The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.
The first “me too” I see is at 5 a.m., when I wake from a nightmare and blindly pick up my phone to check the time. Rubbing my eyes, I get up and walk to the bathroom, and my tired brain taps on autopilot: click on Facebook, scroll mindlessly. I’m caught by a post from an acquaintance I haven't seen in years. She starts it with “Me too,” and shares a story: she was just a teenager when a man sought her out on Facebook. He sent her frightening, degrading, explicit messages with no provocation. This description is common enough that it could apply to any number of my friends. Reading this, she might not recognize herself.
When I wake up and learn the “me too’s” are an organized effort, my first thought is "of course." Of course it’s a collective expression; it’s a burden we all share. I’m not surprised by how many women I know are posting these statuses. We’ve all experienced it – me too, of course.
Me too. Of course I've been harassed and degraded, and of course all of my female friends have been as well. Of course we all have a “me too” to share. I’ve been angry about that enough for an entire lifetime, so today, the universality of harassment is not what makes me upset. Instead, it makes me angry that women are being asked, again, to expose their pain for a chance at being taken seriously – not individually, but collectively. Today, I am angry that we are all being asked to participate in a public admission. We are all acting out confession, but we aren’t the sinners. We are all picking at our scabs to show off the wounds. I am upset that we are all being asked to convince the men in our lives that this is happening. How many accusations is enough? How many women does to take to screw in the light bulb over your heads?
I remember how many times I’ve been told not to be too public about my personal issues, reminded that it could hurt my career: employers don't want to hire damaged goods, no matter how many anti-discrimination clauses they have on their application pages. It is most frustrating that they think there is a woman alive who has somehow escaped being damaged by these things.
I’m angry because, as my Latina girlfriend reminds me, this campaign folds the experience of “survivor” into “woman,” and “woman” into “white woman.” Alyssa Milano, a white woman, sparked a social media movement with a tweet, but Tarana Burke, a Black woman, has worked on the same campaign for 10 years. While sexual violence occurs without regard to race or gender, its consequences are always impacted by those categories. Whiteness cannot speak for us all, because there is no universal experience of womanhood, and not only because we’re all different people. Patriarchy affects my partner in a different way than it affects me, and it affects us both differently than it does a straight woman or a trans woman. I’m frustrated because I struggle to express this crucial point while also making it clear I support any and all survivors speaking out.
The truth is, I also desperately want to say me too. I will not change the minds of any men on my Facebook friends list – they’re all aware of my politics, and if they haven’t heard me yet, this isn’t going to reach them. But this moment feels like permission to finally air grievances the men involved have long forgotten. I want to say me too because I feels this momentum would spare me from looking needlessly spiteful or attention seeking. I know it’s a gamble, but it also feels like I might actually be heard in this moment.
I want to say me too: I was 13 and my classmate grabbed my ass during Spanish class. I whipped my head around in shock. I saw his sheepish, peach-fuzz face grinning at me. That pimpled mouth told me that when I’d bent down to retrieve my workbook, he just “had to. It was right there.” I didn’t tell on him, but I want to tell the world now. I want to imagine him reading it and squirming as he recognizes himself.
I want to say me too! It took me years to recognize that being 16 and lying silent and stiff as a board while a hand unbuttoned my pants might have caused me some lasting hurt. It took years to realize not saying no is different from saying yes. I want to say me too, not for the benefit of the men who love me, but for the knowledge of the men who have hurt me. I want to feel like they realize what they did.
More than anything, I want someone to hear what I've been through and validate it. Even now, I feel myself wanting to justify my experiences as “worthy” of pain, although I shouldn’t have to. I want to explain that these are just two examples from two decades, although I want to keep my trauma private. For years, I’ve wanted to hear someone else say it makes sense that those things affected me, to tell me it wasn't my fault, to say it was wrong. I've been writing and deleting “me too’s” all week.
I think what I really want is to inhabit online spaces where both my frustration and my desire to share can be acknowledged as true at the same time. I want to make the pain other people caused me public without feeling like I’m capitulating to a larger demand that does more harm than good – and without feeling like I am pressuring others into sharing what they are unready or unwilling to. I seek a space where I can encourage and thank everyone speaking up that also allows me to condemn the expectation that all women have to come forward about their hurt, especially when doing so can have suchmajorconsequences.
I want language to talk about sexual assault and harassment without needing to, as Brandy Jensen said on Twitter recently, round up or round down our experiences. I want to be able to talk about the ways these things hurt me without condemning entirely the men and boys responsible for them. I’m seeking ways to express the effects of the unintentional but lasting hurt that has followed me from adolescence. I’m seeking some nuance.
I’m mostly exhausted by the need to categorize the “me too’s” as something either, and wholly, fundamentally good or bad. Criticizing our politics and seeking to improve them is a necessary part of feminism. I’m also exhausted by the expectation that anything we do in response to harassment or assault needs to be the correct response. Why is it on survivors, again, to come up with the right solution to this problem? (Don’t answer that – we know why.) What if, instead, women weren’t responsible for coming up with the right answers to an epidemic of gendered violence? I am frustrated by the idea that I need to create the nuance here if I wish to see any. It can be both bad and good at once, in different ways.
What I really want is for men to take on this monumental task of holding two ideas in their heads at once: both “I think I am a good person” and “my actions have hurt women.” I want them to be able to believe that the men they call friends can be kind and charming to them but also abusive and cruel to their partners, or to acknowledge that while they may have never harassed a woman, harassment isn’t just an outlier behavior restricted to “monsters” or “psychopaths.” I want them to admit that they have been raised from birth in a culture that accepts and encourages sexual violence among men, even if they have tried to be an individually good man. I want them to believe that despite the reality of this lifelong conditioning, they can seek out and create groups of men who do not act in these ways that harm the women around them. I am tired of doing all of this complex imagining for them. How many "me too’s” does it take for a man to recognize his behavior? Although seeing men post about how they, too, have hurt a woman in their life is hopeful, I have to admit it also fills me with anger. I suppose that’s the right reaction. It can be both good and bad.