I’d had a crush on our pastor’s son for ages, and we were playing happily in his basement while our parents hung out upstairs. He told me that we should play a fun game.
Fast-forward to the end: the game was him sneaking his way into looking up my skirt.
A quarter of a century later, I can still feel the heat that flooded my cheeks. Remember the rush to snap my legs together. Wonder why I never said a word about it, to anyone. Push away the thoughts that automatically deluge my mind, excusing his conduct (he was a kid, he was a boy, he was curious…).
I didn’t fully understand why, but I felt foolish for being tricked. I felt ashamed. I picked up the burden of shame for his behavior, and I carried it.
You should have known better, I thought.
Don’t you ever let yourself be tricked again, Rachel Morrison.
I wonder if he even remembers.
But there is no wonder about this: that story was the beginning.
“It”, as you know, is sexual assault or harassment, and “me too” is a hashtag, used an innumerable and immense number of times, by women sharing their experiences.
When me too’s started popping up on social media, I didn’t expect to end up writing a post about it. But the more I read other women’s stories (whether a major celebrity, or a girl next door), the more the memories began to twist through my head. Things I’d repressed. Things I’d excused. EVERYTHING I’d excused as normal… even if unfair, frustrating, and wrong.
Eventually, I started writing an Instagram caption expressing solidarity.
And then I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote.
Starting with the sneaky up-the-skirt look, which, I know, is a very PG example. We were kids. Kids are curious.
That said, I remember playing doctor with one of my best girlfriends, at the same age, which was more invasive than a look – and I’ve never felt any shame about it.
Well, for starters, I had a choice. I knew what we were doing.
It's about power.
* * *
That story was the beginning. The beginning of inappropriate comments...
There are the catcalls we’re all familiar with – an easy, common thing to point to when we talk about harassment. We’ve all had our asses commented on, to the point of numbness.
But inappropriate comments are not exclusive to the street.
A client at the bank I worked at told me, completely unprovoked and out of our conversation’s context (Halloween), that he could do better at pleasing me than my boyfriend at the time. I stared at him, dumbfounded, until he apologized.
They rarely apologize.
Actually, that’s the only one I can think of.
And inappropriate comments are not exclusive to crudeness.
It’s also authority figures feeling comfortable enough to make very personal remarks, to tell me if I was or wasn’t dressed immodestly, and that ultimately I was responsible for other people’s thoughts about my body. And that if I gave myself away sexually before committing myself in marriage, I would not be pure, I would not be whole. I would be broken. And the men that took those pieces of me would never give them back. I would be broken forever.
Whether on the street, in a professional environment, or cloaked in the guise of wisdom, inappropriate comments are always about control. They are about showing you who is in the position of power.
They are telling you to know your place.
* * *
When I’m asked what I love about my partner, what drew me to him, the first (not the only, but the first) thing I always say that he is respectful of me. I saw it right away.
The first night we met, I cried in my car afterwards because I was overwhelmed.
He's a nice guy, I thought.
But disrespect was what I knew, and... don't let yourself be tricked again, Rachel Morrison.
Because that story had only been the beginning. The beginning of disrespect, emotionally and physically, beyond inappropriate comments. I look back at each situation, where it became easier to go along rather than fight, and think, if only I had the tools, the knowledge I have now. If only I had been more grown up about it. If only I had been smarter.
I carry the burden of shame for other people's behaviour.
And that is all I will say, at this time.
The power of the me too hashtag is the sheer number of responses, a wave, cresting, and I add my voice to my sisters.
* * *
Recently I was at a wedding, which was beautifully and wonderfully full of love and hope. But, in one of the speeches, a woman expressed the sentiment that her job - the woman's job - was only to help her husband fulfill his dreams.
That made my heart hurt.
Lady, I’ve been there.
I grew up in a similar environment to the one she was still wrapped up tight in, an environment where it's very easy to slip into the belief that a man's dreams and desires take precedence over a woman's. Not everyone takes religion that far, and some take it farther. I speak only to my own experience.
From the age of three, I instinctively felt otherwise.
In another example from my childhood - my poor parents, who had no idea what they were starting, made me put down my parasol on a sunny summer evening and go inside to bed, while my one year old brother was allowed to stay outside and help my father and uncle build a swing set. I can still feel the intense rage and sense of injustice... and reader, it persisted.
I was a feminist, although I didn't know it, and although the environment I grew up in looked down on the term and the movement behind it.
I listened to the authority figures in my life tell me that the man was the head of the household, because "someone has to lead", and the Bible said so. Know your place. The man would have the last word. But that was okay, because he would love the woman and make the best decision for her. And I had no reason, at the time, to doubt what they said, even though it didn't quite sit right with me.
And really, I did think it would be easier to marry someone who would take care of me. I hoped that I would be married by the time I graduated university, because then I wouldn't be solely responsible for decisions on where to live, what career path to take. The idea that it wouldn't be up to me seemed easier.
But, my parents also taught me how large the world was. How many different cultures and ways of living there were. They told me I was smart, and kind, and that I could succeed at anything I wanted to. They taught me how to research, and how to have my own opinions, and how to back them up.
So I did. I researched, I read, I listened, I watched. And I learned how empowering making your own decisions are. How empowering claiming your own identity is. And how wonderful and beautiful it is to be a team, instead of an authoritative leader and a submissive follower.
So lady, I hear you. I see the light in your eyes. Your excitement at loving, and being loved, and giving yourself fully to your partner.
But let him give, too. Let him support you, too. Let your dreams be important, too. Be equal.
I’m on the other side of that line, and I’m reaching out my hand to you, to tell you that it is not easier, in the end, to go along. Don't let yourself be tricked.
What is easier is putting down someone else's burden of shame.
What is easier is not accepting disrespect.
What is easier is knowing your place: this world is your place.
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