I have been blogging this inside my head for close to a year now, but of course the “lovely” events of the past week have it front and center in my mind. And because I am trying to suck less at actually getting around to blogging, here I am.
I feel like we all have a #metoo story, whether large or small. We live in a culture that seems to view the degradation of women as almost inevitable.
(You should stop reading my blog now and go read this instead…the repeated refrain, “That’s what girls are for” is haunting and beautiful.)
When I was maybe in fourth grade, and my friend/neighbor probably in third grade, we went up to the local supermarket on an errand of some kind. Whether it was for the errand or if we were wandering, I’m not sure, but we found ourselves in the medicine aisle. The local creeper (I can’t remember if I knew him before this incident) asked us to help him look for some Chloraseptic throat spray. As we helped him search, bending down to search (“no, not the mint – I’m looking for the cherry flavor – is it on the bottom shelf?”), he touched each of us on the butt. Brief, barely perceptible, but it happened. After he left, we consulted each other in hushed tones. Yes, he had done it to both of us. We were utterly creeped out by the experience.
And here’s the crazy part.
Somehow, between the two of us, we decided that we couldn’t tell our parents…because we were convinced we would get into trouble. I can’t remember now whether we said this to each other, or whether we just had an unspoken pact not to speak of it.
How did we know, or why did we believe, that what had happened was unspeakable? Why did we blame ourselves? Why were we unable to speak of this offense against us, to call out the wrongness of it?
Although it can hardly be called “assault”, it was nonetheless a traumatizing experience. And I chose this, one of my “tame” #metoo stories, to point out how hard it is to tell. How hard it is to not blame ourselves for what was done to us.
The silence continued into adulthood. I dealt with it when my manager at one of the shoe stores I worked at would stand there touching and rubbing himself when we were alone in the store. He would put one leg up on the chair and just smile and say nothing while he touched himself. Or maybe he was talking to me at the time…about business, about the weather…who knows. I just remember how hard I had to work at not looking, how uncomfortable and skeeved I felt every time I had to work alone with him.
Who could I tell? I was just a girl. (And in the extremely sexist environment I was in, “just a girl” was no exaggeration. When we were robbed at gunpoint at another store, the home office’s first question was, “Is the girl okay?” Yes. Yes, she was.)
That job was toxic for a number of other reasons, but the fact remains that I didn’t tell anybody about my manager’s disgusting behavior. Why would I? Who would believe me, or do something about it? And oh well, it’s just something we women have to deal with.
Who taught me that it wasn’t okay? Did I blame myself? Did I fear for my job? I can’t remember my thought process at the time, but like the supermarket incident of my childhood, I knew I had to just put up with it.
When I see rich and powerful men being held accountable now, when I see women who are being listened to, and taken seriously, I am grateful. But I can’t imagine that it will last. Why should it? This has been going on for years, probably centuries. How long will it last, women’s stories being heard, and actually believed?
I don’t think it will stick. I think the Kavanaugh hearings are evidence that the pendulum will swing back the other way, and sooner rather than later. Maybe I’m wrong…maybe we will finally put a dent in the impervious wall of denial and shame, and maybe sometime in our children’s lifetime, if not our own, women will be believed and supported.
Until that day, we will continue to have shitty weeks like this one has been, and we will continue together in this PTSD fog, still afraid to speak out, still hearing and seeing and knowing that we will not be believed. But we need each other. We need to speak our truths, and hear and believe others as they speak their own truths.
We are brave, and we are strong, and we have a right to be heard. Please, let’s keep reminding each other of that. And maybe someday, women truly will be heard and believed.