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#MeToo

October 19, 2017

#MeToo.

 

For the time I stood in a crowd and had a man press himself up against me, feeling his hot and unwelcome breath on the back of my neck as he tried to place his hands on me, so that even after I turned to face and stop him and the coward bolted, I took four showers in a row in the hottest water I could stand when I went home that night. I still felt like I could not wash the feeling of his disgusting touch off me.

 

For the time in high school when I saw a man at a beach party lead my extremely drunk friend towards the water so he could assault her there, unwitting and unwilling - and when I saw and tried to stop it, called me names, called me a lesbian (like that was an insult - another issue on its own), ugly, psycho, a bitch and a whore.

 

For the time at an old job shortly after university, when I stopped smiling at work entirely to keep my "bitch face" on permanently because a co-worker sitting in the row opposite would stare at me all day long, his eyes peering over his computer screen hungrily like the crocodile in Peter Pan, before stealing my phone number out of the work system and sending me unwelcome messages at 2am saying how he wanted me. When I said to stop contacting me, he persisted. He bought me gifts, I returned them without a word then threatened to call the police if he continued. He still messaged. I blocked him. I wore looser clothes that covered me from neck to toe; he did not stop. I ate my lunch alone in the meeting room or in the bathroom, because I did not want to join in group gatherings. I made up excuses for why I could no longer come with the wider team for the afternoon tea break. I told my boss; he said "You know what it's like - with some of these guys, you say good morning or go for a coffee with a group of colleagues during an afternoon tea break and they think it means you'll marry them. It's just how it is; don't worry about it and just ignore it." I resigned. He sent me "add" requests on various social media networks in the following years. I blocked them. The whole time, he was also 25+ years older than me, married with three children (one of which was a daughter, only 6 years younger than me), and I had been in a more senior role than him. My friends and I tried to laugh it off after I left. I never did quite shake off the disgust.

 

For the time another friend of mine told me, in tears, as I held her while she crumpled, about how the man she trusted, and thought she loved, had raped her in a bed that had once felt like home, even when she had cried and said, "No baby, please, not today."

 

For the time when I was much younger, and a tailor lifted my clothes while "measuring" and touched my bare skin where he should not have - and although I moved his hand away and left immediately, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone because I wasn't sure if it was me who had done something wrong. Now, I'd have given him a piece of my mind, and reported him. Then, I was too young, innocent, and unsure to know any better.

 

For the time I walked through the street in an open, public area on my way to met a friend for lunch on a sunny day, and was groped by a stranger. I laughed it off at the time, partly out of shock, and partly to try and make myself feel better. It made me feel dirty all day, and not in a fun and sexy way.

 

For the times when I was younger and the men I said I had consented to kissing me decided to ignore my "no", "not yet", for anything more, and coerce me into things I wasn't ready for with a simple, "C'mon baby, it's ok. You'll like it," while their hands did the real talking. I was too young to have learnt that that it was not up to them to decide those things for me, as I have now.

 

For every time I've put on a jacket not because I was cold, or because there was a dress code, but because I was afraid of someone staring at my skin, and what that might lead to or mean - even if it's "just" uncomfortable stares where they are undressing you with their eyes. When I've said "I will dress as I please as long as it respects the culture and requirements of the environment, because how a woman dresses outside of that does not mean that she is 'asking for it'," out loud, but even while doing so, I have yanked my skirt down lower or taken smaller steps, or pulled my shirt higher or stood or walked with my arms crossed over my chest, so that they could not see more of my thighs or any more of my skin, and look at me in a way that would make my skin crawl.

 

For every time I've taken a different road home, even though I'm tired and the route will be much longer, because I know that on some streets I will not feel safe - even when I am sober, carrying my sharp key in my hand poised and ready to strike "just in case", and with all of my wits about me and years of fitness and martial arts training behind me.

 

For every time I've stared straight ahead of me like a horse with blinders on, with my "bitch face" on if I cannot reach for my sunglasses and earphones, hiding my natural sunny smile, like they are my shield of armor.

 

For every time I have travelled overseas and not walked too far from my hotel at night, or gone to certain locations at all to visit more of the place I have flown so far to see, because I am a woman travelling alone and I've been told the area is not safe after dark; that I will be likely be treated like or called a whore, or receive unwelcome attention. All while staying in a hotel room that I have paid more for, so I can sleep in a safer area in a more secure hotel, because I am a woman doing so alone and have to mark these concerns.

 

For every time I have made up a fake husband or boyfriend on those travels, to stave off unwelcome interest and endless harassing questions from men I did not choose to engage with, and asked to please stop and leave me alone, when my gut instincts are screaming at me to do so.

 

For every time I have wiped off my makeup, or tied my hair up in a small knot on my head, and taken off my heels, on my way home from a night out, because I am afraid to keep on the things that make me feel attractive when I'm about to enter a different environment, like a walk home, or even a solo ride home in the only taxi option available. Confidence-boosters change shape when circumstances change.

 

For every time I have been emailed at work by a man whom I've made it clear I'm not interested in, and teased about how good my butt looks in certain leggings or other clothing, and that I should bend over more often. Or the suggestions of how I'd be exposed to so many more opportunities if I were to smile and flirt a little more - maybe expose myself in a different way - yet when I was clear that I wasn't interested or would not comply, I felt as though the door might shut in my face.

 

For the times I was told - by men and women - that I must have only gotten a work-related opportunity "because you're pretty", and not because I am intelligent, accomplished, and earned it.

 

For the times I've kept my shirt or shorts on over my swimsuit on a public beach, and physically ran out to the water with my paddleboard as fast as I could, because of the crowds of men surrounding me, staring like predators and taking photos, catcalling and making me feel like a caged animal.

 

For the times I've kept or pulled my shirt or towel on over my bikini, or switched to a different side of the pool or beach, or left early, because there was a man staring shamelessly at my body with hungry eyes and no friendly smile of greeting. Without that, it ceased to feel like a question or an open request to flirt, and instead felt like a command where I had no choice in my answer.

 

For all the times that another woman has looked at, treated me like, or even called me a whore because I am wearing an outfit they don't approve of, or whatever they deem unworthy of respect. Because yes, it comes from women too, towards other women - and it happens to men too. A victim is a victim, and their gender doesn't render their feelings invalid.

 

I hesitated to write this post. I've seen the others come up on my social media feeds for days. I've even been vocal about creeps trying to grope me in the past. Yet, I paused. I am a strong woman. I have been in fights - both inside the boxing ring and outside of it. I know that I am physically capable, and I take pride in standing up for myself as often as I can, in everyday life, at work, in relationships, and beyond. Yet to describe any of these incidents any further, with any more detail - and goodness knows I am capable, as a professional writer, of setting the scene to make someone feel that they were there, saw what I saw, feel what I felt - is not something I wanted to do. Even in my sentences above, I can only scratch the surface of it. Because to write it like that is to relive it, and I do not want to. But even if I can't say it all, I have to say something. It's not always just about physical assault or harassment, either - the forced shedding of innocence when one did not choose to, before they are ready to, or choose to, will always cause pain. People do not owe you their stories, and I do not owe it to anyone to say any more. A hashtag that raises awareness is great, but it is not enough. Legislation, behaviour, and taking conscious responsibility for our actions and their impact on others needs to change with it. To force women to speak up if it makes them uncomfortable, feel vulnerable, and pushes their boundaries against their will to inspire that change - well, that's a parallel to the problem itself, isn't it? But if I can say this, and perhaps speak for the women who cannot speak at all for whatever reason they may have - in the hope that someday, this behaviour might change - then I will.

 

So yes. #MeToo.

 

 

Image: Shutterstock. 

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