Oct 16

The Power of a Hashtag

So much power in such a little thing

Most hashtags (or pound signs as old people like me used to know them as) are pointless. Depending on how cynical and bitchy I am on the given day, my reaction varies from the benign shoulder shrug to me typing a rant about how cut and paste movements are often masturbatory, smug demonstrations of how enlightened a the followers of the hash tag are. (Thankfully,  I erase those rants because there is no bigger douche than a smug, self satisfied douche ranting about some harmless yet annoying internet trend and basking in the pretentious glow of their own cynicism and superior intellect. Yep, sometimes I’m that asshole.)

Sometimes, though, the interwebz hive mind hits on something great. Some times hashtags can do something wonderful. I’ve already had a window into it from my limited role in #YesAllDaughters.  I believe the new #MeToo has the potential to be another great one.

I once told a man I know to be a very good man that every woman I knew has been sexually harassed or assaulted in one form or another. I watched his brain reboot. He didn’t want to call me a liar, but I could see him have a hard time computing the information. In a perfect world, this man would have just taken my word for it. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have this problem.

Some of the angry push back to Me, Too I’ve seen is caused by women feeling like the fact all of us face this is common knowledge. Every single knows all of the women around them has been groped, pinched, followed or much, much worse. We share stories, comfort, or even just knowing looks. We share them between ourselves among other women who know. We don’t share it with all the men in our lives. We might tell our lovers or maybe, rarely, our close male friends.

This does not excuse the behavior of the predators or harassers. It doesn’t excuse the zealotry of disbelief. All of these things are still wrong. The beauty of this movement is it strips away the excuses. It demonstrates something all women know and shows men something they SHOULD know. Let me apologize here for writing  this portraying the victims as female and the aggressors as male. I know this not always how it happens, and I also know there is a lot more to gender than the two ends of the gender spectrum.

If deniers see walls of Me, Too, it becomes harder to deny. If people see fields of Me, Too they might understand how many people understand something of what they went through. Maybe Me, Too will open window shades of the shame of the things done to us and let the light finally kill those monsters. Maybe Me, Too will show someone how their behavior isn’t harmless fun. Maybe Me, Too will cut through lines and lines of “well, he just did this but at least this didn’t happen.” Maybe we will finally be able to face this shit head on.

So, here is my Me, Too:

I can’t point to one particular incidence or attack. I don’t have a rape or molestation to point to and say “this was when.” I’m left more with a feeling of an accumulation of a million little cuts.

I remember being really young and playing with my sister and the kids of some random people my parents knew. I remember there were two older girls my sisters age (8-ish),  a boy who was also 8ish, and a boy closer to my 6ish years with a visual impairment. I remember being forced into a wardrobe with the boy my age. I don’t remember if anything happened in the dark. I just remember it was dark, and I didn’t want to be there. I remember the boy professed his undying love for me and the older kids snickering.

That was the first time I felt like there was something so wrong with me that anyone who expressed interested in me was open to ridicule. It was the first time I felt like I was wrong and any desire for me was wrong. I also remembered learning a fear of being forced into the dark with someone who wanted things from me I didn’t want to give or even understand.

My entire childhood was adults of all ages and genders poking and commenting on my body and my weight. I felt like my body was community property. It wasn’t my own. I didn’t have agency over myself. My body was open to public discussion, and the discussion was about how it was flawed and in desperate need of fixing in order to be lovable, except by my mom. She thought it was flawed but still very lovable.

By the time sex actually became a consideration, I was so convinced I was so undesirable it was a mute point. I was this unsexed, unwantable thing. It meant I didn’t have many of the same painful interactions most young teenagers had. Now, as an adult I know things had to have happened, but I wouldn’t have identified them as sexual because the idea of someone interacting with me sexually was ridiculous.  It was all just so confusing.

Somewhere I just got this extreme discomfort at any sexual attention. It felt like any desire from males felt like this unspoken drive to take from me with doses of pervasive and unidentifiable shame. Of course, at the time I had no understanding or emotional vocabulary to express any of this, so I just shut down.

I had big tits and a big ass and a body that was community property, so I have had a lot of hands on me. I remember it was the fourth grade when I realized boys were noticing my boobs. I remember that’s when the grabbing and pencils or crayons began being thrown at my chest started happening. At the same time, the boys also made it very clear the idea any of them wanted to with me was clearly ridiculous. There were prettier, less weird, less big girls for that.

It was confusing as fuck.

In college, I just accepted that people where going to grab me whenever they wanted. A lot of the time it was fun. When it wasn’t fun or unwanted, what could I say? I learned a long time ago my body belonged to everyone and a grope wasn’t desire or sex. I was not someone anyone wanted like that. The extreme shame and discomfort I felt didn’t matter. I had no reason to be upset about having to remove male hands from under my skirt or down my shirt even after I made it very clear I didn’t want them there. It was harmless. right? It wasn’t like I was being raped, right? So what if I felt so uneasy, so violated, and shamed. It was a part of being a grown up. It was part of having tits and an ass. Feeling unsafe was part of the deal that came with being female. We were prey to fight for our right to not  have unwanted things happen to us.

Things are different now. I went through a few iterations of mentally and emotionally abusive relationships. Finally somehow I broke away. I won’t say much because what I share with the Viking is his as much as it is mine, but I will say the difference that safety, love, respect, and acceptance makes is glorious.

As an old, happy lady, I have some perspective. I now know if it feels uncomfortable and wrong then it needs to stop. You always have the right to make it stop. You always have the right to remove the hands or get away from physical contact. You always have the right to tell someone their advances are unwelcome. If you can’t, for whatever reason, it isn’t your fault. If you freeze up and can’t say anything, if you feel like saying something will bring you further harm, if you feel too much pressure for whatever reason, and you can’t get out of the situation, it is not your fault. If you walk away from a situation feeling like you were taken advantage of and feel a vague sense of something wrong having happened, it’s NOT your fault.

It’s time we stop letting ourselves be quieted and controlled by “well, at least this didn’t happen” or “I didn’t want to be rude.” People survive horrific things. I know women who have survived and thrived after multiple terrible attacks. Just because you didn’t suffer that level of trauma doesn’t mean you weren’t traumatized. It doesn’t mean you have to shut up and sit down because much worse could have happened. Acknowledge it. Feel it. Survive through it.

As for being rude, I wish I could say fuck ’em, but until we live in a world that cares more about the safety of women than the damaged egos of males, we will always have to be careful.

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