I saw the “Me too.” statuses going around Facebook pretty early on, and I didn’t think too hard about copying and pasting the status. The idea of showing your social network just how often women are sexually harassed or assaulted is meant to be a wake-up call for men. Without going into detail about my experiences (yet), I also was curious as to how many women would participate. I knew it would make me feel less alone.
I knew that my feed would be filled with Me, Too., statuses. I’ve heard countless stories of harassment and assault that just come up in casual conversation. Yet somehow, I am always surprised when I’m talking with a woman and hear her story of being assaulted. A lot of these stories are similar – she was too drunk to consent, she was cornered, her drink was spiked, etc. But sexual harassment and assault are not limited to instances where alcohol was involved. It’s not limited to people that met at a party.
Already, this post is exhausting, and I’m questioning why I’m here in the first place. Are stories of being harassed going to make a difference? I’m probably writing to the choir – and that’s a top critique of #MeToo at the moment. Why should we have to out ourselves as victims and survivors in order to tell men something they should (hint, should) already know? Why should we put ourselves out there, or put ourselves in danger, to prove a point that statistics have proven for years? Why do we have to do all the work, when nothing will change until men stop assaulting women? Why should we have to rehash our trauma, when we’ve already told these stories on social media or real life?
I don’t enjoy anyone getting more credit than they deserve, which I think is unfortunately the case in these questions.
What Are You Going To Do About It, Guys?
Let’s take one example. It’s SXSW, and a guy friend and I are at the bus stop. It’s a central bus stop in Austin, and I’ve been harassed and followed home from this bus stop before.
The bus stop is pretty quiet, except for one dude at the edge of the sidewalk. He is screaming at this girl who’s sitting, silent, ignoring him. He’s calling her a whore, threatening her, yelling at her over and over and over. The guy doesn’t look homeless, but he’s clearly not right. The girl sitting doesn’t look scared…she just looks annoyed. It’s an weird situation, and it’s the kind of situation that could turn violent in a second, even though he’s a good distance away from her and isn’t approaching her. The bus stop is pretty quiet, with everyone else just sitting and ignoring this guy.
It takes a few moments for me to do anything. I observe first, maybe longer than I should; I don’t want to put myself in danger, but I can’t just let this happen. I knew that if it were me, I would want someone coming to my defense and at least making a tiny effort to get this guy to shut up, at least. So I sit down next to the girl. She’s unaffected. I look at the guy, and go, “Yo. Chill out.” I knew that if it were me — and in two seconds, it becomes me, too. We’re both the victims of his tirade. Singular insults become plurals. Nothing else changes. We’re whores, sluts, we’re dirty, we should be killed, we’re gonna get fucked up, we’re smelly (as a Lush employee, that one stings), whatever. He goes on and on, keeping his distance. He’s not asking for a response, he’s making eye contact but not consistently, he’s not really moving from his place at the edge of the sidewalk. I asked the girl how this started, and she said, “He wouldn’t stop staring at me, and so I told him to stop staring at me. I’m tired of men staring at me.” We carry on a full conversation as this guy is going on a tirade. This happens for probably ten minutes, and no one makes a peep. My guy friend sits with us and also mutters something along the lines of, “Hey, stop,” but that’s about it. He’s got to make his bus, and I don’t feel too unsafe, so I tell him to catch it. I eventually whip out my phone to film this guy for my Snapchat, and that gets him to stop. He gets on a bus. The bus stop is quiet once again.
Suddenly, we get male support! “Hey, sorry that that happened to you.” “Oh wow, that was rough. Sorry about that.” “Hey, are you ok? That was not cool.”
This guy wasn’t enormous, okay? There were bigger guys at the bus stop. There were multiple guys at the bus stop. I probably could have taken him, if I really needed to. (At that point, I had taken a Krav Maga class and in a very anxiety-inducing exercise, ended up forgetting the hits I was supposed to do and kicking the fake attacker square in the balls and really hurt him. I felt really bad, but was also very satisfied that in a stressful situation, I would go straight for the balls.) I was willing to put myself on the line to defend this girl. These guys were not. After five minutes of him just yelling at us, everyone could tell that violence wasn’t a likely option. The girl and I nod at the guys who came to apologize for someone else, we tell them we’re fine, and then under our breath we ask where they were five minutes ago. Who knows where that guy is now. He received no consequences or punishment for his actions. It’s fair to say that he thinks that behavior is acceptable. Even as the person who was being yelled at, I feel guilty. This guy is probably going to yell at other women like this.
This is the kind of shit that makes me think “Me, Too,” is still necessary. When I heard that my best friends were still hanging out with a guy who, they know, assaulted a close friend of theirs, this is the kind of shit that makes me think “Me, Too,” is still necessary. When we elect someone who has said, “grab her by the pussy,” this is the kind of shit that makes me think, “Me, Too,” is still necessary. It’s really sad. It’s pathetic. My gut reaction is to lump all guys together in a box and call them stupid for failing to see what is right in front of them. My gut reaction is to lump all guys together and call them weak and failures for failing to step up when a guy is harassing a girl on the street, in the workplace, on the dance floor, on their couch. But I know that the problem is much more complicated than that. Privilege is blinding. Privilege makes it easy for men to turn a blind eye to harassment. Privilege, and the lack of experience with harassment or assault, prevents you from replaying incidents over and over in your head, every single day, for years after it’s happened. On top of that, rape culture is so engrained in our society, from the moment we are brought into the world, that it’s hard to unlearn destructive behaviors and see when a simple “joke” or advance can contribute to an unsafe world for women. When you’re protected by privilege, you don’t have to do the work of unlearning. It’s not necessary. And I know that there are men out there making sincere efforts to end harassment and violence against women. But yikes, these guys are certainly in the minority.
Rape Culture and Confusion Abroad
Hey! This is a travel blog. Unfortunately, visiting new countries and cultures makes this issue even more complicated and overwhelming. As I started writing this post, I immediately thought, “I have been so lucky traveling.” I have read stories from bloggers and women in female travel groups who have been attacked while they were abroad. As I started writing this post, I thought, “No one has laid their hands on me like that traveling.” LOL. What. That’s a lie. I just needed to refresh my memory. In clubs in Europe, men have yanked my hair to get my attention. I literally ran up Arthur’s Seat in Scotland because my Couchsurfing host would not stop hitting on me and touching my shoulders when we crossed the street. (In that instance, it took the presence of another dude to get the Couchsurfing host to leave me alone.) I almost got into a physical fight with a guy in Krakow because he wouldn’t stop trying to dance with me. (In that instance, it took the defense of my male Couchsurfing host to get the guy to leave me alone.)
Don’t even get me started about Malaysia. I would make this joke that at least men in America yell at you and make their intentions known when catcalling. It’s creepier to have some dudes just f’ing stare at you. Multiple. At a time. Always. Do I have something on my face? I hated leaving the hostel. I was never grabbed or harassed, but I know plenty of women who were. At one point, a guy friend in Penang pointed out that a guy had severely checked me out. Did he think that was anything out of the ordinary? I noticed creepy dudes more when I was walking with just one other girl, but even in a group of three dudes, men thought it was chill to stare.
(Guys would always whine and groan about free drinks for women on Ladies’ Nights in KL, but I’d take feeling safe for a moment over free shit cocktails any day. I never wanted to get drunk around all these dudes around anyway. And while we’re at it, guys, no, you can’t shave your beard and pretend to be a woman for free drinks. Shut up. That’s not a funny joke. That’s not original. I don’t think you’re funny. No one thinks you’re funny.)
When I was working at a hostel in Kuala Lumpur, I constantly was telling guys that we were fully booked, even if we weren’t. These guys would come off the street, usually after two girls checked in. The guys didn’t have backpacks. They were not travelers. When I told them that we were booked, they would then ask for my name and where I was from. No. Sir, the conversation ends at, “We’re fully booked.” Get out of here. Living in Kuala Lumpur made me especially frustrated, because what was I going to do? I had only been in the country for less than two months. If I yelled at every man who stared at me, I’d go hoarse and would certainly be alone in my efforts. I wouldn’t make a damn change, either. I didn’t know the culture behind the creepiness. A girl who worked at the hostel told me about a local guy that checked in “to make female contacts.” My friend got street food with him, and he told her that accepting the invitation meant she was sexually interested in him. She replied that in Germany, accepting the invitation meant that she wanted street food for less than RM 4, and that was it. I saw that guy around all the time. That rejection didn’t change his idea of how to approach women. The hostel I worked at was one of the safer ones, too. I wondered how normal this was for everyone in Malaysia. I know some of the nuances of how rape culture thrives in America, but I don’t know shit about what is “normal” and what is taught in Malaysia. Or anywhere that I’m traveling, for that matter. Sometimes, the things I do learn are way more shocking than I’d really expect. In Vietnam, for example, it’s normal for a man to kidnap a woman as a marriage proposal. Upon further research, this practice/tradition is common in a lot of Asian countries. A woman who owned a hostel in Timor Leste told my friend that guys thought Western women were easy because of the porn that they had watched.
What. The. Fuck. This post is exhausting. Where do we even begin to make changes?
But What Do We Really Want From #MeToo?
I mentioned that I had been harassed and followed home from the bus stop in Austin before. A few months earlier, a guy who appeared homeless and clearly off his rocker wouldn’t stop telling me jokes and talking to me, and followed me on the bus. I was having one of those days where I was giving people the benefit of the doubt, and when he stopped talking to me on the bus, I felt safe. A few stops in, he sat next to me, asking if I wanted to get a drink. (It was 11 a.m.) I said, “No,” and turned away. He then tapped me on the shoulder, and I very loudly said, “Do not touch me.” We were approaching a stop, and a guy who heard me said something to the bus driver as he got off. The bus driver called the creep over and kicked him off the bus.
Hey, look at that! Shout out to those guys who saw something creepy going on and made an effort to stop it. This is what we’re looking for.
I hope that some dudes have stuck around long enough to read this entire post, and are sick of seeing “Me, Too,” statuses, and want to do something. That example above? That. Do that. The first example? Don’t do that. Do better. Men will listen to men before they listen to women, unfortunately. A pretend boyfriend always makes a guy back away before a woman’s ‘no.’ If you see a guy following a woman or being weird, step in. If your bro is a creep, let them know. If your bro hurts your friend, let him know, call him out, get him to apologize or make some sort of effort to repair the situation. If he’s going to keep hurting your friends, cut him loose. When you continue to hang out abusers, you send a message that you’re okay with that behavior. Educate yourself. Listen to women. Listen to women of color. Listen to trans women. Listen to women, and believe women, and know that for every time they are telling you about an incident that bothers them, they have to live with the incident and replay it 10,000 times in their heads. If a woman tells you that a situation upset her, listen to that. If a woman doesn’t like a shitty rape joke or weird comment, listen to that. If a woman rejects you or calls you out, take a step back. Replace any anger with empathy. If it makes you feel any better, know that there is a long unlearning process for many men. But know that no woman is feeling better knowing that society allows rape culture to flourish. However insulted or angry you may be feeling is nothing compared to the trauma of sexual harassment or assault.
I also want to assure readers, particularly men, that although you’re reading a blog post that is seemingly very open about the severity of harassment and assault, you still have no idea how bad it is. Even women who are very open, sex-positive, happy, in a committed relationship, prude, whatever…a lot of women have a story that they are not telling. More men have harassed and assaulted women than any of us can begin to comprehend. Again, I am still surprised, somehow, every time I hear another story of a friend who has been sexually assaulted. And this includes men and women. Women can still harass or assault people. Men can be victims.
Me, Too, are just two words. It’s a very small effort to tackle a problem that will require years of unlearning, discomfort, policy change, and a general shift in culture. A lot of guys are not going to be moved by Me, Too. My heart breaks for women who saw the statuses and were triggered. My heart breaks knowing that this effort is absolutely overwhelming for some, even though it’s just two words. My heart breaks for women who could say, “Me, Too,” but fear further harassment and misunderstanding. My heart breaks for men who can say, “Me, Too.”
Even just these two words are exhausting, but unfortunately, more effort is necessary to make women feel safe around the world is even more exhausting. It’s going to involve repeating, Me, Too, over and over again, until it reaches parts of the globe where women’s rights are still a laughable concept. It’s going to involve men doing a lot more of the work, because we’re talking about men attacking women. Even just framing the problem as “women being attacked” puts more effort on victims. Can we stop that? Can we let women breathe for a goddamn minute? So much work is put on victims and survivors. Dudes, it’s time to step up. Take a note from Joe Biden.
Keep victims and survivors in your mind as you vote, as you make “jokes,” as you support businesses, as you walk down the street, as you enter a bar. You have to work every single moment to make the world a safer place for women. Because women have to deal with the consequences, every single moment.