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I had planned to write my next post on kids' consignment clothes, and I will, but this whole Harvey Weinstein debacle has really gotten under my skin for some reason. I'm sure we're all aware of the #MeToo campaign. I think it's really powerful and in fact, I added my own twist to the hashtag with the following Facebook post:
Me too. At 9. At 11. At 13. At 15. At 16,17,18, 19 20, 21, 22 through 36. At my thinnest. At my heaviest. As a student. As a waitress. As a nanny. As a lawyer. At my most drunk. At my most sober. In a winter coat. In a bathing suit. In the morning. Late at night. While abroad. While at home. While at work. While on vacation. By friends. By colleagues. By teachers. By strangers.
I wanted to add to the MeToo statement because in some way it just didn't feel like enough to truly explain how often girls and women are harassed or assaulted, or how little it has to do with our behavior as women, but instead with the actions of men. It seems to me that most of my male friends just aren't aware of the frequency with which girls and women are harassed. As soon as I posted my Facebook statement though, I felt some kind of shame, like I was drawing too much attention to myself, or asking someone to feel sorry for me. That isn't it at all though. The #MeToo campaign made me pause and think about when I first felt targeted because of my gender and how often it had happened since then. It also made me consider if I should share the blame for any of the times I had been harassed and assaulted. The conclusion I came to was that I should not, but also made me realize that unless we teach our children and specifically our boys better, my sweet four year old daughter could be facing the same harassment in five short years. To wit:
The first time I remember being harassed and almost assaulted I was nine years old, playing down the street at a friend's house. That friend happened to be a boy and there was also another boy from the neighborhood at the house. The three of us were playing video games and just generally goofing off in the playroom. I think at some point we started throwing pillows and wrestling with each other, which was innocent. Then one of them grabbed at my chest. I wrestled myself away and told him if he did it again I was going home. The details of what happened next are admittedly fuzzy, but then one of them decided they should push the couch in front of the playroom door to prevent me from leaving so they could grab me. At that moment the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I instinctively knew I was in danger. While they tried to block me and push the couch I started yelling and banging on the wall. My friend's mother called down to see what what going on and both boys froze. I understood that was the moment to escape so I took off out the door. I walked home shaken, but I didn't say anything to my parents. I already felt shame about what had happened and also partly to blame though I wasn't sure why. I resumed playing with those boys a few days later, though nothing like that ever happened again (with them). Before this incident, these boys had been my friends for years and came from intact two parent homes where, at least from my observations as a child, there was no serious abuse or neglect. Somewhere along the way, though, these boys picked up that it was acceptable to try to grope a girl without her consent. But they were not predators and I would not be at all surprised if they are, today, loving husbands and fathers.
I might also want to dismiss this incident as children just exploring boundaries if the same sort of scenario hadn't kept happening to me every year or two. In fact, before the age of 18, boys or teenage boys had attempted to confine me in a room or basement against my wishes on at least three more occasions that I can remember. None of my girlfriends ever attempted to do that to me. Unfortunately, this kind of stuff did not end in adolescence. As I grew older the harassment grew more subtle and less overtly aggressive, but it did not end. I haven't ever reported one of these incidents not because I welcomed them, but because I accepted them as part of being a woman and know every one of my friends could recount a similar situation. I wouldn't even say that I've been particularly traumatized by any of these events, I've always been lucky to have a strong sense of self and loving family and friends. That said, I want better for my daughter and for my son. I want both of them to be free of the shame of being the victim OR the aggressor. I'm not yet sure how to teach J to speak up for herself and O to respect a woman's boundaries, but I think sharing my own experience without shame is a start.
Thank you for reading and I promise we'll talk about consignment next time.