This is a deeply personal post full of deeply personal information, including a great deal about sexuality and abuse and lived experience. I write it because within the past 36 hours #metoo has mushroomed on the internet. In case you have not seen it, #metoo is a movement of women (and some men) posting something to the effect of “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.” I found that specific text on Alyssa Milano’s Twitter. You can see it from the image posted. In any event, I do not post for pity or to elicit any feelings from you about me; I write because silence indeed equals a kind of death, acquiesced to in a horrible way.
When I saw it, I quickly posted my own #metoo on Facebook, and I was pretty bowled over by the response. Within hours I noticed that a super significant portion of my Facebook friends had either commented or posted their own #metoo status. It was kind of stunning to see it all at once.
While a supporter of speaking up, a gift that I lacked when I was younger and victimized, I also have mixed feelings about the movement. That said, I’m going to try to offer a few posts about the topic starting with why I feel that way.
Why the mixed feelings?
Well, that goes back a day or two earlier to #womenboycotttwitter – that came from the actress Rose McGowan. In theory I agreed with her point, but I don’t use Twitter enough to make a difference. What struck me more powerfully was Ava DuVernay’s position on that movement. She said, “Calling white women allies to recognize conflict of
#WomenBoycottTwitter for women of color who haven’t received support on similar issues.” She is absolutely correct as far as I am concerned. Along those lines, #metoo met with a surge of interest, and it makes me sad that issues that impact women of color do not come close with this kind of attention, or people of color in general. Which by the way illustrates the baseline problem, but that’s another topic for another day. Let’s just say that I support #BLM and #takeaknee , and doing so does not mean in any way that I am anti-police, not at all. Moving on, hope to post more about that soon.
Back to #metoo – mixed feelings aside, I felt a deep compulsion to be very clear about saying #metoo in regard to my own life. Challenges around boundaries and human sexuality started early in my life, and that is all I will say about that. I did keep thinking of two or three instances that really stood out from all the others.
Speaking only for myself, I can say that when one’s boundaries and sexuality is tampered with at a young age one will always have a sense of being the responsible party. Being told by any abuser that it was “your fault” and that as a result you better not tell anyone about it and so forth pretty much sets one up for a lifetime of shame and self-blame. When things started to happen to me along the way, I just assumed that same position even if I was not told to do so.
One big #metoo story has to do with something very horrible that happened to me during the summer of 1972. I was a few months shy of being 15. Because my sexual wiring was tampered with as a child, I had a lot of confusion, shame, and yet an incredible curiosity about sex at an age when young people really start to feel those hormones. It was during this time that I got a “great” summer job babysitting for some family friends. Let’s just say that these “friends” were met via my abuser who had died nearly two years prior. The job would be babysitting their 18 month old from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday. That would be a lot of money – yay! Or so it seemed.
Problem number one, they lived in a second floor apartment in a converted house that had a locked main door, and then their apartment door of course had a lock. They did not want me to have a key, they did not want me to take their child out on walks (something I had looked forward to, pushing that big old stroller!) under any circumstances. I remember the look on my mom’s face when she asked about how I would get in and out… So basically, I was locked in their apartment all day.
Problem number two, the child through no fault of the child’s own, cried almost non-stop. Looking back I can identify some possible reasons why, but at 14 it quickly escalated to a challenge for me. I was also not allowed to make phone calls unless it was an emergency, so I was desperate to get my two calls a day from my mom who would check in on me. Oh my gosh, typing this makes me realize how set up I was in this scenario.
Problem number three, and this is hard to write about. The only television in the house was in the couples’ bedroom, so if I wanted to watch TV, the only place to sit was on their bed. This is really problem number three through who knows what. The bedroom was unkempt, the bed was never made. Yes, these were both professional people. The wife was not very friendly and never had been. The husband was a super schmoozer and very gregarious. They were not good housekeepers, so what, right? Well, the challenge was that when I would sit on the bed, I would immediately become aware of a great deal of what I shall term sexual paraphernalia. Why didn’t I tell my mom? Well, my own earlier abuse, which was hazy if anything in my mind at the time, holds the answer to that… I was primed to stay quiet. That was familiar ground for me, so that’s what I did. Mostly I watched TV, waited for every minute to pass, tried to keep the child amused, which was not so easy, and then fed and changed the child as needed. It felt like hell.
Over the first couple of weeks the amount of paraphernalia seemed to increase. There were a lot of books and magazines. My curiosity had me looking at them and yet my shame had me hating myself for that. Pretty much the same kind of shame as eating an entire box of oreos. What I did not realize for many years was that I was being primed.
One day the husband came home unexpectedly. I do not recall if I was in the bedroom or not, but I do remember that the child was finally asleep after a long, screaming cry that gave me anxiety. I do not recall how I ended up on the sofa underneath this man, only that I did end up there. I could feel him pressing into me, although we were both clothed. He kept trying to kiss me and I kept turning away. He was sticking his tongue into my mouth and he tasted of cigarettes and sour breath. Finally I tried to push him off, no luck as I was 5 feet tall and he was taller and stocky. He kept saying that he knew I “wanted it.” Wanted what? Suddenly I just wanted one thing – to get out.
At some point in this mess he pressed hard into me – again, thankfully fully clothed – but he was rubbing up against me and pushing. I did not fully understand what was happening. He kissed me hard and his tongue tried to force through my lips, so I did the one thing I thought I could to defend myself as I was pinned down… I bit his lip. Oh boy. Mistakes were made… He jumped up a little and then he got really excited, he actually liked that and started slapping me. Not super hard, but he was really turned on now and more persistent than ever. I am not sure how I got him to stop. I’m not even sure that he did not rape me, but I am going to say that I do not believe that he did.
I do remember that I threw up after he left and cried for the rest of the afternoon. Then at 5 when the mother got home, I left without a word and went home. Where I said absolutely nothing about what happened. After that he called me his “little cocktease” when he would come home and bother me. Nothing was ever as intense as that one day, but he was persistent. I had no idea what that descriptor meant, but it sounded gross.
A week or two later after a few more incidents I convinced my mother to let me quit. She knew I was unhappy, but she assumed that was because I was locked in the house all day, so she rallied for a key again. The answer was an even more forceful no from the wife, the husband was more “what can I do?” All I do know is that I was invited to visit a friend in California for a few weeks, and somehow I talked my mom into letting me go. Four weeks of steady work gave me some money, so I quit which made the couple furious. My mother said that she did not understand, but I recall that she told them that it was too much to ask of me to be there and stay inside all day alone with the child. We never saw or spoke to them again.
Off I went to Los Angeles, and I felt ashamed once more because I was pretty sure that this was my fault. I swallowed my rage and my shame and my feelings and carried on that way for years. I still do quite a lot of that swallowing and I must say that the #metoo reminded me of how it felt to speak aloud and to not swallow everything.
Post script… In 1982 the man won some kind of award from his company and it was written up in our local newspaper. My mom would always send me snail mail (I lived in a different city pursuing my professional career at the time) and often sent clippings about people and places that I knew. She sent that one and said, “Remember _________?” I just about exploded with rage when I saw it. I can’t remember how, but eventually I told her some of what happened and she cried and cried. She was sad about what happened, and that I was too afraid to speak up, even to her.
Speak up and speak out!
Well this is long, isn’t it? Good blog posts are short, right? Well this one is not short. Good or not it is here. That’s one of my #metoo stories. So many of us have them. So many of us have never spoken up or shared them. I can be silent no more. Yes, I feel a twinge of shame even now, but I know that that is not real, that is the power wielded over me like a weapon, manipulating me into being the place where others would park their evil. And it is not the sex that is evil, but the use of sex as part of the abuse of power. And that many men feel entitled to “take” what they want from women who they are sure “want” it at some level.
Whether it is a politician, a cleric, a business person, anyone – no one should be doing this! Ever ever ever! Yet it still happens all the time. Hey, we live in a country where it is got elected president despite some terrible things. Sorry to bring that up but it matters. When we are OK with that as a country, anything goes.
Well – no more. NO MORE. I will share some other stories to air out the musty basement of my own history and shame, to let the light in. When you say the words out loud, you take their power away, and you restore your own. Don’t let silence be the last word, please.