of survivor or victim, but as someone who has faced any harassment or discrimination based on my gender whatsoever – did not apply to me. But halfway through a conversation about how women and femmes often downplay encounters that constitute harassment or assault by saying “it’s just par for the course” or “he didn’t mean it” or “that’s just the way it is,” I realized I had been doing the exact same thing.
I have walked through campus while two men snickered about my appearance behind me. I was once continuously approached by a man at a party who pressured me to give him my number when I was not interested in doing so and made that disinterest clear. I was making out with a boy when he slid his hand up my shirt and under my bra without asking and proceeded to grope my breast without my consent. While I didn’t necessarily see all of these examples as harassment or assault, I absolutely would have if they happened to a friend of mine. I would offer my support for my friend and express my indignation at the people who didn’t think or care about the consequences their actions could have on another person. These people valued their own feelings of entitlement to another’s time and body over that person’s safety and security.
Living in society as a person perceived as feminine means expecting that your body doesn’t belong to you. This does not mean that men and masculine people do not experience assault, because they absolutely do, and due to prevailing notions about masculinity, are largely ignored. This means not being surprised when masculine people (predominantly cis and straight men) feel like your thoughts, labor, time and body are theirs for the taking. And it means feeling rude or unkind when you set boundaries to protect yourself.
But, take it from me, a person who feels guilt every time she utters the word “no;” it is not mean to save yourself. It is the kindest thing you can do. If you feel uncomfortable with the way someone is looking at you or a joke someone made, it is not par for the course. If you express disinterest in a specific sexual act but they keep bringing it up to “convince” you to change your mind, they did mean it and that shouldn’t be the way it is. If someone crosses a boundary, violates consent, abuses their power or does a thousand other things that fall on the spectrum of assault and harassment, it is never “not bad enough.” It is never not important because someone may have “had it worse.” You and your experiences matter. A culture that justifies the “small” acts of sexual violence is a culture that negates responsibility for the “larger” acts.
You are under no obligation to share your experiences with anyone, but personally, I will not stay silent any longer. I will lift up my voice while lifting up the voices that most ignore – especially those at the intersections of race, class, gender, ability and citizenship status. I will proudly declare “Me Too” because I am not the one who has anything to be ashamed of. Most importantly, I will not only dream of but work for a day when no person can think back on their lives and say it was them, too.