If you crossed paths with me tonight, you would have seen the fire in my eyes. The rage at the state of affairs, at the great uncovering of misogyny in this nation.
We see more clearly than we have in my lifetime the number of Americans who devalue and disrespect women. This group is not the majority, but it is large enough. I could weep, despair at seeing the rape culture and the denial of rape culture. At the vulgar name calling. At the bragging. At the assertion that none of this matters.
But you know what else I see that gives me hope? Women and men have had enough. Millions of women have spoken out about boys and men who have sexually assaulted or harassed them. Millions of us are saying “This is not OK. This is unacceptable.”
As these courageous women told their stories, I wondered about my stories of harassment and shame related to my gender. For whatever reason, nothing immediately came to mind, and I wondered about what I had worked so hard to forget and what I didn’t want to admit. Tonight, I remembered.
I remembered the bespectacled boy on the school bus in fourth grade who made fun of me for wearing glasses. When I pointed out he also wore glasses, he said it was different because “you’re a girl.”
I remember growing up feeling like the only way I could complete my sense of self-worth was if I had a boyfriend. I remembered wondering if I wasn’t feminine enough, whether I was too independent and self-reliant to attract one.
I remember the vastly insecure guy who tried to emotionally manipulate me so he could grasp at this misguided and toxic version of manhood we sell our sons.
I remember the one who would try to gaslight me by talking about how emotionally intelligent he was, and who told me straight out why on Earth would he date me if he could get someone hotter?
I remember the guy who said I looked like a man because I dared wear a long-sleeved T-shirt and sweatpants to the college dining hall.
I remember the one who told me he cared for me and then made me feel like a piece of ass.
I remember how I felt fear at walking down the street or running down the road as some guy yelled sexual and taunting things at me from his vehicle.
I remember men calling me dear and sweetie and child and other names. They made me feel small.
I remember the anonymous commenters and emailers who called me idiot, moron, whore and fucking cunt because I was doing my job.
I remember feeling like I couldn’t bother anyone or take up too much of their time while I was trying to do my job. I saw it in the way I wrote in emails, “I’d just like to talk to you about…” Just. Hey, I’m not a threat. I’m small. Don’t mind me.
I remember the ways I have devalued and disrespected other women because the gender roles in this culture say femininity and women are weak, and I did not want to be weak.
I remember my own reactions to learning about assault and rape. “She probably shouldn’t have drunk so much.” “She should have been more careful.” The misogyny in this culture has lived in me, too.
And my heart breaks to know of the millions of other women who have dealt with this and so much worse.
Putting my stories out there is tremendously difficult because it makes me scared. It makes me wonder what people will say. What cruel or insensitive things they may tell me about what I should have done. Or that they will think I’m weak. And so I can understand why women who have been raped and sexually assaulted don’t speak out.
My heart breaks to know there are predators, rapists, assailants out there who will never see justice and never even understand their actions. That there are men and women out there who do not look in the mirror and seek understanding, who won’t bother to learn what darkness grows within them. They don’t understand this shame and so they lash out in their great fear and insecurity to protect their own fragile egos and broken selves.
One day I looked at myself and realized the depth of my shame. I realized how much I had held on to my need for a boyfriend, and I set myself free. I realized how I let men have a bigger say than me in the relationships we were in, and I took back my power and my voice. I saw the “justs” in my emails and I stopped using them and I stopped telling people I didn’t want to take up too much of their time. I spoke up, I expanded and I grew without apology. I questioned the premises and gender-based roles, traditions and expectations I grew up to know. I unlearned what this culture has taught me. I learned that I am strong, confident and courageous, which is exactly the woman I wanted to become.
And now I continue to speak out to lift myself and the other women in my life because they deserve respect and dignity. I speak out to lift the men and boys in my life because I know the danger of “boys will be boys.”
I want to help set us free.