The stories have been coming out of the woodwork, stories from young women and older women. Women I’ve known for ages and those I barely know. Stories of vulnerability and shame laid bare for all of Facebook to witness. Stories of minor transgressions and stories of abuse that have left indelible scars on the lives of those who lived them.
As much as I feel compassion for all these women (and men) who’ve had chinks of themselves gouged by their experiences, my first reaction was to give gratitude for not being one of them. I’ve never had to endure the inappropriate requests of a superior or the demeaning come-ons of a supposed friend. I count my blessings that I’ve never been assaulted. In light of the – now obviously skewed – statistics, I count my blessings I’ve never been assaulted.
Still the stories poured in, the hashtag filled feeds everywhere, until I became nagged by that cynical impatience I often have with social media: the sense that people are throwing their two cents in for the sake of attention or a need to feel a part of the action.
OK, you too. Now what?!?
What are you going to do about it?
Will these facts change anything? Or, like every other heated trend on Facebook, will the wave surge until everyone gets over-saturated or bored, and the next inane comment by Trump comes along to draw our fury elsewhere?
Even as these reactions were vying for top spot in my ever-whirling mind, my own stories started to bubble up from the lost shadows of my memory pool. They happened, they were unpleasant at the time, but they didn’t affect me.
That’s when one friend’s post caught my eye.
“Not me, but I’m here in solidarity, witnessing and supporting all the women who…”
A comment in her thread asked, “Really? Never? No cat call or rude comment or pass in that male-dominated world you inhabit?”
“Yes, of course, those things, but I don’t consider them to be assault, abuse or harrassment.”
That’s when I said, “Yes, me too.”
That’s when the bubbles gently burst open on the surface, forcing me to pause and take a closer look.
There was that time in the park. I was in grade 5 and I’d decided I didn’t want to go to ballet that day, so I walked home as usual with my friend. As we rounded the path near the baseball diamond, a man stepped out, dropped his pants, grabbed me and asked me – begged me – to touch him.
She screamed and ran. I struggled and elbowed my way out of his grasp and caught up with her; we ran the rest of the way to her house where we called my mother and the police. My parents were sympathetic, but no big deal was made out of it, and the occurrence faded into the background. We never discussed it again.
What about when us 13-year-olds used to play CCK (Chase, Catch, Kiss – shit! even the name of the game speaks volumes!) in the field down the street? I was usually chased and caught by the rude and smelly kid, who eventually gave up on kissing in favour of sticking his hand up my shirt to maul my already developed breasts. I would laugh hysterically. That helpless laughter of someone being tortured by too intense tickling. He probably figured I liked it. I hated it, but I never stopped playing the game nor told him to take a hike.
Or that morning I spent a gruelling 5 minutes of an overly crowded bus ride trying to convince myself the guy behind me wasn’t actually pressing his erection into my butt.
Or, the time I didn’t say No because I had the distinct feeling I would be in danger if I did.
How many more incidences will I remember with this common denominator of not speaking up?
Not sharing the stories keeps them locked in the cesspool of shame, allowing them to eat away at us from the inside. Not sharing the stories downplays how pervasive and insidious this dynamic is. Not talking about them is what lets them happen again and again and again.
We treat these situations as normal.
And so, in all of these stories I didn’t feel like a victim – not to belittle anyone who has felt victimised by what they’ve endured – to me, they just happened.
They were a normal part of life as a girl.
“Normal” is how I tend to characterise my life. There have been no great traumas or tragedies. No life-defining drama. We were a “normal” family with “normal” ups & downs.
Our version of “normal” meant that you didn’t interact with your body beyond feeding it, washing it and giving it medicine when it was sick. The unspoken rules were about following what was told to us, making do with what happened to us. There was no room for countering the status quo and no role-model for questioning authority.
We didn’t talk about what happened in our bodies, let alone our hearts and souls, just like we never talked about what had happened in the park. This disconnection left no room for creating boundaries, no platform for understanding when something felt wrong.
Years later, when pregnancy, yoga and bodywork closed the gap between my head and the rest of me, it became glaringly clear that life-long tendencies in my body were not normal and I needed to address them.
Remembering my #metoo experiences today, from this place of connection to my body, I feel ill.
In bringing them out, shaking the decades of dust off of them over the last few days, my skin crawls at the thought of those unwanted hands touching me. I am filled with the fear and anger I didn’t know to express then, and I am nauseous even as I type the details. The fact is, these events do have an effect on me.
The old memories have been lodged in my body, locked away in my cells and I have no doubt that they’ve had an impact on my health as directly and subtly as the poor diet and habits that created my chronic symptoms – all parts of “normal” life.
As I write this piece, I struggle with the intention of adding my voice to the crowd.
Another of our “normal” rules was that sex and feelings were not up for discussion; airing them publicly, completely out of the question.
This attitude contributes to the societal norms that set the stage for these crimes against humanity to happen in the first place. I know that, yet the thought of voicing my stories fights against the shame-mongering that permeated my upbringing. Its pull is strong; it threatens to hold me back once again.
I also know that giving into its pull will only serve to perpetuate the problem.
I’m not writing anything that others haven’t said already, and I realise it’s but a tip of a vastly complex iceberg. The important part is that now the issue has come to such intense light, I will speak up and speak out – even the tiniest bit, when it’s too scary – to keep this connection alive, The connection that reminds me how not normal, how unhealthy this aspect of our culture has been.
And, what are we going to do about it?
We can continue the conversation. We can offer the women in our lives the chance to feel into their unpleasant encounters, rather than sweep them under the muffling carpet of normalcy.
Whether you share your stories on social media or privately take them out for an honest look in your journal is up to you. In feeling what has been, you can acknowledge the truth of your experiences, because that’s the first step in the evolution of change.