|A moment of peace, for everyone who shared their #MeToo moments|
Watching the flood of posts on social media yesterday with the tag #MeToo was painful and eye-opening. I have a lot of folks friended on Facebook and nearly all the women and some of the men openly proclaimed that they, too, were victims of sexual assault or harassment.
Some people talked about the need to be outspoken in order to show the scope of the problem to so many men who disbelieve women, or worse, mock them. For me, it served a different purpose. It showed me how many strong, incredible people have also been sexually victimized. It showed me that I could examine my own experiences in a very different context. It showed me I wasn't alone or weak or to blame.
Not if so many amazing women (and some men) on my timeline had their own #MeToo stories.
I have no need or desire to recount the details of my assault. It doesn't matter how old I was or the circumstances. I don't need to parade my history for it to be important, relevant, formative. But I will tell you this: I was a child and my abusers were teenage boys from my neighborhood. And the questions we need to be asking as a society are why did they think they had any right to my body or my ensuing silence?
I was a child of the 60s and 70s. The cultural zeitgeist was the sexual revolution and perhaps it was a seismic change in how we viewed sexuality, but looking back from our current moment, it seems like it lacked a basic and vital component: We had no language for or concept of bodily autonomy.
I was raised to 'be a good girl', to comply. The accepting and giving of hugs and kisses to relatives and family friends was compulsory. I remember being tickled to the point of nearly throwing up on many occasions. If I complained, I had no sense of humor.
Does the fact that I see forced tickling as a violation of my bodily autonomy seem minor and petty to you?
If it does, then I would ask you to examine why. Why should my personal experience and preferences mean less than your right to use my body how you want to? And if it sounds like I'm equating tickling with assault, I am, because it's a similar control issue. They are not the same, but they are analogous.
If a child is raised that her body and her experiences are less important than those of her relatives and stronger peers, it is no surprise that she learns to discount her will and her perceptions. If she can't say no, or if her no isn't respected in small and frequent ways through her growing up, how can it be a surprise when she doesn't believe she has ownership of her own body?
I was assaulted and I never even considered telling anyone. I had already internalized the message that my body wasn't really my own. That I was somehow to blame, so why bother reporting it? The teens who assaulted me were part of the fabric of my neighborhood. I had to see them through my entire childhood, so the only way I could manage was to pretend nothing happened.
I am the parent of 2 sons. From the time they were young, I worked hard to establish healthy boundaries and instill in them a sense of bodily autonomy. We were always a huggy/kissy family, but we never forced them to be physical with anyone (even us) if they didn't want to. No, "you have to give grandma a kiss". Rather it was presented as a choice. And their "no" was respected, even as we modeled appropriate physical affection with one another.
And yes, I hugged and kissed and tickled my kids. But I made certain that stop meant stop. Full stop. No questions asked.
Teaching and modeling bodily autonomy is not the ultimate solution to sexual assault and harassment; it is only a starting point. Our culture is full of examples and messages of normalized sexual predation and harassment. We still have a society in which we shame and blame the abused and don't hold the abusers accountable. We still have a society in which the depiction of violence is perfectly acceptable, but the depiction of consensual and respectful sexuality is not. We still have a society in which we believe that sexual urges in a man is normal but in a woman is proof she is immoral and deviant and fodder for shaming her.
We still have a society where powerful men are celebrated for overriding the bodily autonomy of others.
And that has to stop.