Today I sat with a woman, forty-some-odd years my elder, and heard her story. A story even her late husband never knew. A story rooted in immense shame carried both deep within her and on her sleeve. With tears laying low in her eyes she begins by telling me how touched she has been by the media stories of #metoo. Then, almost abruptly, she laughed a bit, adding that 'it's about time'. Continuing, she dryly explained to me how no woman up spoke "in her day".
Silence sits between us for a minute as she wrangles with what, and how much of her story she should tell. As her friend, I listen to her silence. Then I hear her words, words about a man, the president of a large company she worked for, abusing her repeatedly, forcefully kissing her in an elevator, the brief descent dominated by his agenda and her fear.
Stories began to piggy back each other. The next, of Christmas gifts given to female workers year after year, but given only to the ones who kissed the boss. An instance she witnessed a co-worker being yanked behind the door of his office, and the "of course" scoff she received from the other co-worker whom she asked "has he ever come on to you?" That was the reaction of the only person she ever dared to ask, and until now the only person she dared to tell. Another scene was set on the street corner where an artist asked her to lunch. A lunch where The Artist used all of his persuasion, aside from brute force, to take her back to his hotel. I watched her as I listened, seeing her mull over all the other times, one leading to another in her head, as she combed through them all.
Then, a tear fell. Only one, quickly wiped away, and immediately followed by; "I was so dumb. So young."
After saying the only response I knew to say: "I am so sorry you had to go through all of that", she explained that "that's just the way it was, we were all afraid to talk, we were afraid they would take everything away from us."
I hugged her.
I hugged the most independent, outspoken, and self reliant woman I've ever known, and she let me.
When so many brave people posted #metoo, I didn't.
I felt undeserving. Although I hadn't yet heard her story, I felt that I was undeserving of #metoo because I never had it 'as bad as she did'. After all, she deserves to say that statement, to feel the connection and community of all the others that deserved the same, the ones who also had it 'that bad.'
But, that's not true. That is simply a perpetuation of the cultural and world wide problem of sexism and abuse that exists. I, because of my conditioning, don't immediately see the truth that was sexual harassment for me. That 'friend' who reached his hand up my skirt uninvited, the young man that forced himself inside my car and inches from my face demanding I kiss him, the countless lewd comments thrown my way in countless situations, the seemingly unintended advances, all of those things deserve my #metoo, because they are all wrong, and demeaning, and discriminatory, and vulgar, hurtful, egotistical, and belittling. I am so very thankful that I didn't 'have it worse', but I was indeed missing the point. The point is that there is such a deep injustice against women, and one that so deeply needs a voice, many voices from all stories, to speak up and out against it.
My generation; two removed from hers, has made progress. Progress because of the brave women who stood and spoke and fought before me. I am so thankful for those women and for the women now who are moving forward and outward. And to all of the women, and minorities, and bullied, and abused, lets keep speaking up and out. Lets see what we can do.