Pain Without Trauma: How #metoo Helped Me Understand My Sexual Harassment

Disclaimer: This article discusses sexual harassment and assault.

You think you’ll know when it’s not ok. You think that nothing bad will happen to you because you follow every piece of advice that your older friends give you: you have a buddy with you the whole night, you set boundaries in your head, you don’t leave your drink unattended, you know almost everyone at the party. You’re a feminist and because of that, you’ve read every blog post and retweeted every #yesallwomen. Maybe you even took a self-defense course. You know how to say no. You don’t sneak off to a corner of the room to make-out. You don’t go home with anyone. You get back to your own bedroom and you think you did fine. You think you should feel good about the night. You don’t.

For many young people across different gender identities and sexual orientations, this is a familiar post-party feeling. It’s that feeling where you know something went wrong, but when you look back at the events of the night, nothing stands out as particularly traumatic or eventful. So you shrug it off and go out again the next weekend, only to find yourself feeling the exact same way. At least, that was my experience for most of high school. It wasn’t until I came to college that I realized that I had been sexually harassed.

In my junior and senior year of high school, I often went to house parties where guys looked at girls like they were pieces of meat. Female bodies were used as glass holders as guys took shots off of girls’ butts, and I felt belittled by every hungry glance thrown my way. At these parties, there was one guy in particular who consistently grabbed my butt whenever I walked by him. He had also slipped his fingers into my pants one night without my permission. I always felt weird whenever instances like these occurred because he was a generally nice guy who many people liked. When I brought up my discomfort to my male friend, he told me, “sorry, but he’s always like that,” and dropped the conversation.

I realized that this type of behavior was normal, and that if I wanted to go out to parties, I had to accept that this was simply the culture we lived in. Objectification and non-consensual touching wasn’t revolting. It was to be expected. And anyway, it wasn’t as though most of these boys were rapists or assailants. The guy who grabbed me wasn’t violent towards me. He didn’t leave me scarred and crying, just mildly upset. Therefore, there was nothing for me to complain about; no reason to tell anyone about my intense feelings of sadness that followed nights like these.

After I graduated and went off to college, I had more time to reflect upon my high school experience, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I had been subjected to sexual harassment. By talking to my classmates and having discussions with Beer and Sex advisors as well as SMAs, I came to understand that sexual assault took many forms. While violent and traumatic sexual assault is certainly a prevalent reality, other instances of sexual violation occur in more subtle yet equally harmful ways.

As an SMA, I am trained in telling people who are sexual assault and harassment survivors that their feelings about such experiences are ALWAYS valid and that they should not minimize what happened to them if it truly bothers them in some way. Even though this is the type of advice that I give people all the time, I am often unable to follow it myself. Part of the problem with sexual assault awareness is that many survivors have a hard time believing that what happened to them was a problem. This seems crazy, but when you live in a world that tells you that a random guy grabbing your ass at a party is “just what happens when you go out,” it makes all types of physical violation seem like par for the course.

That’s why the #metoo campaign is so important. In most iterations of the post that went around, the following phrase was attached:

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.

Please copy/paste.

When I first saw one of these posts, my eyes fixated on the words “sexually harassed.” I immediately understood its significance. This post wasn’t just calling attention to penetrative sexual assault. It was also revealing the everyday, sexual humiliations that many people (not just women) are forced to take in stride because the world has told them that their bodies are the property of others. It was not minimizing my feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, and shame. It was telling me I had the right to be enraged.

At the time these posts started going around, I didn’t make my own. I was still not sure if I had the right to, but thanks to the courage of millions, I am able to claim my own pain. I’m not doing it to feel sorry for myself or to exaggerate, as many people will surely claim I am. I’m doing it to let others know that any type of sexual violation is completely intolerable, that their pain is mine too, that we should not rest until every person has the right to control what happens to their body. Me too.

 

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3

 

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