Me Too. Two simple words. You see it in Facebook statuses. You read the Tweets. It’s screenshot on Instagram. What does it mean? It is a way for women to identify that they have been victims of sexual assault or harassment.
Close friends of mine opened up online, and every single one of them shared something I’d never known. These are women I’ve known for years or in some cases decades.
“Me too. I have been catcalled, followed, harassed and intimidated. This has happened in big cities, small towns, workplaces, public spaces, and homes. I have learned ways to become smaller, to take up less space, to become invisible, as if any of that matters, as if it was ever my fault to begin with. When we say, "It happens all the time," we mean it.”
“Me too. I was twelve the first time I was sexually harassed. I've been scared more times than I can count. I've been angry even more times than that. Hell, I've even walked out on a job because of it. Yet still I consider myself lucky to have made it to the age of 24 without being assaulted (though I truly believe that is only true due to the kindness of friends and strangers). It makes me sick and if it doesn't do the same to you, maybe you ought to think on that.”
“It's very difficult to know/admit that I fall into this "me too" category. I reflected on it most of the day. I spent most of my young adult life feeling ashamed, frustrated, guilty, or dirty because the art of manipulation had been done so well by those "charming" young men...it's sad to know that those experience led to more years of heart break, misguided trust, not being able to trust, or truly doubting that someone could love me selflessly. #metoo”
I won’t recount them all, because all you have to do is scroll through your own social media feed to see the horror that is our country, that is our workplaces, that is our “norm.”
I have a weird aversion to Facebook statuses. It’s hard for me to share any portion of my personal life with people that I only vaguely remember from Chem 101 or a sorority mixer. Especially when it’s only a few brief sentences and you can’t share the whole story.
Because sometimes the whole story is complicated. It’s messy. It’s inhibiting. Sometimes the whole story is something that you don’t even think about yourself because it shames you, overwhelms you, and confuses you. Sometimes you still feel like the “whole story” is your fault, that you brought it on yourself, and if you talk about it people will blame you.
My Facebook status should read: Me too. For many reasons, for many occurrences, for simply being a “pretty girl” who has worked in sales, fashion, and in the entertainment industry.
As many of you, unfortunately, I’ve had the catcalls, the constant advances, the butt slaps, and the thigh grabs. One man told me he would “empty [his] bank account to do dirty things to [my] perfect little body.” Another told me that going to bed with him would be the experience of a lifetime, and I’d never be the same after—neither would my career. Yet another man once reached under my skirt and pulled my underwear to the side before I yelped and jumped out of the way.
Every time words were thrown in my direction or fingers wandered just a little further than reaching for that pen, I would tell myself that this was normal. Men are pigs. What can you do? I’ve never spoken up, never contested what was happening. Part of me thinks that I did this because I’d convinced myself it was my doing. Didn’t I wear skinny jeans so my booty would look perky? Didn’t I wear mascara so that people would compliment my green eyes? It took me years to realize that this kind of victim mentality is normal, but not ok. No matter what you wear or how you speak, you deserve to be treated with respect. I like attention, but you have to differentiate between someone who is flirting and someone who is harassing you.
When I first moved to LA, I auditioned for a web series, and, much to my surprise, booked it. I was overjoyed! An actual series regular role! Yeah it wasn’t for cable, but people were going to get to see me act! I showed up on set, and was immediately given a lot of attention from the producer, who also happened to be the fight choreographer. I thought this was a good sign—I’d never been on a “real” LA set, and was a little overwhelmed by the lights and cameras and amount of crew members. Yet, amongst the hustle this man made sure I was the center of attention. Wow, I thought. This is what it’s like to be the “talent.” He reworked every fight scene with me over one hundred times. I was bruised, I was bleeding, but I was alive. As the week went on, this producer’s hands got more comfortable with my body. But he was the fight choreographer, so I brushed it off. When we wrapped the first episode, he invited me out for drinks with the cast and crew. I felt like I had made it. I was doing what I loved and cool enough to go out for drinks with producers. My naiveté was a result of my newness to LA, but also my inherent belief that people are good and they actually mean what they say.
When I showed up to the bar, it was just the two of us. I thought I’d gotten the time wrong, but the story was that everyone else had cancelled. Thirty or so people had had something come up. Weird, right? However, I was already there and he was buying, so I had a drink. He invited me back to his place for a nightcap. He said a couple other producers and directors would be meeting us there. Ever the cliche, I wanted desperately to meet the people who could put me on screen. So I went to his house. To no one’s surprise, save naive 22 year old me, no one else was there. That’s when the producer kissed me. I told him that wasn't really why I came there, using weak words and a pathetic side step. He told me he liked me, and he could help me. “LA is a hard town baby girl,” he breathed into my neck. “I can make the right intros, get you in the right doors. You’re a star, baby. Let me make you a star.”
Then he kissed my neck, and then my lips. This time I kissed him back. He was attractive enough, and why not? I’m not an idiot. I knew, even in that moment, that he wouldn’t/ couldn’t make me a star. But I’ve kissed people who weren’t producers, why not make out with him? The second I gave into the kiss, he threw me against the wall and ripped my shirt off. I will save the graphic details of his words and his actions, but suffice it to say he wanted more than a kiss or two. When I refused his advances, he threw me against the wall for a second time. He put both his hands around my neck and told me I owed him. Told me I would give him what he wanted because he’s the only reason I was in that series. He’d fought for me to get the role over better actresses than me. He picked me up by my neck, and hurled me onto the couch where he climbed on top of me. And I started to cry. Because I was in pain, because I was offended that I wasn’t actually the right actress for the job, because I didn’t know how I’d let myself get into this predicament. When he finally loosened his grip, I scrambled out the apartment, gathering what was left of my ripped clothes and shattered dignity, but I knew I’d never be the same again.
My mind became a prison for my insecurities, doubts, what-ifs, and loathings. I stopped acting for a year. I stopped talking to guys for six months. I hated Hollywood. I hated men. I hated myself. I never told anyone. Who would believe me? Who would care? Why would I make that public and have my mother terrified that I’d moved across the country?
As the years went on, I started casually telling people about it. Always while smiling or laughing. Humor is an easy way to way to diffuse the situation, but sexual harassment and assault is no laughing matter. I am proud of the women standing up and telling their stories, but just talk isn’t enough. We need to join together to challenge our cultural norms. We need to band together to heal the hurt of what has already occurred. Your sisters, daughters, best friends, wives, yes, probably even you, have wounds and scars. Let’s rally around one another to recover. Emily and I talk frequently about how all we want is to make a difference in the lives of women. We want to make a lasting impact. I think it’s so important to remember that the way we speak, the way we act, the general way in which we live our daily lives makes an impact. Choose your words carefully. Sometimes you need to stay silent, and sometimes you need to raise your voice. So for now, I’ll let my voice be a part of the crowd. Another story to add to the masses. Another voice saying “you are not alone,” because yeah, “me too.”
Until next time,