Monday, October 16, 2017

Me Too (and I didn't think so at first...)

When I woke up this morning, I found the "Me Too" posts trending across social media. Sleepily, I scrolled past it. I saw another, then another, then another. I read it again.

I instantly thought: "I've never been sexually harassed,"

The more I thought, the more I remembered those times when men would say something to me that left me feeling nauseated, blood pounding in my ears. But that wasn't "enough" was it? I was lucky enough to have never been physically harassed. Not something really bad. Not something bad enough to "count". Right?

I even searched "sexual harassment" in Safari. I knew what it is, but it was like I needed to prove to myself that I hadn't been sexually harassed. Like anything that happened to me, wasn't "bad enough" to re-post this status. Isn't that ridiculous? "Bad enough" should not be something anyone has to prove. It doesn't undo the things that were said or happened. It doesn't make them better or ok. It doesn't make them not sexual harassment.

I'm sharing this post, not to prove my status to anyone, but for the people who were/are like me, thinking "this has never happened to me." If it hasn't, I'm so grateful. But I found after my instant certainty that it had not happened to me, that it really had. Many times. And those times were enough. If you think this is you, I recommend reading this, I found it really helpful. The more I think about it, I doubt I know any women who have not had at least one of these moments. :(

I posted mine, and still felt like my experiences weren't enough. I continued to scroll. Continued to see so many friends, family, etc. posting this. If one of them experienced what I did, would it feel like "enough"? "YES" I thought without a doubt. I would never judge what someone else felt sexually harassed by.

What happened to me was enough. What happened to me was sexual harassment.

Early on especially, I was often SO surprised by the situation, that I would react by laughing nervously, and trying to smooth it over with a smile, and walking away when I could.

When you're 14, and a Junior football player makes you laugh, it's flattering that he wants to talk to you. When he says, "it would be fun to see you drunk..." You know what it means, and his attention is not flattering anymore. But how do you react to that? When you're so surprised and feel so instantly uneasy? Nothing more came of it, I never really talked to him again.

You see, when you're 16, a waitress, and have no experience with sexual harassment, and a customer makes a comment that they should not have, you still might not know what to do. I had no idea that refusing service was an option I had, I'd never thought about it. Even if I had... did I really want to anger a belligerent drunk? One who'd spoken words, laced with expletives, that I never could have imagined someone uttering to me? Especially when he was with three friends, and my only other co-worker at that moment was in the kitchen? No, not really.

It happened so infrequently for most of my life, thankfully, that I was often STILL taken aback by it. I STILL didn't know how to react.

When I was 17 I started my college job. (I'm a July baby, always the youngest.) I had a co-worker who was a little overly friendly, but he acted that way with everyone. I didn't really think about it as anything weird, until it was.

I remember one day he asked me, "Hey, do you use Facebook?" I responded that I did. He explained, "I don't use Facebook, but my buddy made me an account. I told him to delete it, can you check for me to see if he did?" So, not thinking anything of it, I search for him on Facebook. When I clicked on his name, a pornographic image showed up. He touches my shoulder, "Oh my God, I'm sorry you had to see that." He touches my shoulder again, tries to make eye contact, "Really I had no idea, I'm sorry. I can't believe he would do that."

Was he telling the truth? At the time I thought so, but as I worked with him more, the more I'm sure he knew what was waiting there. There wasn't anyone around. It was an innocent enough excuse, he could get away with it if someone walked in. He could just, "blame it on his buddy". Who then would have just been labeled, a "boy being a boy".

More memories came flooding back.

As time went on he would bring up things of a sexual nature, or of past-co-worker's (or student's) appearances or promiscuity. It was always in passing conversation, and I was always horrified and uncomfortable. Hew would grin, giving a conspiratorial look. This man had a Ph.D. He made over $90k per year. More money a year than anyone I'd ever known. Everyone else seemed to like him. Everyone else brushed it off as, "Yeah that's just NAME," or at the very most, "yeah I hate him, I just ignore him". I needed this job. It was the only way I was going to be able to afford college. I paid my own way through school, and this job let me work summers and paid me $12 an hour. I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize that.

One day, after KC started working in the same office, he was given a tiny closet of a work space. A little back room that wasn't meant to be an office, but that is where he sat. One day this same co-worker entered his office and made some comment to the effect of: "I bet you'd like to get Alex back here." When KC told me what he'd said, I was absolutely mortified, and I wasn't even there. And I'm pretty sure KC spared me some other things that were said....

I definitely think he knew what would be on that Facebook page when I opened it.

He eventually lost his job. I'm not sure if it was because someone reported him for things like this, or for other reasons. But I was certainly glad to see him go. I ran into him once years later, I instantly felt nauseated. Thank goodness there were a lot of people around.

Of course there are the short instances, the ones that I think every woman has had to deal with. Quick cat calls, "DAMN GIRL!" while being ogled from across the side walk.

But there were other times, where the most unlikely (in my mind) people would say something that I was SO surprised by, I can't even remember if I heard everything they said. As if my hearing shut off as the blood started to pound in my ears.

A friend of KC's dad meeting me, looking me up and down, and saying, "all right Kyle, nice job". I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it. But boy did I wish I had a sweater. Or a parka.

A dad at the school where I worked suggesting that he "Bet I had a good time on the weekend... ," panning his eyes down my frame as he walked his kid to class.

A seemingly harmless, super nerd in college, at a trivia event held on campus. I can't even remember what he said at all, because I was so shocked. And then so so revulsed.

So yes, me too.

If you're reading this thinking that you encountered anything remotely like this, it wasn't right. It WAS sexual harassment. You don't need to feel like it isn't valid enough. You don't have to "prove" anything to anyone. You don't have to feel like your discomfort isn't worthy of the label it deserves.

So again, I hope that this shed a little perspective to anyone who felt like me when they first read the "Me Too" posts on social media. 

And I hope it sheds some light for people who have been thinking it doesn't happen so often. It only happens to people who are "asking for it". It can happen to anyone, and does happen to so many. However big or small, it's not ok. 



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