Me Too - Stories, Complicity, and Resources [Content Warning]

Content Warning: This post talks about sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Cowriting this piece is Emaelia Norman: I asked her to write with me because I generally present as male, and sexual assault is most prominently an issue for women, AFAB persons [Note 1], and those who are femme presenting. I do not want to distract from the conversation, but rather add to it in a meaningful and honest manner. Emaelia is the creator of the webcomics Death Child and Rowin Redd.

I am a cisgender, bisexual female. I come from a place of privilege as a white, cisgendered, middle-class person. I have however, like far too many people, been subject to sexual violence from a very young age. I’ve agreed to co-write this post with Justin as much to help others to cope with their experiences as to help me cope with my own.


Found on the internet.

For those of us who have endured sexual violence, movements like “me too” give us a chance to share our stories. This is a way for some people to come to terms with how they’ve been hurt, to heal, or just to feel some relief by sharing these moments that make us question humanity. 

The “me too” campaign was created in 2006 by Tarana Burke to help women and girls (particularly women and girls of color) who had survived sexual violence [6], and then went viral on social media in October 2017 when Alyssa Milano tweeted “me too” [2] and encouraged others to write it as their status. The sheer number of people posting "me too" has been to some an unsettling reminder of the staggering statistics already showing that sexual violence is a commonplace reality: “in the U.S., about 1 in 3 women (36.3%) and nearly 1 in 6 men (17.1%) experienced some form of contact sexual violence (SV) during their lifetime” [9] [Note 2]. Burke’s campaign’s motto is “Empowerment through empathy” [3], letting people know that they are not alone and that it is possible to heal. And healing is possible.

Found on the internet.

But we must also heal as a culture. That requires self-reflection and finding the root of the problem. People have said that talking about sexual harassment and sexual assault at the same time conflates the issue to seem bigger than it really is. And sexual violence in every form contributes to rape culture. The repetition of events and ideas normalizes them and leads to more extreme versions of those same events and ideas, which then also become normalized. Every time a man sexually harasses a woman and other men in the vicinity do not speak up about it, they are giving that man permission to do it again. Every time a man sexually assaults a woman and the people she tells do not believe her, they are giving him a way to avoid the consequences of his actions. Every time someone jokes about sexual violence, they normalize sexual violence. 


Found on the internet.

Now, we want to be clear: SEXUAL VIOLENCE CAN HAPPEN TO ANYBODY. We are not ignoring that. However, if the only time you talk about male survivors is when you are interrupting women/enby/femme persons who are talking about their own experiences, then it is not because you care about male survivors. Rather, it is because the rape culture perpetuated by the pervasive sexual violence in our society has conditioned you to dismiss and silence survivors who challenge the status quo.

There is a definite misogynistic component to rape culture - most women and girls limit their behavior because of the existence of rape [5], but many men don’t report being raped because of fear of being outed as gay [1], or out of fear of being labeled as gay [4], or feeling like they have lost their manhood [4]. It comes from the patriarchal idea that men are sexual aggressors and women are inferior to men, which translates into the idea that men who are sexually violated are as inferior as women.


As a society, we need to teach boys and men [Note 3] to not commit sexual violence. We should remember that jokes have great power [8] that reflect what we are thinking and are the basis of the actions that we make. We must stop allowing it to be prevalent in television shows and in pop culture [7]. And we must hold people accountable for their actions.
Children and young men learn by example. 

The best way to support a survivor when they are talking about an assault or other experience is to listen. Don’t give advice unless specifically asked and don’t compare a third party’s experiences. If you’re a survivor and want to share your story online like others, you can tweet or post on your own rather than detracting from someone else’s posts.

Found on the internet from Lindy West.

While we encourage survivors to come forward, we also must hold them under no obligation to do so, particularly in the public eye. Victims are often held accountable for their perpetrator's actions, whether in their own silence or through critical remarks from the public about what they could have or should have done to protect themselves. It is up to the perpetrators to stop perpetrating, not the victims to stop having to live with the consequences of perpetrators.



Notes:

Found on the internet.

  1. AFAB: Assigned Female At Birth. Regardless of one’s gender or sex, a person who was assigned a sex at their time of birth.
     
  2. The statistic for both women and men was used here intentionally because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention only recorded information as a female/male binary, with no mention that could be found about intersex persons or persons of other genders. Also, it should be noted that the numbers used are for the 50 states and DC, with no mention of the US Territories.
     
  3. “Boys and men” was intentionally used here, as the NISVS 2010-2012 Average Annual Estimates of Sex of Perpetrator in Lifetime Reports of Sexual Violence say that 97% of female victims were raped by male perpetrators alone, while 86.5% of male victims were raped by male perpetrators alone [9] (meaning that 91.75% of all victims reported male perpetrators alone).

Personal Experiences:
As told by Emaelia:

Me too. I’ve been hurt by men I trusted. I’ve been terrified by complete strangers. It has never had to do with how I was dressed or where I was. It usually happens in public places in broad daylight, when I’m doing something on my own like reading or waiting for a bus.

I was sexually harassed online by a man ten years my senior for over a year when I was fifteen and sixteen. The man groomed me. He made me think he cared about me, and then spent months wearing me down until I gave in to participate in his sick fantasies. It took me years to untangle myself from the confusion he caused me. Facebook recently recommended that man as a friend. I almost vomited. 

A stranger put his hand on my leg while I sat reading in a park in the afternoon, asking me what my plans were for the evening. 

While stopped at a crosswalk on my way to class, a man put his arm around me and asked several times for my number. 

At the train station an old man caressed my arm, followed me to the bathroom, and insisted on kissing me before I boarded the train.

Another man pretended to fall while on the bus so he could “catch himself” on my breasts.

A man pinched my butt three times in a row while on a crowded metro, only stopping when I turned around and audibly growled at him, making everyone else stare. 

Me too.

Once, while on the train, riding home one night, a man started to harass me. I had accidentally made eye-contact, which he took as an invitation to talk to me. I tried to be polite. He was a large man and the train was nearly empty. For what seemed like ages but was only about two minutes, this man stood over me and tried to flirt. I tried to oblige, visibly terrified. The only other person on the car was another man. He noticed my distress and intervened. He starting chatting up this other man just as the train pulled into a stop. Relieved, I jumped off. I don’t know that the larger man would have hurt me. I will never know that. But I do know that I felt much more at ease knowing that another person had my back. That other man saw my distress and helped in a way that put no one in danger. 
Men like that give me hope. It was a small act of kindness, but it helped.

As told by Justin:
Me too, and I'm complicit, and I've joined in. All three.

When I was 5, there was the rich white boy in class whose mom wanted him to have some Black Friends. I was nominated. One day, my clothes got soaked (nearly drowned - different story), and his mom gave me some of his clothes to wear. He kept watching me change, which made me uncomfortable, but she wouldn't do anything about it. My options were to change in front of him, or to change in the dark closet.
Me too.

In middle school, some boys were chanting something about one of the girls in a day camp I was at, and I was halfheartedly going along with it because I was afraid.
I did.

When I was in high school, one of the guys called me over to him and asked me to turn around. "See ladies," he said, "that is a Black butt." I was shocked and confused and didn't say anything.
Me too.

In high school, same boy was showing pictures of girls, friends of his, in their underwear around without their permission. I didn't tell him that it was wrong, though I felt uncomfortable.
I'm complicit.

In high school, someone slapped my butt without my consent. I told him that if he ever did that again that I would report him. He did it again, and so I reported him.
Me too - but this time I also had enough energy to stand up, and enough fortune to be believed.

In my twenties, friends of mine were dancing, and strange men started getting close to them. I did not recognize what was happening until other friends intervened.
I'm complicit.

Found on the internet

In my thirties, some guy started touching me because he liked the clothes that I was wearing. I gave him such a look that he instantly backed off.
Me too - though my size and perceived gender had given me an advantage.

In my twenties, I was hurting and reached out for comfort, but I did not make certain that my friend was in a position to help me.
I did.

In my thirties, a drunk fellow whom I had never met before started groping me. He was friends with friends of mine, and I was shocked into not saying anything. And so I didn't.
Me too.

In my twenties, I bore witness to street harassment, and said nothing.
I'm complicit.

In my twenties, I gave consent to sex and later discovered that I only gave my consent under false pretenses. Multiple times.
Me too.

I can't say that I'll never freeze up again. And I can never pay back the pain that I've caused. But I can take forward action and not be complicit. I can use the advantage of my perceived gender and call out harassment when I see it, intervene when people need help. I can continue to believe those who have been harassed, teach others not to harass, and be a force to be reckoned with.


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Works Cited:

  1. Eastmond, Dean. “I was raped by another man. Heres why Ive decided to write about it.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 7 Dec. 2015, www.independent.co.uk/voices/why-ive-decided-to-talk-about-being-raped-by-another-man-a6730586.html.
     
  2. Gilbert, Sophie. “The Movement of #MeToo.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 16 Oct. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/10/the-movement-of-metoo/542979/.
     
  3. Hill, Zahara. “Black Woman Tarana Burke Founded The "Me Too" Movement.” EBONY, 19 Oct. 2017, www.ebony.com/news-views/black-woman-me-too-movement-tarana-burke-alyssa-milano#axzz4wApw9rR3.
     
  4. Johnson, About Danica. “5 Reasons We Need to Stop Making Jokes About Men Who Have Been Raped By Women.” Everyday Feminism, 24 Sept. 2015, everydayfeminism.com/2015/09/stop-joking-about-men-raped-by-women/.
     
  5. “Marshall University.” Womens Center, www.marshall.edu/wcenter/sexual-assault/rape-culture/.
     
  6. Ohlheiser, Abby. “The woman behind ‘Me Too’ knew the power of the phrase when she created it - 10 years ago.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Oct. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/10/19/the-woman-behind-me-too-knew-the-power-of-the-phrase-when-she-created-it-10-years-ago/?utm_term=.0c9eb6058656.
     
  7. Wahl, Madeline. “How Rape Jokes Contribute to Rape Culture.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 Apr. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/madeline-wahl/how-rape-jokes-contribute_b_5240592.html.
     
  8. Weems, Scott. “Why Offensive Jokes Affect You More Than You Realize.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Sept. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-s-so-funny/201409/why-offensive-jokes-affect-you-more-you-realize.
     
  9. “Welcome to CDC stacks | National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) : 2010-2012 state report - 46305 | Stephen B. Thacker CDC Library collection.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/46305.