I have a confession: when I saw the Me Too (#MeToo) solidarity status on a friend’s Facebook wall I mentally turned the other way.
I think in all the years I’ve been blogging, I’ve only written two posts that I felt uncomfortable writing but knew I had to.
One was about my then 12 year old daughter. One was about my marriage.
This joins them.
I didn’t want to write this. I couldn’t bring myself to cast my mind back over the countless times I’ve been on the receiving end of unwanted intimidating advances from men, mainly in my younger years.
Thankfully it doesn’t happen so much now. I guess there are some advantages to ageing and losing all the bloody collagen after all. Please forgive the humour. It’s the only thing that helps sometimes.
Because I really don’t want to dredge it all up. It makes me feel dirty.
My stomach has started churning round and round in apprehension. I can feel the familiar prickle on my back and my body temperature rising with dread as I start recalling the numerous incidents I’d buried at the very back of memory.
So I saw other women’s brave confessions…but I mentally turned away.
I think of the so-called ‘bandwagon cause’ posts that have filled our social media feeds these last few years:
the ice bucket challenge, the handbag/heart status to (somehow I actually know not how) spread breast cancer awareness, the 22 for 22 PTSD push-up challenge, the ‘je suis Charlie’ solidarity posts, the no makeup photo posts.
I’ve taken part in some of them myself I admit.
However, the #MeToo expression of solidarity started by actress Alyssa Milano on Twitter is NOT a bandwagon cause or shallow bid for publicity.
This campaign, cleverly suggesting that woman simply post the words Me Too on their profiles, if they too have been sexually abused/harrassed in any way in their lives, has caused a response both mind blowing and quite frankly depressing for the sheer scale of the endemic problem it has revealed. It has got nothing to do with feminism and everything to do with humanism.
Yet I mentally turned away.
On the very same day #MeToo started gathering momentum with thousands of women posting it on their statuses, Malta (where I now live) experienced one of its darkest days and most shocking news stories: the murder of a well known female journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. I can partly attribute my failure in sharing my own #MeToo incidents to this tragedy as I, like many people in Malta, was totally stunned and distracted by this news and in fact sat down to pour out my thoughts and feelings about it on screen.
But let’s face it, I can’t blame my failure to speak up about my own experiences of sexual harassment entirely on this. It’s something else.
As a British Asian women brought up with the ridiculous baggage we are cursed with (not that we have the monopoly on this!) a #MeToo confession just felt too inappropriate, too ‘washing of dirty laundry in public’.
I didn’t want to publicly or indeed privately recount the many times I’ve experienced it.
My eldest who reads my blog doesn’t need to see it (just yet). My family don’t need to know the details. My mother doesn’t need the heartache.
I mentally turned away.
It’s well-documented that predators like the Cosby’s, Weinsteins, Allens and the sick narcissistic bully in the White House RELY on this culture of silence…
…on women’s fear of speaking out, on the shame many of us feel. A shame we never asked for. A shame that is not our fault. A shame we never brought on ourselves because of ‘how we dress’…yes looking at you Donna Karan. You may have apologised for those comments and I’m usually a big believer in forgiveness but no…this time the shame is on YOU!
I’m married now and have three wonderful kids. I’d rather be writing something funny about them. Damn it, I’d rather be writing a funny post about anything right now.
It feels like it’s been dark on here for ages so yes, to my regret, I nearly shamed the women who’ve been brave enough to speak up, by staying silent myself and I nearly didn’t write this post.
But partly thanks to reading the brave revelations by a good blogging friend of mine, Mumbelievable, and partly because I know I have a duty to do what is right, I’ll just ignore the churning stomach, hot prickly feeling and the fact my throat has just gone a bit dry.
And I’ll break my silence.
I have never suffered the life changing destructive trauma of being raped. I am one of the lucky ones…apparently.
I ‘only’ endured the incidents detailed below… What a strange definition of being one of the lucky ones! To have never been forcibly pinned down and raped and yet to have been subjected to certain things as a very young girl, not quite understanding what was happening (not listed below by the way).
To have your basic right to just live free as a woman, in the way men do pretty much, absolutely robbed during everyday transactions and normal moments to the point where you actually couldn’t face walking into a meeting at work/a friend’s house party or anywhere. To be so nervous of men that you just could not make eye contact with them.
Oh yes. Very lucky to have experienced all this:
The guy who offered me a room to stay in
when I went backpacking after Summer Camp as a 21 year old in the USA and made it totally clear that it was only available if I slept with him. That’s when I found out how expensive New York hotels are and hardly had any money left to actually explore the city as a result.
The men who wouldn’t just let me walk down the street when I lived in Paris in my 20’s
but instead, hung out of their cars shouting in my direction getting irate if I ignored them. I used to dread the lights going red at a crossing and having to cross the road in front of them.
The idiots who couldn’t just let me stand on a station platform or ride a train…
…male passengers who would whistle relentlessly across the train tracks or sit down on the seat opposite me on the train saying hello and fixing me with a glare on repeat til I looked up. At one point I stopped taking the metro and walked almost everywhere so I didn’t have to endure the platform pests but then I had to deal with the guys in the cars!
The men who simply loitered with no discernible purpose
at the metro station near my apartment blowing kisses and uttering ‘bonjour’ with a wink in the sleaziest low breathy voice.
The passenger on the suffocatingly hot metro train in rush hour
who shoved his hand up my skirt with such force (sorry but I can’t bring myself to type what he then did next) causing me to instantly grab his hand from behind me and dig my nails in so hard that my hand hurt for days…and the tights I’d been wearing were torn.
I never saw the bastard’s face because we were packed in so tight like sardines that it was literally impossible to even turn my head to confront him. And I’ll never forget the woman who heard me shriek and reacted with indignation on my behalf as she tried to figure out which one of the commuters, standing immobile and expressionless, was the culprit.
The man whose job advertisement I responded to
who stood behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders, then leaned over and brushed his hand against the top of my blouse while I did a ‘typing test’ for him. I’ve never run so fast in my life down a flight of stairs.
The seller (not that there was just one) at the Cairo souks
who waited til my friends were out of sight before making lewd sounds as I looked at his market stall wares.
The director at a major bank when I returned to London from Paris
who knew I had a boyfriend but just would. not. quit. asking me out to dinner with thinly veiled smiles that conveyed the message ‘If you don’t, I will at best make life difficult for you, at worst have you fired”.
The Harley Street specialist my employer sent me to
for treatment of my carpel tunnel syndrome, who asked me to take my blouse off even though he was just assessing my wrist! His lingering look that lingered and lingered over my bra. I look back and wish I’d had the courage to say no but I was so scared in a room with a stranger and a closed door.
And it actually has happened in my 40’s…
The friend of a friend who grabbed my bum at my husband’s 50th birthday party
….just months after insisting I dance with him deliberately waiting for his moment when my husband wasn’t looking.
Another friend of a friend who without any qualms commented on my underwear
that had become visible as I bent down to get some food. Was I asking for that Donna Karan?
The drivers who hoot as I’m out running
and get verbally abusive if I have the ‘audacity’ to protest and shout back at them
It just goes on and ON. Too many to list. So many I’ve blocked out. And the ones that WILL go with me to the grave because I just can’t bring myself to publicise them…
Because as I said my mother doesn’t need the heartache. My kids don’t need to see it. And I don’t need to feel it again.
There will be many women who do not wish to reveal the dark moments when they were victims of sexual harassment or ANY type of uninvited advances that the perpetrator knew made frightened their target. There is no obligation. And in truth, were it not for this blog i.e. my platform for talking about thiings, I’m not sure I’d have spoken out.
So it is not for everyone. But I felt I’d be doing a disservice to the women who’ve been brave enough to speak up, if I stayed silent myself.
I nearly didn’t write this post.
But I did.
So yes #MeToo