I didn’t know if I should post this or not. Didn’t want to unless it was true. But then I thought, “If you have to discuss leaving an event and community you love because a male member of that community says that you misunderstood and were being too sensitive, it counts.”
Saying it felt good. Noting it on Facebook and getting those inappropriate behaviors challenged felt so good to me. I got all the little jolts of dopamine we get from people “liking” and sending hearts to my burst of thought.
But quickly I realized that posting was only step one. I had been passive up to this point. Watching the news, listening to stories of assault, harassment, unabashed misogyny and toxic masculinity. Making it public pushed me to do more. Step two: I reached out to a member of that shared community and I told them about what had happened to me.
Part of me felt bad that it took me so many years to get that far. Sure I was vulnerable when it happened. I was still less than a year in Toronto, still in graduate school.
But then a year later, shouldn’t I have spoken up when another woman reported a similar yet worse incident to me? When we both heard each other and thought–“I thought I was crazy and taking it out of context, being to sensitive. You mean, if it happened to both of us, it wasn’t my fault–but his?”
Again, I waited. I ache thinking about what I could have avoided by speaking up earlier, and yet after this experience, I realize that I had to gather my strength. It did indeed take that long.
He apologized. That’s important. It doesn’t heal all wounds, his or mine. Or the wounds to other women at all. But it’s a step forward. We had a conversation. One that I thought would be too arbitrated, but was actually moderated well. It surrounded both of us with other voices to reflect and echo, to be neutral when needed, prodded at times, buoyed up with support at others. Most importantly they were there to witness. We were heard where we are, which is most of what needed to happen.
But afterwards, all my strength left me. My body broke down almost immediately and I spent a day in bed, another few days still waiting for my body to sort itself out physically. Today almost a week later I am finally gaining back by normal energy and pep.
It was infuriating. I have been doing all the “right” things to keep myself together–took time to collect my thoughts, reached out to friends for advice and support, went to the gym to get those endorphins going, etc. And yet there I was–terrified of my own body/mind connection and how it was going to betray me next.
My inner dialogue:
Why won’t you take the nutrients I am pumping into you? Why are you shaking? Aching? In pain–I have taken all the pain away, what else do you need to be at peace!!!
I’m proud of what I did, taking these next steps. But no, it did not give me immediate relief. Instead it reminded me that fighting these battles takes so much effort. I was emotionally drained, physically ill from the energy it caused–and that was a best case scenario.
What about the other victims who speak up without a support network like mine? What about the women who aren’t believed? What about the victims whose assaulters retaliate? What about the victims of more than just misunderstanding or verbal harassment?
I don’t know what it’s like to be sexually assaulted or raped. After this, I can begin to fathom the astounding amount of courage it takes for women who have been through such ordeals to face the perpetrators.
We are asked to do all this, and still meet all the other lifetime and career milestones. And look happy all the time on social media. To show up to work on Monday and keep going, not sure how to explain what is really happening on the inside.
It seems like too much, and for moments–maybe even days, weeks, or months–it can be. I don’t write this to demand other women and men stand up and speak out for every #metoo post. I write this to recognize that each step is more than we might see from the outside.
We must take them when we can and acknowledge that this march to make the world a better place is a long one. It is only powerful if we recognize our limits–as individuals and as groups–and work to bridge the gaps until a better system can be constructed.
I am simultaneously happy and miserable. The world seems both brighter and darker as I look at my one tiny drop in the void. I wish it didn’t have to happen to me right now when it felt like the last straw breaking in me. And yet, I have to believe there is a greater reason why I could and did speak up now.