By now, unless you have carefully cultivated your social media feed(s) to only reflect the opinions of people Richard Spencer believes should have the right to vote, you have seen a slew of “Me, too” and/or #metoo posts on facebook, twitter, etc. In the wake of the latest public outing of a disgusting sexual predator who had gotten away with his behavior for decades, a number of women have been making public declarations to shine a light on how pervasive this problem is. To quote the often accompanying text: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Some of the posts have been limited to the hashtag or those two words. Some have painfully relived their own experiences, maybe even sharing for the first time something that has been bottled up and brings fresh trauma every time it crosses their minds and/or lips. Some have noted–wryly or painfully–that they are completely unsurprised about Harvey Weinstein’s behavior because they don’t have a single female friend or acquaintance that hasn’t experienced some level of harassment, assault, diminution, or anything else other than the full unassailable rights to be, you know, human beings, that should come to any and all of us on this blue marble. And it’s fucking terrible that a lot of those women continued to get called liars or sluts or fameseekers or anything other than people sharing a truth that may make you and them and me uncomfortable.
I am not the Lorax for women. I do not get to speak for a segment of the population that has experienced something that I haven’t, often on a daily basis. I don’t even purport to have the right answer for how to react to all of this. But I can share my feelings in the wake of this fresh round of coverage of a perpetual issue that about half of us don’t have to think about if it’s not being talked about on TV and on social media.
I felt outrage. I felt sadness. I felt shame. I felt helpless. And I felt pessimistic that enough will change.
I was already aware that this problem is ubiquitous. My senior year of high school, I dated a young woman with some complicated attitudes toward sex. She wanted to save her (traditional) virginity until marriage, but she was not only open toward other sexual exploration, she thought something was wrong with her or me or both if I wasn’t aggressively pursuing those other activities virtually non-stop. When I went down on her for the first time, she started sobbing uncontrollably, at which point I stopped immediately and asked her what was wrong. She didn’t understand why I stopped. It took a long time for her to really open up to me, but it turns out when she was younger (I think around 15 or so), a group of boys had held her down, put a pillow over her face, and taken turns fingering her. The trauma was with her during every moment of intimacy, and she thought she had deserved it and was broken and all of the other horrible things you’re seeing in those #metoo posts. The trauma was also with her when she was repeatedly sexually harassed in her side work as a waitress, both by bosses and customers. Every time it happened, she either blocked the feelings and didn’t talk about it, or she was crying in my arms, feeling assaulted all over again. I don’t share this story to make myself look good (and I hesitated to share it at all since it’s not my story). I tried to be supportive for her and not put any pressure on her sexually, but I’m sure I did. I was a teenager and not nearly as attuned to others as I am as an adult. She deserved better, not just from the teenagers who decided she didn’t get full agency over her body, but from me to constantly recognize that any pressure, explicit or implicit was uncomfortable. I’m sure that you, like me, have seen a lot of #notallmen type responses to #metoo. But it’s not really true. I’m sure I’ve had moments where a friend or a girlfriend felt like I was expecting something from them. I know I’ve unintentionally made women I don’t know uncomfortable with a blue joke or a stare that lasted a little too long or something that I want even aware of that triggered a memory of a lecherous boss or a gropey uncle or something else that they’ve had to deal with their whole lives that most of us are blissfully unaware of.
Obviously you don’t need to date a victim of sexual assault to understand how nasty and pervasive this problem is. My sisters’ friends were followed around by strange men in cars calling out obscene “compliments” and trying to get them to take a ride with them even when they weren’t old enough to drive themselves. My college friends who knew which frats to avoid and which where you still needed to keep an eye on (and often a hand over) your drink. The Congressional offices where again, people knew but didn’t really know if you know what I mean but still she shouldn’t have taken that job if she didn’t want to deal with the grabbing, right? The virgin/slut dynamic that turns on a dime “in jest” (what’s the difference between a slut and a bitch? a slut sleeps with everyone and a bitch sleeps with everyone except you.) and in life (see: Reddit and 4chan). The casting couch nature not just of Hollywood but of a lot of places where sometimes it isn’t about physical force as much as it is the power of someone to ruin your career if you don’t “just play along” and give in.
Many men (and some women) focus exclusively on rape and consent in this conversation. It’s the most horrifying part, but it’s not the only part. Even those women who haven’t been sexually assaulted (and those numbers alone are nauseating) have to live with leering, catcalling, and other disquieting moments that can feel relentless. A woman may be told she needs to “deal with it” at the workplace whether the “it” is an onslaught of comments about her appearance or being passed over for promotions or hearing men called “men” and women called “girls” or jokes about getting ahead by doing some sexual favors often may say nothing because she’s already been conditioned to stay quiet or she has no faith blowing the whistle will help or she’s flat been told she’ll pay the price for doing so. And if you’re one of the (again, shockingly high number) women who HAS been raped or groped or exposed to a stranger masturbating in front of you, those “innocent jokes” are a finger in a psychological wound. They hurt. And they reinforce that your pain isn’t important compared to the comfort of someone who thinks his freedom to make dirty jokes is a core part of the bill of rights.
Again, I’m not the “good guy spokesman” for this issue. I am not without fault and need to do better myself. But as I have scrolled through Facebook and seen so many of my friends–strong professional women, young cousins, midcareer women vulnerable to the power dynamics at play in the Weinstein scumbaggery, those that had previously come to me for help with uncomfortable situations and those I was completely unaware had been raped until they decided to share it on facebook–I had to reflect. To me, the point of the #metoo thing is to remind us that a massive amount of people are constantly feeling under attack, psychologically, metaphorically, and too often literally. We have to recognize that and fucking do something about it, starting with the man (or woman) in the mirror, and including calling out our friends, coworkers, and strangers when they’re falling short morally.
And yet there were a lot of “what is this going to change” and “I don’t need to hear about this” and “there’s no way all these women have had this happen to them” or “that assault doesn’t count” reactions on the interwebz. To those people I say what in the actual fuck is wrong with you? If you don’t believe that someone has been assaulted, it’s not because they’re lying, it’s because it is a shockingly high number of people that have been assaulted and are intimidated into silence or traumatically moored on keeping the shame within. So instead of being a dick, be an ally.
So what does this have to do with the NFL? Well, I guess we could superficially point to Al Michaels being a complete dumbass during the Sunday Night game and blithely comparing the Giants’ week to Harvey Weinstein’s, definitively losing track of who to feel bad for at any given time (To be clear, it’s neither Weinstein nor the Giants). There’s the obvious fact of NFL teams being VERY ready to give second (and third and fourth) chances to players who victimize women. There’s even the fairly recent history of the #HAWTTAEKS in response to women like Sarah Thomas, Kathryn Smith, and Katie Sowers getting opportunities that far too many fans publicly asserted were rightly and exclusively the domain of men (oh and btw, the comment sections of most of those articles will make you cringe; or at least they should).
In addition to all that, there’s also how we as fans and individuals react to these stories and the often untold ones in our own lives. Horatio this morning represents the outlier of fans who found their “enough is enough” line and is done with the NFL. I’m not done yet but I have significantly scaled back my willingness to spend capital on the product. And I need to do more about making my displeasure known when my team or any team days character matters and then signs a rapist or a player who believes women are less than men. And I need to figure out what my line in the sand is with the NFL and friends and people in power when they continue to do things I find morally reprehensible. Because sadly, the NFL is just one small part of a larger universe of people seemingly incapable of listening when the question “who could this have happened to” means millions of women respond with “me, too.”