Me, too. But I didn’t realize it for 25 years.

Have you seen #MeToo rolling around social media? It goes like this,

Me too.

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. Copy and paste.

#metoo

So first I want to say, if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you’re not alone. Me, too.

Second, if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you should ONLY copy and paste this as your status if YOU ARE READY TO DO SO. Because not only need we not feel shame for being harassed and assaulted, we also need not feel shame about when we’re ready to talk about it. Some of us are ready. We have processed enough of our stories and/or trauma that we can say it out loud, even to the world wide webs. Some of us haven’t. Some of us aren’t ready. Some of us, by sharing now, would be retraumatizing ourselves and making it worse, not better. Pretty please, dearest friend, share when YOU are ready, not when the world decides you should be. OK? OK. Glad we had this chat.

And third, this is my story.

[Trigger/Content Warning: Sexual Assault]

I didn’t let my teenage daughter have a job in high school. Instead, I paid for dance tuition — usually hundreds of dollars per month we had to scrimp and save — so she could dance 20 hours each week and participate in conventions and competitions that cost hundreds more.

I was alternately embarrassed and relieved by this decision. Embarrassed because we were choosing to live a rather elitist lifestyle, pouring money into our child and not requiring her to earn it. Relieved because she wouldn’t be dry-humped and felt up by her McDonald’s manager in the drive-thru like I was at age 16. 

Oh, sure; dance taught Abby a hard work ethic, physical fitness, goal setting, and time management. It was a fantastic part of her education, and she was grateful, but still; LOTS OF MONEY and rhinestones and my kid graduated high school without ever working a job beyond the occasional babysitting gig. This was not at all how I was raised, nor is it how my husband was, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we were setting her up for a lifetime of entitlement. After all, we hear all the time about today’s teenagers who are “too good” for honest, hard work at less glamorous places like fast food restaurants. But every time I thought she could at least work a fryer during the summer and pursue dance, every time I tried to convince myself that just because it happened to me didn’t mean it was going to happen to her — every time I thought of her alone, closing the restaurant at midnight with a man bigger and older than her, my hands got sweaty, and my heart pumped faster, and I knew I was never going to ask her to apply to grill burgers. Not ever. I couldn’t do it.

Which is how, at age 40ish, I finally realized I was sexually assaulted. 

It wasn’t that I’d dismissed what happened to me working swing shifts at McDonald’s. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten. It was simply — and this has come to be even more terrifying to me than assault amnesia — that I believed my experience was wholly unremarkable. As normal as tripping over a curb or missing my seat in 6th grade math class and crashing to the ground. Which is to say, an experience that is memorable and uncomfortable but not anything out of the ordinary or worth commenting on.

THAT is how ingrained sexual assault is in our culture. THAT is how embedded. THAT is how common and mundane. That 16-year-old me thought having a man push me into a corner and rub his erection on me while trying to grab my boobs was just another, normal, unfortunate work condition. A bummer of a surprise like seeing how much of my paycheck went to taxes. A meh, whatever, shrug-it-off situation. Something we girls bitched about in the work room while we ate our $3.49 of free food per shift. But also something none of us even considered reporting. Not because it wouldn’t do any good, but because clothed sexual assault didn’t seem to rise to the “Must Report” level. Any ejaculate was contained in his pants, after all, and, if we said no and pushed him off enough, if we smiled at him so he wouldn’t be mad, he left us alone for the rest of the shift.

I read that now, and I go, DEAR GOD. I mean, DEAR LORD JESUS IN HEAVEN, WHAT THE HELL? It seems impossible to me now that I didn’t see it then. But it’s still true.

I didn’t tell my parents. The same parents who were always so good about telling me no one has the right to touch me in the bathing suit area and that I could talk to them anytime about anything which was true. I didn’t tell them because it didn’t cross my mind. I didn’t tell them until they, too, wondered why Abby wasn’t doing time at a local burger joint. My dad pumped gas as a teen. My husband washed cars at his dad’s used car dealership. I flipped burgers and worked a cash register. Shouldn’t Abby learn the same way? I didn’t tell them until we were having the conversation in my kitchen, and I answered casually, “I just don’t think I want my kid to be dry-humped by her manager.” I said it casually because I still felt casual about it. But as soon as it fell from my mouth, I did a mental double take. And ever since, I’ve been realizing how very ingrained assault is in our culture, our communities, and our lives as women navigating an unfriendly world.

My story is unbelievably common. Unbelievably normal. Obvious assault and harassment experiences we didn’t see as obvious or as assault because we are subconsciously, insidiously trained not to recognize it. One of my girlfriends posted this yesterday, “I was just about to post how extraordinarily lucky I feel to have never been a victim of assault as a woman. Then I remembered the time I was drugged in a bar and (thank goodness) passed out while still in the bar, spending the night in the hospital. I guess that’s another “me too.””

We are trained not to see it, and we are trained to belittle it when it happens to us.Well, sure; I’ve felt unsafe hundreds of times around men, but it’s not as bad as what happened to ____.” Or “He only felt on top of my clothes so I wouldn’t say it was assault, exactly.” Or “It wasn’t technically rape, so… Or I knew better than to go to his room alone.” We have unlimited excuses and dismissals, really. I know I did. Until I had to decide what was OK for my daughter. It turns out what happened to me is definitely Not OK if it happens to her. Which means it’s Not OK that it happened to me. This particular assault was Not OK, and neither are the other times I was grabbed and groped; neither are the dozens of times I was sexually harassed with words and actions. Who knew? 

I’m telling you this story, friends, for specific reasons, which are these:

1. I refuse to be ashamed or embarrassed about this, and I will absolutely do my part to name the things that are Not OK — the things that Must Change — so our world has to face it and do better.

2. Not everyone can share her story. Not yet. Maybe not ever. And I want you to know, whether or not you are able to declare your “me, too,” I still see you. And so do countless others. We know you’re there. We know that for every person who can share, there are myriad more who can’t. We see you. We’re waving in the dark. You’re not alone.

3. You’re also not alone if you, like me, have suddenly become aware. You’re not alone if you realized belatedly you were assaulted. You’re not alone as you reluctantly claim membership in this club. You’re not alone as you realize how widespread this problem is and how brainwashed you were not to see it earlier. You’re not alone as you grieve your discovery of both your own experiences and of our culture as it actually is, rather than as you thought it was. And you’re not alone as you wonder what in the world we might actually do to change it.

Me, too, friends. Me, too.

With love, always,

 

 

 

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
26 comments
  1. Me too.
    I was 12, he was 19.

  2. Because I was inexperienced and uneducated, I had no idea that what the gynecologist in a small town in North Louisiana did to me wasn’t a normal part of the examination. And a nurse was present in the room. But I was uncomfortable enough to start seeing the doctor at the health department, instead, and was very surprised that he didn’t require me to come in every month for a for birth control prescription. Later, when a friend learned I’d seen this predator, she asked about his behavior. We talked and she told me everyone in the town knew about him. Because what he did was annoying, rather than stimulating, I didn’t think about it for years. Years later, I saw a talk show where women discussed sexual abuse by doctors and I broke down.

  3. Number 3. So much number 3!

    I’ve spent the last few days thinking about all the times I was sexually harassed and didn’t necessarily see it as harassment at the time, because I was brought up to believe you shouldn’t make men feel bad. Their egos are fragile. And it’s not their fault they always think about sex. Or it’s just a joke, sex is funny.

    So yes, number 3.

  4. Me too.

    Because apparently saying “I know you said you didn’t want to tonight, but…” before he climbs on top counts as foreplay. And I didn’t fight because he’s twice my size and I didn’t want to hurt the baby or induce her to arrive early when I already tend to deliver them early. And we’re still married, and he hasn’t really gotten help, and I’m not at all sure it won’t happen again.

  5. I cried when I read your article. It’s never just one incident is it? When you think of all of them together, it’s quite overwhelming and horrifying. Like many women, I always counted myself lucky that I was never the victim of anything that was violent, but the stuff that did happen did make me fearful and very cautious and made me feel that it was safer to blend into the background.

    I asked my husband to read your post. Since having two daughters, he has begun to see how male-dominated the world is. I wanted him to realise what so many women, including his wife, have been through.

  6. Me too but i don’t have the courage to put it on fb. The first was getting molested as a child. Reading your story gave me the courage to test the waters here and made me recall an incident of assault that I had forgotten about. I had assumed I was the “cause” but realize now nope! It was assault and not my fault. Thanks for your sharing.

  7. Me, too. When my daughter was in her early teens, I requested that she find out if there would be chaperones at her friend’s overnight party, which included canoeing. This friend was very offended. It was uncomfortable for my daughter, but she understood that I only ever have had her best interest at heart. The friend being upset didn’t compare to the thought of my daughter being harmed in any way. I understand exactly why you didn’t allow your daughter to work in an environment that might replicate what you went through.

  8. Me too. A few times, the most devastating was something I blamed myself for, for years. It was not my fault. Just because you get into someone’s new car so they can show you how cool it is does not give them permission to drive you into the woods and violate you. He smelled like sour clothes, and 25 or so years later that smell still makes me sick and when rape is discussed I get a shaky feeling. Like right now.

  9. Thank you for this. So much. I didn’t “remember” my assault (by a family friend’s college-age son, after a night hanging out with his friends and drinking on the beach) until my kids were the same age I was at the time. And even then, my thought was (1) well, maybe it didn’t *really* count, since I was able to push him off me and lock myself in my bedroom, and (2) what did I expect, drinking on the beach with guys older than me?

    I look at those words now, and wonder how I could possibly have thought either of those things. But I did. For decades. 🙁

  10. #MeToo
    It was more than 50 years ago and it will never stop affecting my interactions with others. I was raped as a child and my mother hid it under the carpet in fear of embarrassment and in fear that my father would kill the pedophile. Now I wish he had. I’m left with permanent nerve damage plus anxiety in many social situations. This is wrong and saddens me to see so many women mistreated in such atrocious ways. I’m so sorry this happened to you too!

  11. Like you, Beth, I didn’t recognize my incident for what is was, until 20 years after it happened. I was only a kid (maybe 12?), playing outside with my brothers and our older neighbor boy (15 or so) when he forced me on the ground and laid on top of me, groping me and trying to kiss me. I remember laughing and pushing him off wondering what on earth he was doing. It happened twice more that same summer. I was so oblivious – just a child. But I never felt traumatized, just weirded out by it all and that’s probably why I didn’t give it a second thought. I considered myself one of the lucky ones that never had to deal with sexual assault. It wasn’t until 2 years ago, when I met a young woman with a similar story that I realized what had happened to me. Now, to be clear, I still count myself lucky as hell that it never went further than it did. And that it was my only experience of assault that I can remember. But this is me, realizing along with so many others, that #metoo.

  12. I wrote about #metoo this morning as well. About my husband suggesting that martial arts training would help our daughter fend off attacks. About how a black belt can only take you so far when so much of the freaking battle is what we’ve become accustomed to accepting – at 14, at 16, at 40. Me too, sister.

  13. YES.

    Me Too took over my nes feed over the past few days, and while I knew almost 100% of women I know have been assaulted in their lifetime, seeing them all say so at once gives you that kicked in the chest feeling.

    And it’s almost never that one time.

    One woman asked if she should post “me too” for each incident – or just the ones where she visually saw a naked penis – or the ones where she only felt a clothed penis touch her – and did the ones where she was wearing “provocative clothing” count – oh, and did a policewoman’s uniform count as provocative?

    I was laughing and crying and raging all in the same moment, because yes, yes, yes, yes… ME TOO.

  14. It is unbelievable how much we have in common in this particular post. Well, in many posts, but this one even more. Thank you, Beth. #metoo

  15. #MeToo
    Wow! So powerfully and beautifully written!

    I am also over protective of my kids in reaction to things I’ve experienced – both familial and in work situations.

    When I was a kid, I DID tell my mother, grandmother and aunts – but their ‘golden boys’ could do no wrong and I was actually accused of ‘asking for it’ or ‘enticing’ them! And so was left in their care anyway, despite crying and screaming at those women not to be left alone with those men…; So much for protection! My children would never be around them, ‘family’ or not and Chris agreed with me!

    Then at one job, wearing a skirted business suit my legs in nylons were too tempting to my boss and he felt he had the right to run his hand up my leg. I never ever wore skirts again and still don’t!

    That’s just two examples…

    As written by the author, Beth Wolsey, we often excuse or don’t even realize!

  16. Me Too! 50 years ago and I still have flashbacks. The hurt never goes away. You can never forget when it happens to you.

  17. Me, too.

    For me, I was so busy focusing my energy on the one that Definitely Counted that I didn’t realize until about 10 years ago that it wasn’t the first time I’d been sexually assaulted.

    Rape culture is the cumulative effect, not just of rape itself, but of all the actions, beliefs, practices, and attitudes that simultaneously facilitate and excuse rampant sexual violence in a society. The blatant assaults are horrifying, but the grooming that has convinced the culture we live in to ignore sexual violence is just as abusive.

  18. Me, too. Thank the goddess I am older now and it rarely happens anymore.

  19. I had a “backrub” at a sleepover by my friend’s dad. It made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t see it as weird or objectionable until many years later. I can’t say “me too” on Facebook because my parents are still close with him and his wife, and I’m not willing to explain all that to my parents. So. Me too.

  20. I also thought I’d escaped (& therefore something was wrong with me) until it suddenly popped into my head. He made me very uncomfortable and was trying to cross boundaries that he knew I had. I just thought he was an insensitive jerk. But really it was harrassament. And while I’m not ashamed to tell the story, if I do so in a public forum I could end up opening up not-yet-healed wounds of an innocent third party.

  21. Me too. I had it as my status today and my mom called me panicked. I told her about a couple of incidents including one where my brother was sitting near me as this guy rubbed his erection on my back as I sold tshirts ar a basketball tournament at my high school. She felt horrible that she didn’t know and I told her I had never told anyone including my husband of 20 years. It’s nust something that happened and no big deal…yet I’ve never forgotten the incident. Never forgotten the feeling of panic or questioning why my 17 year old self didn’t say something to him! *sigh. I just hope so many of us that CAN talk about it and admit it, makes those that feel unable or not ready to, feel a little less alone.

  22. Complete truth. The media portrays it as normal and so we absorbed it as teens as normal and tolerated it.

    I think there is a lot of power for Hollywood to change this script but will they? Meantime we guard and prevent our kids from those same scenarios.

  23. I’d have counted myself as one of the lucky ones who couldn’t remember ever really experiencing it. Though I know it is rampant. Until I read this. And I remembered the job I had in my twenties that I didn’t go back to on the third day, in part because of the lecherous treatment of my one male coworker – and the way he would rub up against me in our teeny tiny workspace when we had to pass one another. I’d completely forgotten. Because it wasn’t the only reason I quit. I’d also realized his work ethic was awful and I had nothing to learn from him. But now I realize it was really more because #metoo…

  24. me too.

  25. Me too.

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