If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Also, we might give comfort to some so they will know they are not alone.
If you’re like me, your facebook feed might be filled up with “me toos” this week, written predominantly (but definitely not exclusively) by women. Perhaps the number of voices you’ve seen chiming in has surprised you. But I might refer you to what a friend of mine wrote as her alternate status a few days ago:
Instead of us all saying “me too”, you could just count your female Facebook friends. That is how many have experienced sexual harassment.
At this point I feel that I should make a few things clear before we go on. The vast majority of men who are (or have been) in my life are perfectly respectable, respectful, reasonable human beings who have never given me a moment’s pause in our interactions. I don’t feel like a victim, and I don’t walk around in fear. These incidents are not traumatic for me to relate. I don’t think the fact that most (all?) of the women I know have at some point experience harassment or assault simply because they are women means that this is being carried out by a majority of men. But I think my friend is fairly on the money here. This is more pervasive than any of us would like to believe. Has it happened to you? It’s happened to me, too.
I’ve been yelled at and catcalled by men in cars and on the street. I’ve been approached when walking and on the subway. I’ve had hands placed around my waist or on my hair that had no business being there. I’ve been shamed for (honestly innocuous) things I was wearing. I’ve been made to feel like an object, a thing rather than a person. I’ve been flashed. On one memorable occasion, a drunk stranger loudly told me that he “just thought [I] should know” that I was ugly. I’ve been “accidentally” groped. These incidents were at the hands of strangers, classmates, an employer, and other believers in the church. They stretch back to when I was barely post-pubescent. And I’m not alone in this — far from it. Other women I know have had it much, much worse than I have.
Tina Fey wrote in her book Bossypants (which is hilarious, by the way) about a workshop she attended where around 200 women from diverse walks of life were asked to brainstorm about when they first realised they were crossing the bridge from girlhood to womanhood. Here’s her account of what they found:
“When did you first feel like a grown woman and not a girl?” We wrote down our answers and shared them, first in pairs, then in larger groups. The group of women was racially and economically diverse, but the answers had a very similar theme. Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them. “I was walking home from ballet and a guy in a car yelled, ‘Lick me!’” “I was babysitting my younger cousins when a guy drove by and yelled, ‘Nice ass.’” There were pretty much zero examples like “I first knew I was a woman when my mother and father took me out to dinner to celebrate my success on the debate team.” It was mostly men yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let girls know they’ve crossed into puberty? If so, it’s working.
Or, if you like, click through and take a gander at this AskReddit thread (pay close attention to the ages women report — mostly between 10-15):
I’ve seen some good discussions this week around the issue. Some of have centered around whether all these cries of “me, too” are just a way of re-victimizing women. Some have questioned whether the “me, too” campaign is harmful in that it contributes to the narrative that only women are ever victims of sexual harrassment/assault — leaving male victims feeling like they will not be believed if they come forward. (I have had a few male friends post “me too,” for what it’s worth.) Some have questioned the value of simply “raising awareness” and wonder what positive steps may be taken, by both men and women, to address the problem. Others have debated what is at the root of the issue: misogyny? our culture of hyper-sexualization? something else?
At the root of the issue, I think, is not a hyper-sexual culture (although surely ours is that) or misogyny (although misogyny certainly exists), but our sinful tendency to dehumanize other people, regardless of gender. At church over the past few months they have been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, and dehumanization comes up time and time again, whether the presenting issue is anger, dishonesty, lust, murder, or something else entirely. Dehumanization manifests in so many more ways than “just” sexual aggression and violence.
When I think back on it, the time I felt the most physically violated in my life had no sexual overtones whatsoever; in fact, in happened in a dentist’s chair. When I was a teenager I had my braces done at a local university’s graduate dental clinic. The students were already qualified dentists who were learning orthodontia, and the clinic offered a significant cost savings for those willing to be their guinea pigs. I was having my braces tightened one day when a professor came up to where my dentist was working, trailing a group of observing students. He decided to show them something, grabbed my face, and stuck his fingers deep into my mouth — without saying hello, making eye contact, or even acknowledging that I was there. I might as well have been a plaster model of a mouth to him. I can’t even describe how I felt. It was disturbing, humiliating, and frightening… but it wasn’t sexual.
When we cease to see the person standing in front of us as a unique individual who has never existed before on earth and never will again, formed in the image of God and precious in his sight, we give ourselves leave to treat them as objects or even less than that. It manifests in how we treat those of different ethnicities, sexualities, or religious and/or political affiliations than ourselves. It manifests in how we treat the elderly, the disabled, and the unborn. And yes, it manifests in sexual objectification, aggression, and violence, between all genders. Misogyny and hyper-sexualization are symptoms, not the disease. But perhaps if we recognise this — if we repent and teach our children well — then one day our sons and daughters will be able to chime in not with “me too” but with “me neither”.