Social media should have had one big content warning on it this week as feeds lit up with #metoo by the hundreds, thousands, countless numbers of women sharing that we, too, have been sexually harassed and assaulted. Of course we have. Some shared harrowing stories of the men who raped them. Some detailed the incidents of harassment they have faced at work, at home, on the street, in church. Some simply posted the hashtag, and that in itself was an act of courage. Some have that hashtag seared on their souls but didn’t post it publicly for any number of reasons. Then there are the multitude of posts from women inferring that they haven’t been harassed enough to say “me too,” or wondering how much harassment counts. Did it count if you weren’t afraid? Did it count if there wasn’t a power differential? Is it harassment if it’s just a passing comment that makes you uncomfortable, or if it’s said by someone you like, or if you didn’t take it all that seriously at the time, or if he thought it was a compliment?
Many of us have gone public this week with our experiences, but we’ve also minimized them. It wasn’t that bad. It happens all the time. I’m fine. I’ve thought about this too, about how I feel fine, about how little my own experiences of harassment and assault have affected my ability to generally feel safe. The thickness of our skin is astounding. And yet there is a sea of trauma and pain out there, and all of Facebook isn’t a big enough container to hold it.
Then there have been the men – specifically straight, cis men. I don’t know what I expected or even what I wanted. Well, what I always want, even from myself, is for people to listen to and believe injustice that doesn’t directly affect them, and take some ownership in correcting it. I’ve seen some sadness and sympathy. I’ve seen some #notallmen-ing, and I am so tired of that nonsense that I don’t trust myself to address it. I’m still waiting for some “How do we get behind you and help stop this?” but I am not holding my breath. It’s not like men were unaware that this was happening before we all started posting a hashtag. And I’ve seen some “me too” popping up from men. Men also face sexual harassment and assault. I want there to be more spaces where they can say that openly and process that. I’m not sure this is that space. The point of #metoo wasn’t that harassment and assault are bad, it was that they are the ubiquitous, daily reality for women in a way that they are not for straight, cis men (the complexity of how misogyny and toxic masculinity affect trans men and non-binary people and sometimes gay men is beyond my capacity to address fully, and my ambivalence about participation in this hashtag is not for or about them). My first reaction to men posting #metoo is compassion, because that’s a painful experience and putting it out there publicly is painful regardless of who you are – but my second is that they’re not listening.
I want to draw attention to this particular pain, the particular injustice inflicted upon women, but also have a container big enough to hold the pains and injustices that are also endured by men. But nothing seems big enough for all this pain.
Then again, the concept behind “me too” is actually ten years old and was coined by Tarana Burke, who was trying to communicate specifically to young women of color that they are not alone, and to build what she calls “empowerment through empathy.” Social media then wasn’t what it is now, but the fact remains that we didn’t notice it then, or over the course of the last ten years when it was about women of color; we noticed it and joined in now that white women’s victimization in Hollywood is in the front and center. I’m complicit in that – in believing that my experience as a white woman is normative to women’s experience period, in noticing more when the people affected look more like me, in benefiting from a system that privileges my existence and my experience. And the fact is that I don’t know how to hold pain and injustice that is greater than that which I face, and my own, and the whole sea of trauma spreading out before me. My internal container isn’t big enough. Maybe we’re going to have to share.