Last night, after I’d finally served dinner to my two boys, cleaned everything up, packed lunches for the next day, and probably did a million other things I am now forgetting, I sat down on the couch to take a breath (i.e., mindlessly scroll through Facebook) before our bedtime routines began.
As soon as I opened my phone, I noticed my feed was flooded with the hashtag #MeToo, along with post after post of friends sharing stories of times they were sexually harassed, assaulted, or abused. Other friends were simply sharing the words “Me too” without detailing a particular story.
As I scrolled through while sitting on the couch in my living room, tears began to sting my eyes. So many stories were pouring out, from women I hadn’t heard from in years — and in many cases, from women I would never have guessed had suffered abuse of any kind.
The hashtag took off Sunday evening after actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
The tweet itself drove home a simple, yet powerful message: What would happen if women everywhere shared their stories of sexual harassment or abuse all at once?
“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,” read a meme Milano tweeted along with her caption.
The tweet quickly went viral, spreading from Twitter to Facebook to pretty much everywhere. In the last 24 hours alone, women of all ages and all walks of life have been bravely sharing their stories, one after the other — and each one is more powerful than the next.
What struck me most as I scrolled through my own feed were the stories from friends I hadn’t heard or seen in years. Quick stories about being groped on the way to school. Longer stories of sexual harassment, assault, molestation, and rape. Some were from women who were decades older than me; others from women decades younger. Women who may not have thought they even had a story to tell, until they saw others popping up — and that buried moment from childhood or adolescence suddenly came flooding back.
Some women weren’t sure if their story “counted” until they saw other stories like theirs. This, I’ve come to know, is one of the hallmarks of sexual violations against women. It’s the idea of being unsure if you’ll believed, or if your story was something that you made up entirely in your head.
Do those of us who weren’t raped or physically harmed have a right to complain about the time that a man touched us inappropriately for a minute at a party, on a subway, or at work? And if we tell our stories, will we even be believed?
When I saw my female friends sharing that very same sentiment, over and over again, I knew it was time to share my own story. It’s one I have told before, in a published essay I wrote years ago. But I knew that not everyone I was friends with on Facebook had read it, or was even aware.
So I took a deep breath and found myself typing the words: “Me too. I was molested by a teenager when I was 8 and groped several times by a classmate when I was 13.”
What I noticed at first — even as the love from my friends began pouring in — was that I still felt that feeling of being unsure if these two things “counted.”
I still doubted myself just as I had when I was 8, and the tall teenager with the snake-like fingers pinned me against the couch “tickling me,” opening my legs, and spending way too much time tickling my vagina. Even as I asked him repeatedly to stop.
I still doubted myself, even after I told my mother, and she yelled at him. Even as the teenager laughed at the both of us, called me pretty, and smacked my butt as we walked out of the house. Even after my mother assured me that we would never go to that house again. Even then, I wondered whether I had made the whole thing up.
And I still doubted myself, even as the boy in gym class walked right up to me and squeezed my breast. Even after he reached into his pants and pulled out a piece of pubic hair to show me. Even after I told him to stop, and he laughed at me, told me I was overreacting. Even as he smacked my butt when I ran away.
But why — why had I doubted myself? And why do I still? Why had so many of us doubted ourselves and kept our stories silent? Will it change someday? And if so, how — and when?
The sheer number of women telling their stories yesterday and today feels like it should be some kind of wake-up call, right? Because it is absolutely not an exaggeration that this many women have experienced sexual assault and harassment of some kind.
Yes, the problem is huge. Yes, this proves the magnitude of it. And so do statistics on sexual assault. The problem is rampant, and widespread.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds — and every 8 minutes, that victim is a child. “Meanwhile, only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison,” the RAINN website reads.
But it’s that last line that we all need to pay attention to, because the problem here isn’t just that this is happening. It isn’t just that we aren’t telling our stories, or believing ourselves. It’s that responsibility isn’t being taken for the perpetrators of these violent crimes.
I don’t have any answers here. I feel a warmth in my heart today, knowing that I am not alone, and that so many of us are banding together to stand up to these injustices. But I also still feel heartbroken. We women — and girls — deserve so much more. We shouldn’t have to feel terrified every time we leave our homes. Or even when we’re inside our homes.
I hope that these protests lead to action. I hope that more perpetrators of sexual crimes are brought to justice. I hope more boys are raised to respect women. And I hope all of this changes sooner than later.
But most of all, to every woman out there who is bravely telling her story (or keeping her story silent, which is a totally legitimate choice as well), I want you to know this: I see you. We all see you. And we believe you. And you deserve so much better — sooner, rather than later.