I didn’t jump to post a #MeAt14 picture/story when the trend started. My story is not dissimilar to so many of the interactions that have been recounted.
The logic that finally got me to post was this: younger women (and I have a 21-year-old daughter, so that’s a factor) need to hear these stories. They need to know that women they have looked up to as invincible (this is a link to Diana Nyad’s incredible account) have faced down episodes in their lives that invaded their privacy, physically and psychologically. They need to know what we would have done differently in order to stand up to sexual harassment in their own lives.
The first incident for me happened when I was 13 and a trusted male adviser in a fraternal group kissed me repeatedly against my will.
The second incident happened when I was a college freshman. Unlike Incident #1, it happened in a room full of other people. A trusted (and revered, at the time) male professor groped me.
What I would tell a girl/young woman to do if Incident #1 or Incident #2 happened to them:
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Whether you’ve spent one hour or 100 with a particular adult, trust your gut when they put their hands on you (or their tongue in your mouth).
MOVE TO A PUBLIC PLACE. Due to my ceremonial role in the organization, I was outside of the room where the meeting was taking place. I could have put an end to the situation by a) telling him to stop and b) OPENING THE DAMN DOOR. That would have violated some sacred obligation of our fraternal order, but some situations warrant breaking the rules.
TELL SOMEONE. As I’ve written repeatedly, the fact that my parents believed me made all the difference (and the fact that they created an environment where I could tell them in the first place).
Many of the same recommendations as Incident #1, but with a few twists.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. One of the biggest challenges of sexual harassment (and something perpetrators probably rely on and are incentivized by) is the “shock” factor. It takes split second instincts to realize what is happening and adjust mentally to the loss of trust (if the perpetrator is someone you know already). I didn’t have that at 17.
SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM THE INDIVIDUAL. I’m honestly not sure (still) whether to say “confront the individual publicly by saying ‘Get your hands off me'” or to tell you to retain any facts you can (who else was present? what exactly happened?) so that you can recount it later. But get away — that part is a definite.
TELL SOMEONE. Tell someone, but do your research. I went to a Vice President who seemed to me the appropriate choice, since the circumstances of the incident’s occurrence were academic in nature. Unfortunately he had a relationship with the perpetrator — as his brother in law. I’ve never known what transpired after I left the vice president’s office.
Like many other women who have a #MeToo story or a #MeAt14 story, I have spent the last few weeks bouncing from resignation as the sheer quantities of stories rolled in to mobilization (a better choice than resignation, by the way!).
I recognize that many of the current allegations and descriptions of incidents that sometimes date back several decades have to wind their way through the legal system. I guess it is possible that people sometimes claim to be victims for reasons that are self-motivated and aren’t true.
But we don’t tell our stories to have attention focused on us (I don’t anyway). It’s really the last thing I care to discuss anymore. We do it to keep other people from being victimized, to try to renew our confidence in the fact that there are people in the world truly worthy of our trust.
I want my daughter and every young woman out there to trust their instincts, have a plan if sexual harassment happens to them, and have a way to address the issue publicly (and legally).
(I also want my son to stand up for the women in his life if/when he witnesses or hears about them being subject to harassment.This post is mostly about my perspective as a woman but men definitely have a place in changing the tide of this issue in our country (and world)).
If you have a #MeToo or #MeAt14 story that has lain dormant for years, eroding your happiness and making you question whether it makes a difference to share it, I give you my support (and an ear if you need it). I also encourage you to seek counseling to work through any lingering effects.