When I came online today, I was astounded. The many voices saying “me, too”-- men and women and otherwise, echoed a profound and unfortunate reality that exists in our society today. Some people, many people, are assholes. And some people, many people, have been in situations no one should ever have to be in. It is not a reality I ever wanted to believe but here we all are.
In reading some of the stories I would find myself nodding my head in agreement because I had been there on some level. Some of the stories were heartwrenching and although I couldn’t relate to them situationally I could put myself in the person’s shoes enough to understand that it was horrendous. Some were so eerily relatable that it saddened me that someone else went through the same things I did. And it’s easy for people to target that. Behind a computer it is easy for folks to tear you down and add insult to injury. The people that tear others down with this are the very people who fail to understand the implications of it. Whether they realize it or not, they are part of the problem. I feel awful even writing this because some of the stories I have read today are simply so deplorable that no amount of uplifting statements can support them in a way that would be meaningful.
Gross misconduct is a real thing, as is abuse, as is assault. Often if you even try to bring it up, especially when it is someone mutually known, it is discounted, invalidated, or distorted. Guys (or girls for that matter) saying someone is “crazy” or “exaggerating” are terms that are so easily thrown around these days to justify bad behavior. Defaming, bullying, and threatening are also pretty commonplace as well. I have friends that support known rapists or abusers and it is always a hard call for me on whether to forgive them for their ignorance or to distance myself from them as well. These are things that should not be trivialized or compartmentalized. And some people are REALLY, REALLY GOOD at distorting the truth to serve their agenda. If no one was there to see it or hear it, did it really happen? Therein lies the problematic manner of these situations. It comes down to faith in one another and unfortunately people are so disconnected these days that they are avoidant as a default with little faith in anyone-- even themselves.
I have too many instances to list and they are not things I like to revisit or even talk about beyond the surface details. I wasn’t very pretty or attention-seeking or all of the things that people tend to lump into the category of “asking for it.” I was an awkward, bookish, waif of a thing that liked vintage clothes and art growing up. I generally kept to myself (and a small ragtag circle of friends.) I had a classmate in junior high school put his hands down my pants multiple times and threatened me with violence if I told anyone. So I didn’t.
Multiple guys wrote to me after I was divorced telling me I was “damaged goods” and not worthy of something beyond a one night stand and that I was lucky they could be available for that (so flattering, I know.) Three guys told me I was a “just a conquest” because I was "unattainable" after targeting me in such calculated ways that I never in a million years could have thought they were capable of (an irony not lost on me.) A trusted ex-boyfriend’s brother blackmailed me and took advantage of me as a result.
A random guy at a bar tried to force himself on me after a brief casual conversation when I went to leave and called me a “conceited cocksucking whore” and a host of other expletives because I politely declined his advances. And there were of course some failed relationships that were filled with abusive, controlling, and gaslighting behaviors that made me almost lose myself entirely and caused major shifts for me in my social circles if I did step forward and bring anything out in the open. They are tough subjects— the kind we talk about amongst our friends in hushed voices because even if we had proof of things we’re too conditioned to fear that no would believe us. Or we’re “too nice” to want to air our grievances. These are just some examples and skim the surface for many women. I could keep going and list several more unfortunate things, but my message for myself and for others is simple:
This behavior is NOT okay no matter how anyone seeks to justify it and their actions do NOT define you or your life.
I repeat: DO NOT LET THEIR ACTIONS DEFINE YOU.
And it is okay to speak up, even if it hurts and even if you have to relive that pain or fear over and over again until you don’t feel anymore. Even if it means losing your support system or blacklisting yourself in the process. Because the end result is that you will transcend beyond it when you realize that it isn’t your fault and that there was no way to prevent it. At some point you WILL move on and they will lose that power over you. Anyone who didn’t believe you or spoke against you will likely someday see your truth and have to come to terms with that whether they reach out to you or not. And definitely speak up for others who are too afraid to speak. If you see bad things going down and do nothing to help, you are just as much a part of the problem.
It didn’t take much reflection for me to figure out that when something like 600 of my friends are posting stories and meeting in solidarity, the problem is not a result of how we are dressed, how we act, or how we react necessarily. We can never really foresee how who we are will trigger these responses in people like this. The problem is that our society condemns “unpleasant” things and tends to push them under the rug. It is far easier to pretend these harsh realities don’t exist than to confront them and move beyond them. Everyone knows it, no one wants to believe it, and it is easier to live in a world where we are emotionally detached from such outcomes. It is easy to believe that he or she is just “wanting attention” or “lying for sympathy” than to believe the ugly truth of humanity and ugly motivations of others. The ugly truth is that humans, in general, are severely dysfunctional on many levels. The reality is that some people have a complete lack of conscience, compassion, or integrity in this world. Something I didn't really believe until I was shown it in some less-than-stellar ways.
This is not to say that people don’t lie about these things but I would be willing to venture that the majority are telling the truth or some version of the truth. It is far easier for many people to believe the abusers or to look away— until they are victimized themselves; until the unthinkable happens to them. And I am lopping them all into the same category because regardless of how minor the action, it is still a form of abuse or misconduct. And still not okay no matter how you spin it. I always come back to that Louis C.K. quote: "When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't."Just because someone thinks catcalling or groping is harmless doesn't mean it doesn't harm someone, for example.
There are no easy answers or solutions. This is not just a current problem but an ongoing social epidemic that has been going on for generations. We hear more about it simply because there are more people and there is more easily-digestible information out there. And more people seeking to connect and to be more bold than they were before about things once considered more taboo, really. Things happen and you react to them, or don’t react at all, or sit somewhere in the middle like Switzerland because you assume you caused it somehow by how you acted or looked and take accountability for it out of shame. Eventually society conditions you that while this isn’t “okay” it is how the world just is and you have to deal with it on your own. After the anxiety and fear subside, you end up just internalizing it as something you have to accept because it happened. No matter how much you vow to make sure it doesn’t happen again, you know it can happen and can be much, much worse. After you have seen the evils of the world it is next to impossible to pretend it doesn’t exist.
I wish we could post all of those derogatory texts or e-mails publicly so our friends and relatives could see what these evils look like and react accordingly. I wish we could record those conversations or assaults/attempts and put them on blast for the world to see. I wish that we could live in a society where people are held accountable for their actions. If the penalty was high enough, and if society ostracized those who tended to engage in such behaviors, I would guess that it would end much of this. Most of the people that engage in these behaviors would not want to be exposed and they should be. Our legal system should not protect them or give them a free pass. People that have been victimized should not feel like they themselves will be ostracized, invalidated, or worse if they come forward. But at the end of the day, often it just isn’t worth it. Fighting often resolves nothing. It is far easier to rebuild, walk away, and let God sort those people out. Some things are worth letting go, too.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter that everything came to a head for me and I had to realize that NONE of it was okay or acceptable or even something I could walk away from. Because at the end of the day, I was not a victim. A victim of circumstances, perhaps, but I decided then and there that I would not allow shitty individuals to rob me of who I was or what I had to offer the world. And I wanted to set a good example for my kid and be strong rather than defeated by the blows that these failures of society had dealt me. I have to face these things head on because I feel my daughter deserves to live in a world where she will not have to go through the things that I did or the majority of us have. It’s wishful thinking, I know, but I have hope that if I can prepare her enough and educate her she might stand a chance to at least avoid some of it. I will probably never “speak out” about things that have happened to me (and certainly there are things I will just never be able to tell her even if I was allowed to,) but I will raise her to be more inquisitive, to trust her gut, and to have the capacity to say no— things I wish I would have known more about growing up. If I can show her how to be strong, kind, and how to overcome any setbacks she encounters, I know she will be able to go through life with the discernment to decide what is wrong and right.
There are many wars in our world currently and this is one we will probably not end anytime soon if ever. Generations of people who do not respect others are already in the process of replacing the old generations of crappy people that did crappy things, too. Some people fail to evolve no matter how much we want them to or even how much they want to. But we can teach our children to do better than we have. We can teach them to fight back and to be vigilant. We can teach them to know right from wrong and treat others with respect. We can teach them to be kind. Many people will not do this, but many will. And we need to speak up now more than ever. We need to tell those stories and show that we are human. We need to show the people that do these things that we will fight back and some day we will prevail— that their days of terrorizing others with their inappropriate or violent behaviors are numbered.
Because we already win. They may not realize this because they feel they have brought us to our knees, given them the twisted attention/reaction/pleasure they were craving, or destroyed our innocence.
We win when we say NO.
We win when we try to fight back.
We win when we are brave and true to ourselves.
We win when we say that despite the awful things they have done, we will keep going and we will be stronger and wiser than before.
We win because we still have hearts and goodness in us— no matter how they try to seek that for themselves, they cannot take that from us.
We win when we forgive (but never forget).
We win even when we are silent because sometimes not reacting is the best way to not give them what they are seeking.
We win by lifting others up when they cannot lift themselves up.
We win because something that could, and should, rip us to shreds DIDN’T.
We win because they will likely always be stuck in the crappy person that they are—insecure, dishonest, unimportant, and perpetually dissatisfied (and those are some of the finer points, really.) They will continue to hurt others, take advantage of them, disrespect, lie, manipulate, etc and likely push away anyone who would have genuinely cared about them as a result. And you will feel sorry for them, but you shouldn’t, because we all make choices and we all have to potential to be better, smarter, kinder versions of ourselves if we actively work towards those things.
We will always win because we grow, and be, and do. Even when we don't think we are winning, eventually we will see how far we have come against all odds.
We win because they cannot take our fire from us forever.
We win because we learn from this and we teach our children to be everything they are not.
We win because we keep going, whether for ourselves or those who came before us.
We win because they cannot take our light and they cannot take our spirit, no matter how hard they try or how dark things may seem to us at the time.
We win every time.