#MeToo (#AllWomen?)

I’ve been reading about Harvey Weinstein and the subsequent #metoo movement with great interest, in awe of the women bravely stepping forward, including a number of my own friends. I had decided not to participate in the #metoo campaign myself. I’m fortunate that I’ve never been seriously physically assaulted, and I didn’t want to deflect any attention away from the women sharing their own stories and horrifying accounts of sexual assault.

Then it struck me as a little absurd, that I would think that my own experiences were inconsequential and not also connected to a broader, problematic culture that results in girls and women being hurt – physically, sexually, emotionally and mentally. And as I thought about this further, I got annoyed at myself, and then annoyed with a society that leads us to believe that our personal experiences are just a normal and to-be-expected part of being female… And now here I am, with another ranty blog post.

As a young girl, somewhere between the age of 8 and 10, an adult man exposed his penis close to my face at a public swimming pool, while I swam underwater. I remember watching out the back window of the car as we drove away, afraid that he somehow might follow us home and find out where I lived. Later, in high school, my PE teacher wandered around teaching his class of twelve year-old girls how to play bowls, while thrusting his erection out through his track pants, much to our disgust and embarrassment. At 13, a creepy old tennis coach told me he wished he could take me out clubbing until 6am, and continuously patted my bottom with his tennis racquet. At 17, I was frequently followed by a 47 year old divorcee in my local community, who frighteningly harassed me on the bus and at work. The father of a friend made an inappropriate comment about my stockings being a stairway to heaven. During my twenties, an older man in a very senior position who was slightly drunk gave me an impromptu shoulder massage at a work function. I didn’t say anything, and neither did anyone else, but I felt weird about it.

These are some of the examples that occurred to me as I started writing this (the ones I feel comfortable sharing). Bizarrely, most of them I’d forgotten about. As I started to write this post, they blurted themselves forward and struck me by surprise. I know there are others too, lurking in the back of my memory there; a sign about how normalised these types of behaviours can be: that these stories we women carry are so commonplace, so casual in many ways, that we can’t even recall all of them. Do you find that too? I’m not sure any of us would be able to recount all the occasions we’ve been subjected to and witnessed casual catcalling or wolf whistles, anonymous groping or pinching in the dark of a nightclub or on crowded public transport, or more overt unwanted attention.

It is not okay, that these experiences have inadvertently become a commonplace and normalised part of women’s lives. It is not okay, that deciding between walking home alone at night or catching an Uber can sometimes be an equally difficult choice – to be at risk from potential strangers on a footpath, or at risk from the stranger driving the car. It is not okay, that I feel the need to close and lock my office door, when I’m the only one on my floor, even on a bright weekday afternoon, ‘just in case’. It is not okay, that we don’t think twice about walking to our cars at night with our keys ready between our fingers, to use in self-defense should we need to. It is not okay, that we live in a culture of victim-blaming, of ‘what was she wearing’, ‘why did she go in the room alone with him’, and ‘why was she out late on her own’.

I’ve read a number of articles criticising the #metoo movement, such as this one, in which the author suggested that because seemingly ‘everyone’ was posting their own stories, varying from wolf whistles in the street to rape, the campaign was inadvertently watering down the most important stories. I see what she’s saying, and it’s why I had originally decided not to comment. But she’s missing an important point – that it is the same underlying culture of devaluing, objectifying, and regarding women as subordinate that leads to women being victims of harassment, abuse, assault and bullying.*

*In saying this, I also note that boys and men can also be victims of sexual harassment and assault by other men (for example, several male celebrities have also come forward and shared their own experiences of harassment by older, powerful men in the movie business); as well as by women, and I don’t wish to downplay this – it’s also an important issue that doesn’t get talked about enough, and still relates to power dynamics.

Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic that much will change, at least not across the board. There is a sense of unity among the women who have come forward about Harvey Weinstein, but as Emma Thompson described, he’s just the top of a particular iceberg. She meant in show business, but the iceberg extends across all industries, where power dynamics and bullying tactics still largely pay off for perpetrators more than their victims, whether sexual in nature or not, and victims are silenced or shunned.

While women are courageously sharing their stories, and I applaud them, my heart also goes out to the many more women who hold their stories silently and privately, who are not in a position to share, who may not feel liberated by disclosing, who may feel they would be at serious risk if they disclosed, who are being affected by this RIGHT NOW, or who carry with them the sense of shame, humiliation and fear that frequently goes hand in hand with sexual harassment and assault.

The voices of women participating in the #metoo movement does not represent the magnitude of the problem, which has been frequently claimed in the media. Instead, the magnitude of women participating in the #metoo movement represents a tiny snapshot of a much uglier, monstrous, systemic issue underpinning society, one that ultimately hurts all women.

5 Comments

  1. katielshore says:

    A very interesting read Erin, a lot of which resonates with me. I too fear that this will not change much (if anything) and seeing the volume of #metoo hahstags across my social media platforms has made my heart hurt and my brain angry for all that there is still left to do.

    • Erin says:

      Thanks Katie. It’s a bit of a mind f*ck isn’t it, because I’m not quite sure how it can be shifted, when it’s so embedded in our thinking. It’s something I’m really aware of raising sons, but even then I fear that I might not get it right, or it might not be enough to teach them to question the gendered ideas, when they are already hearing them in so many other places…

  2. I read this post last night and I am back again this morning. I thought in the intervening period I may have built up the courage to share some of my experiences. But, I haven’t. The feelings of shame and complicity are just too strong. But, I commend you and every women who has spoken out. This behaviour is not acceptable on any scale. And while I don’t feel like I can share my personal experiences, I am committed to calling out this behaviour for what it is and setting a better example for the young people in my life. Thank you Erin – you moved me.

    • Erin says:

      Thank-you Rani. I think this campaign has been both oddly unifying and isolating, and I hope what it doesn’t inadvertently do is make women feel ashamed for NOT sharing, because that outcome just seems more harmful to me (does that make sense?). I think you are courageous, and resilient, as I think all women are who have been subjected to these experiences. There are ones that I can’t share here either, and that I don’t talk about, for the same reasons. And part of me feels like the burden shouldn’t have to rest on women, who have already been victimised, to stand up and call out behaviour, even though that appears to be the reality of where we are. I feel really conflicted about it, and I suppose that’s because there are no simple solutions. Lots of love to you Rani, brave woman xxx

      • I know its been a while since you replied, but I couldn’t let your beautiful response go without a thank you. It brought tears to my eyes. And not in a bad way. In the most – I feel incredibly supported, uplifted, you totally get it – sort of way. So thank you!!!
        Rani x

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