As I scroll my timelines and see the sheer magnitude of #MeToo posts, I am shocked and saddened – even women who don’t usually participate in the online feminist conversation are posting the hash tag, some with harrowing stories, others just a simple declaration, still others with a laundry list of humiliations endured over a lifetime.
But there is no need for my shock. I know. We know. We whisper. We talk about who to avoid in our social circles, whether that’s the Hollywood scene, the arts and cultural scene in Toronto, the anarchist movement in Halifax, our student council, the management team at work – we all know, and we all know we’re not alone.
But we’re made to feel as though we are. We individually take note of who not to be alone with. Silently pity those who fail to heed or were not warned sufficiently, those who think they are above being treated that way only to be proven sorely mistaken. We cast our eyes away with the thought, ‘Thank god it wasn’t me.’ Don’t care to finish, but it comes automatically: ‘This time.’ We talk about and we know and we catalogue more open secrets than we care to acknowledge – and we fail to hold the men in our lives to account.
I’m not mad at women. I’m mad that this is the only recourse we have – trading on our pain, when oftentimes we’ve already laid it bare to those men and women who claim to love us, only to be asked, “Are you sure?” and told “It’s not that bad. At least you weren’t really assaulted,” because we were assaulted by a boyfriend, a friend, an acquaintance, a boss or a colleague, not some unknown monster lurking in the shadows of the night. Sure, we were smart enough not to traverse that back alley. But not quite smart enough to not send mixed signals, to not smile, to not want a career or education or something better.
Why is it so hard for these men we love and cherish to realize these are real assaults, too? Because they sound too much like something they have done? Mistakes they have made, miscommunications they have experienced with their own girlfriends, wives, and colleagues? Is that why even some women in our lives can’t possibly recognize what their lover, husband, father, brother has done or been accused of doing is harassment, abuse, assault, rape? Our collective imagination tells us only the boogeymen do such horrendous things, when stats and facts tell us it’s actually the men who live in our own homes.
My husband, my brother, my father, that guy I went to high school with who seemed cool and nice – How many #MeToo’s do they own? It’s far time we shift away from revelations – and focus on asking the men in our lives to step up and own the #MeToo’s that belong to them. Demanding the men in our lives to step up and acknowledge that what they maybe-if-we’re-being-generous thought was a game – life is defined by the battle of the sexes, is it not? – was actually a trauma inflicted upon someone else, for their own pitiful gain.
It is only a collective of individuals that can change this tide. Institutions and social circles cannot roust these attitudes alone – colleges, Hollywood, sports associations, political parties – do not exist in a vacuum. The answer is in how we raise our children, how we place value on people as though they’re commodities, how we teach girls to not make a scene, how we teach boys they’re entitled to a girl’s time and attention and body. And it’s so much more. Until we start demolishing our ideas about men vs. women and rebuild our ideas of what a person – what each and every person – is from the ground up, the majority of women (if not all) will have a reason to say #MeToo.