I have mixed feelings about this Me too campaign. At first I thought to post the hashtag myself and yet, after giving it a longer thought, I realised that I have some reserves.
1. The worst stories will remain untold
The first thing that made me hesitate is the same reason why I rarely talk about the subject with other women: because I sometimes feel that the aggressiveness I experienced is so insignificant compared to what others have been through, that I should be grateful for my luck. I know women who had been raped, beaten, molested as a child, and during a class trip my colleagues and I had seen a boy in a train station being paid for a sexual act. Growing up, I was more exposed to violence than I am today and sometimes it’s just too much or it seems inappropriate to say these two words in this context.
Sometimes you tell a story to people, and they come back with their own and the empathy and pain it brings up is so overwhelming that I think to myself: Who am I to rub into those wounds?The simple truth is that each experience is different: some are simple to wash out (after all people are hurting each other in so many ways daily) others mess us up in such deep ways that it takes years to undo or they never get fixed. And how is this different from other things that kill parts of us and leave open wounds for ages like domestic violence, mobbing or robberies?
2. “Me too” enforces the stereotype of women being victims
Second hesitation is that, once again, it shows women as victims and has nothing positive or transformative to it. Me too. Then what? I want to ask. When are we beginning the real work on this?The hashtag being linked to feminism, associates sexual abuse only to women which is, from my point of view, a huge mistake.
Men also suffer from it and we are very, very rarely talking about it. So far, I haven’t seen statistics on how many teenage boys are being sexually assaulted when bullied in schools, not to mention prisons or human traffic. Men’s sexual abuse history is still one of the biggest tabous of all times, and it has common roots, perpetuating the same type of danger that women face. I heard about men who had posted the hashtag and were being mocked about it or excludes due to this being “a women’s thing” and that let me a bitter taste. Which leads me to my third point.
3. The message gets lost along the way
Throwing a hashtag on a matter like this just diminishes the power of the message. I don’t think that society is unaware of the size of the issue, on the contrary, those who should be ashamed of it couldn’t care less about a bunch of women posting comfortably from their homes “me too”.
Women need a change in narrative
I crossed paths with sexual agression several times in my life. One of those encounters, at the age of 12 had an impact on me. It wasn’t something that traumatised me but it did hurt the little girl I was and took away a part of my confidence. It also popped out when I was least expecting in relationships with men. I don’t want to say publicly what and how it affected me (again, as I said in the beginning is insignificant compared to other experiences I know). But there were moments when it bothered me and I wanted to share the story in the intimacy of a relationship. It was more of a call for care: look, this happened, so please be gentle about this aspect which I’m still trying to figure out.
I told a long term partner about it, as an act of trust and his reaction made me shut down. He answered the exact same way he did when I was complaining about my period pains: “How’s that my problem? That’s just that you women have this morbid preoccupation for these things. You just seek for attention.”
Needless to say, how much this ressembles numerous reactions to the Me too hashtag.
Years later, at 30 I told that story again in a late night confession to a much older man. I found it easier to open to him than to many other people of my age, maybe because his maturity was trustful.
His response was to reassure me that I was not the first, nor the second, nor even the fifth woman who had told him a story like this. He pointed out that I should not be, under any circumstance ashamed, that everyone who receives this sort of confession should show care and understanding and.., that I managed, in spite of all this to become the woman I am now. In the end he whispered to me: “Don’t worry, Pheonix. You’ll rise from your own ashes again and again”.
He had taken my tale of a child’s fear and transformed it into a story of resilience and strength. From that defining conversation I finally let go of it.
Other stories would still haunt me, even today. They are not about sexual abuse but about (mostly) psychological violence, ignorance and being shut off. Certainly, life would have been much easier without having to fight for being accepted and listened to. But in the end, I built resistance and I made my way.
There are other ways to change
I don’t need people to formally acknowledge that we have been all abused one time in our life. Most of us have been.
I would rather see that we teach the girls and boys of today how to protect themselves. I would rather call for emotional education. We’ld rather stop shouting for change and pull up our sleeves and start the hard work. From my experience change only comes through one looong process called EDUCATION and, like it or not, it takes time and commitment to carry it. And time and commitment are not really compatible with social media.