I was 19, and I knew it was sexual harassment, but there was nothing I could do about it. He managed the movie theater where I worked concessions, and after I refused to meet him a little apartment he had on the side — one his wife knew nothing about — he drastically cut my hours. He knew I needed the job to pay rent and feed myself, so he kept pressing. I kept saying no. Soon I was down to one short shift a week, but at least I knew why.
But my biggest “me, too” experience was something that I’m only now just seeing. He was a writer and leader I admired, so I was already enamored with him when he hired me as an intern for a publication. At 20 years old, I moved to a strange city where I knew no one, lived in a horrible sterile apartment, and only had a bike for transportation in an area dangerous for bike riding. Mostly, I was crazy-lonely, and I only had enough self-esteem to fill the truck bed of a Matchbox car. So when this man over twice my age hit on me, even though I said no at first, eventually I fell for it. In the decades since that summer, I looked upon what happened as my fault for not following my gut, which yelled loudly at me to move back to my college town, and pick up my old job at Diary Queen. In the years since, I was ashamed of myself until this week when it occurred to me that was also a “me, too” experience.”
Reading what people are posting on Facebook and writing in various publications about “me, too,” something clicked. We live in a culture in which men with the accoutrements of power often have the option of harassing, assaulting, or otherwise entrapping those without such power, women as well as some men (e.g. young people hungry to get and keep work as well as people of color and those are otherwise marginalized). Like every woman I know, plus a number of men, I tripped into a youthful error of judgment, and then, as goes the cultural narrative, blamed myself and didn’t speak about this except to close friends.
“Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.” — Lupita Nyong’o
All week, I’ve been reading and hearing heartbreaking stories. One friend bravely shared how she was gang-raped back in the day before there were rape victim support services. Another friend, over lunch, told me of how a boyfriend raped her. Other friends share the sadness, rage, old shame, and fresh pain about lost jobs, terrified walks home, near-misses that weren’t complete misses, and shocking betrayals from men they trusted. A straight man I’ve known for decades wrote how he was sodomized with a knife to his throat. Several gay and trans friends tell of brutal attacks or constant shaming. One night I read Ken the names of all our Facebook friends who posted “me, too,” and after a few minutes, I couldn’t keep from crying for how pervasive this was and still is, a secret the majority of people I know have kept in pain sight.
I’m also reading many comments from people, particularly men, saying, “I believe you,” and “we have a lot of work to do.” I see men offering to work with other men on what they’ve absorbed about male power in our culture, and how to get more cognizant of how it may bleed through their words or deeds. My friend Callid Keefe-Perry, who wrote about the need to be vigilant about the micro-monster potential he and others have in them, gave me permission to reprint this from what he posted on Facebook: “The leering weight of male power is huge and the cumulative press of it rests on the necks and spirits of our sisters, daughters, mothers, and granddaughters. And us. Guys, this pulls on us.” Yes, this also soils the humanity of the men who abuse their power, and the men who benefit from being silent and complicit (see what Quentin Tarantino says about this).
No, this isn’t a witch hunt, Woody Allen and anyone else who thinks so. It’s a reckoning, and just about all of us have work to do: we can speak from courage and love, witness one another in that same courage and love, and learn about how power-over — the kind of currency that comes from wielding control over another — betrays our potential and can destroy others’ potential. This is a time when the doors are swung wide open for hard conversations, deep soul-searching, and expansive healing. For those of you hurting from what’s been brought out of the shadows this last week, me, too. Now let’s together make greater freedom and safety for each other, and the reckoning changes necessary so that our daughters, granddaughters, great-nieces and others in generations to come aren’t saying “me, too” decades from now.