I am so glad that the #metoo movement has been so cathartic for so many people, and I admire the bravery of all those who have felt able to come forward and disclose their experiences of abuse and/or harassment; equally, let us not forget about those who have not felt able, and those who are just so dang tired of having to rehash and relive their experiences that they chose not to, and those who just want to distance themselves from it as much as they can and exclude it from their identities. It has reaffirmed what we already knew: this is a reality for pretty much all women.
There’s something that still troubles me, though, about the response to this movement; the reaction of men*. Obviously there has been the usual backlash of idiots mocking the movement by trying to join in, but those aren’t the ones I am talking about.
I have seen countless men expressing pure shock, surprise, and unadulterated bewilderment at the sheer number of people that they know who have posted about their experiences.
“I just can’t believe so many people I know have been affected! It’s so horrific! I’m so surprised at how common this experience is!”
This conversation is literally ongoing, all the time, every day. Weren’t you listening? I haven’t heard a single woman* say that they’ve been “surprised” by the amount of people posting #metoo, because we’re not surprised; we know this happens all the time, to us and to quite likely almost every woman we meet. Surely we’ve talked about this enough that it shouldn’t be a surprise? Were you listening when we talked about Brock Turner? About Amber Heard? Harvey Weinstein? Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Chris Brown? Clearly not. Were you listening, really listening, when a few years ago we told you how horrendously uncomfortable Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines was to hear? You likely shrugged it off as an overreaction and merrily danced to the sound of a man insisting “I know you want it”, whilst we tried not to hear. These are just a few examples amongst hundreds and thousands which have so far not made you listen, pay attention, or act.
But now you are aware of just how many women experience harassment and/or assault, so congratulations on your brand new enlightenment!! But why is the #metoo movement any different to all of the conversations which have come before? What made you listen this time, and pay attention to what we’ve been repeating for most of our lives?
Is it because the statements come from women you know? If the answer is yes, I ask you to consider why you are only affected by the stories of women you care about personally and come into contact with on a regular basis. Why are you devaluing the experiences of strangers? Does it not matter if they’re assaulted or harassed? Is it okay for them to have these experiences because you don’t know them? Or perhaps it allows you to think that, since you know them—maybe they’re even your friend—, you are removed in your own mind as the potential perpetrator and, with your own position secured, can safely empathise. This kind of disassociation is dangerous. Remember that 90% of rape and sexual harassment is carried out by somebody the victim knows.
Is it because of the sheer number of women and their disclosures that you have finally taken note? If your answer is yes, I ask you to consider why the value you place on one disclosure compared to 40 is so disparate. Do you only believe us when multiple evidences and examples are laid before you? Why must we come in numbers to convince you that yes, this happens, a lot, to all of us? Why isn’t the word of one person enough to make you notice?
Or maybe it’s because until now, the only thing you truly classed as harassment or assault serious enough to affect somebody is rape, something which you would obviously never do because you care so much about the women in your life (ha ha ha). Perhaps you never realised how the insidious, frequent, often socially-accepted, relatively “minor” incidents can also incite feelings of violation, discomfort, shame and fear which the victim then carries with them. Maybe now you’re realising the complexity of the picture.
Disclosure is exhausting. To relive and rehash experiences again and again in the hope that finally something may shift in the consciousness of men is draining and traumatic. How many times will we need to lay our traumas bare in the hope that this will finally be the time people care enough to do something about it?
What then, men of the world, will do you with this newfound revelation? How will you change your behaviour? Will you sincerely begin to challenge the actions of yourself and of others? Will you seek enthusiastic and uncoerced consent each and every time? Unless you are truly going to change, and become better allies, and most importantly challenge others too, you are still a part of the problem. Don’t centre yourself in this conversation. Don’t post about how “I hope I’ve never made anyone feel that way”. Don’t ask for details or names. Don’t ask us, the survivors, to give you the answers to your perfunctory “how can I help?”. If you truly mean that question, you will go from here, use the great wide internet, and learn how you can help for yourselves.
Let me make this clear: survivors don’t owe you their stories or their disclosures. Don’t fucking ask for it. Like consent, it will be given willingly, if it will be disclosed at all. Many may choose to share as a way to help others; many will not. All experiences hold equal validity and weight. It shouldn’t fall to the victims to have to keep speaking out.
It is not our responsibility to make sure this doesn’t happen to us; it is your responsibility to stop doing it.
So, with that finally off my chest: #metoo.
*I am fully aware that some non-women also have experiences of sexual assault and/or harassment, and for those who identify as male or non-female who this applies to you have my sympathy, my empathy and my solidarity. This article takes the angle that sexual assault and/or harassment is a very real, everyday possibility/occurrence uniquely within the female experience. Additionally, very clumsily since this was written in haste and passion, by “women” I am referring to all who identify as a gender other than male.*
Art by @lubadalu on Instagram.