The Harvey Weinstein scandal has opened America's eyes to something most of us probably knew already: Sexual harassment and assault towards women in Hollywood is very real, and very prevalent. And as most women know, it's not the only place it's prevalent. We deal with it on the street, at work, at the gym, at parties, at shows (I stopped crowdsurfing years ago for this reason). We Americans like to think we're progressive, and tend to look down on other misogynistic cultures without acknowledging or taking responsibility for our own.
By now, I'm sure most of you have heard about the #MeToo hashtag trending on social media, but in case you haven't, I'll fill you in. In response to the Weinstein scandal, Alyssa Milano tweeted a suggestion that anyone who had been sexually assaulted or harassed to post the status "me too", an echo to a movement started by activist Tarana Burke 10 years ago. I thought it was a great idea, but that wasn't my first, or even my second thought. My first two thoughts were much bleaker. First, "hasn't every woman experienced that?" My second was "is my experience serious enough to warrant participating in this?"
It's distressing that we live in a society that not only did I assume it's commonplace, but I felt it so commonplace that I actually questioned the severity of my experience. And I'm sure I'm not alone. Every single woman I know has, at the very least, experienced being cat-called or stared at. That's unwanted sexual contact, regardless if it's physical or not. It makes women feel demeaned, threatened, and unsafe. That's harassment. And the amount of comments I saw of people belittling that experience is, quite frankly, disturbing.
The first time I was knowingly sexually harassed, I was in 3rd grade. I say knowingly because I had a child predator as my 1st grade teacher, and I'm sure he said things to me that I didn't realize were inappropriate at the time. It wasn't by an adult, but by another child in class. At eight years old, this boy thought it was acceptable behavior to touch me inappropriately. As an adult, I look back and can only imagine what this kid's home life was like, but the fact that someone so young was taught this was okay shows how bad the problem really is. I don't even want to think about what he's up to now. And even at eight, I knew it wasn't ok. It terrified me. I was afraid to tell anyone, including my parents. I was afraid to see him in class. I didn't know what to do, and to be honest I've repressed the memory for the most part.
While I've since dealt with other, more serious issues, I share this story to show how young this behavior is learned and normalized. At some point, I think the problem, was addressed by our teacher, but not to any real extent that I can remember. I continued to have class with him. I was forced to look at my tormentor everyday, and I don't remember things changing. If I recall, I think he just switched from physically assaulting me to verbally assaulting me, and that was that.
Things need to change. We don't need to be protected by men. We shouldn't need to be protected at all. We need to teach boys when they are young that women deserve to be treated as human beings. We need to teach them the concept of consent, because both women and men are subjected to sexual abuse. We need to tell them that just because something isn't physically violent, doesn't mean it isn't spiritually violent. Words hurt. Words intimidate. Words degrade. And sometimes, words become more than words.