“I wish women didn’t have to rip our pasts open and show you everything and let you ogle our pain for you to believe us.” — Lindy West
My mother has always believed that one of the worst things that can happen to a girl/woman is to be sexually violated by a man. From a young age, I shared a bed with my grandmother who lived with my family. She returned to China when I was around age 7, and I had my own bedroom for the very first time. My mother taught me always to sleep with my door closed, and with a chair propped against the door. This was so that no bad men could hurt me, she explained. But there were no bad men in the house, just my father and brother, I protested. Do it anyways, she told me.
Growing up, I was never allowed to attend a single sleepover or school dance. My mother lectured that even if there were no boys at the sleepovers, my friends might have brothers or fathers, and it just “wasn’t safe” for me. I was never given an explanation for why I couldn’t attend school dances. And funny enough, none of these rules applied to my younger brother. Especially as a teenager I was very bitter about this double standard and what I saw as a grossly overprotective way of protecting my chastity (which had deep implied ties to my value as a woman), but I knew that arguing was futile.
Despite (or maybe because of) my mother’s misguided attempts to protect my virtue, I’ve always strived to be a sex-positive person able to have healthy relationships – both sexual and otherwise – with others. Yet I can also say – me too.
It’s taken me a while to jump on the bandwagon, as I’ve read and agreed with some arguments about why the #metoo movement is futile, or can even be negative in pressuring women to share traumatic experiences (see Lindy West quote above). Yet over the past few days I’ve been so proud of my friends and acquaintances (but also of complete strangers in Hollywood and beyond!), and their bravery in sharing their stories that they believe can be a positive force to bring about – at the very least – greater understanding, at the most optimistic, some change.
I’ve also hesitated joining in for a reason that Roxane Gay put much better than I could in her recent NYT Op-Ed:
“And then there are the ways that women diminish their experiences as “not that bad.” Because it was just a cat call. It was just a man grabbing me. It was just a man shoving me up against a wall. It was just a man raping me. He didn’t have a weapon. He stopped following me after 10 blocks. He didn’t leave many bruises. He didn’t kill me, therefore it is not that bad. Nothing I deal with in this country compares with what women in other parts of the world deal with. We offer up this refrain over and over because that is what we need to tell ourselves, because if we were to face how bad it really is, we might not be able to shoulder the burden for one moment longer.”
I do honestly feel lucky that I have never been raped. Yet, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been catcalled or inappropriately touched and made to feel uncomfortable by a man trying to assert his sexual dominance over me. I’d like to share just one of these stories. I picked this one to share, because for so long I brushed it off as just an unfortunate incident one drunken night. Yet, my mind kept going back to it, and it took me 7 years to accept that it had been sexual assault.
This was a Friday or Saturday night my freshman year of college. One of my best friends and I had been party hopping and decided to stop at one more frat house on the way back to our dorms on North Campus. It was 2 or 3am so the crowd had thinned out and we were left playing beer pong with some of the fraternity brothers and just a few party stragglers. At one point, two fraternity brothers invited my friend and I upstairs to smoke, and we tipsily agreed and followed.
The first red flag was when one of the guys led me into a bedroom and closed the door. My friend and the other guy were nowhere to be seen. The guy grabbed me and started kissing me. When I broke away and asked him where my friend was, he told me not to worry, and that she was fine. I kept insisting that I had to find her, that I would be a bad friend if I abandoned her. I grabbed my phone, and as I tried to call her, he started to undress and pulled us onto his bed. When my friend didn’t answer her phone, I started to worry, but at that point the guy was blocking my exit from the room, so I didn’t try to leave either. He tried to kiss me again, but when I resisted he seemed to give up and we just laid there, silent except for the sound of his heavy breathing, as he masturbated. When he finished, I got up and left his room. The whole encounter might have lasted 5 minutes or an half an hour.
I headed back down the stairs and waited anxiously at the front door, where my friend joined me a few minutes later. She commented how scary it was that we had gotten separated and how those guys were creeps. I agreed. I asked her if she was ok, and told her that I hadn’t slept with the guy I was with despite his insistence, and she said that the guy she was with kept trying to perform a sexual act on her despite her objections. I think we were both a little shaken, but not traumatized. Neither of us ever went back to that frat house.
That was scary, I told myself. But nothing really bad happened. Maybe he just got the wrong message from me. I was drunk and wearing a short dress, I might have been flirting. I should’ve known better than to go upstairs. I shouldn’t have let my friend out of my sight for a single moment. When I said no, at least he didn’t force himself on me. He let me leave his room in the end.
That night came up in conversation a few times over the years, usually when we were sharing stories about all the “creeps” that we had known (a depressingly common conversation), but we never seriously discussed it again until my friend messaged me one day just a year or two ago to say that she had gotten an email from the guy she had been with that night, apologizing for his actions. It was completely out of the blue – in fact she had forgotten his name, and it took her a moment to remember who he was. “Weird,” she said, “I guess he felt bad.” “Weird,” I agreed, “That was sexual assault, wasn’t it?” “Yeah,” she said.
For years, whenever I thought about that night, I thought about all the things that I had done wrong. I dismissed what had happened as not-sexual-assault because it wasn’t rape. That because I was able to easily move on with my life it couldn’t have been that bad. I didn’t feel like a “victim.” But this kind of negative experience is not unique. Not for me, and certainly not for all women.
Like most women, I talk about the sexual harassment and assault I have experienced – but to other women. That’s why now I want to tell anyone who cares to listen to me, me too. Like most of your female friends, and possibly some of your male friends as well, I have experienced sexual harassment and assault. It’s not just angry feminists or damaged victims that complain. If you didn’t realize it before, it’s pervasive. Realize it now.
Realize that these experiences are the reasons why women avoid certain places or certain people. Why we feel nervous walking home alone at night. Why we carry rape whistles and go to the bathroom in groups. Why when we leave a party, we ask our friends to text us when they arrive home safe. We’re not crazy or paranoid or high maintenance. If nothing else, notice all the women in your life that have posted #metoo and realize that this is how things are.