You know what I mean. You’ve seen it on your feed—one post after another, one person after another speaking up.
I see them flooding my social media—some simple admissions, some angry accusations, some anguished stories, some voices for others who, for one reason or another, fear to post for themselves.
They fill me with sorrow and fury and understanding, because those things have been done to me, too.
I, too, have been whistled at, touched, called by endearments that made me uncomfortable.
I have been told to smile by strangers in parking lots and grocery stores and subway stations, made to feel unsafe in my workplace, forced to listen to sexual stories I had no desire to hear.
I have been watched in ways that made me feel unclean in my own skin.
I have been asked invasive questions about my underwear or my sexual preferences.
I have had strangers force me to defend my choice not to engage in a conversation that made me uncomfortable, not to share my phone number, not to let a man come into my house.
And yet, despite this, I am a lucky one.
It makes me physically nauseous to admit that I am fortunate simply because my body has not been invaded.
But when I pretend to be on the phone walking in the dark at night, when I carry my keys between my fingers as a makeshift just-in-case weapon, when I keep my hand over my drink or eye strangers on the road or double-check my locks—I am taking preventative action based on the stories of millions of people for whom the threat is also a memory.
So I say, “Me, too.”
So I watch in unsurprised sorrow as nearly everyone I know adds their voice to the clamour on social media.
So I listen in rage to the stories around me—rage driven by frustration, fear, grief, and helplessness.
What if victims did not carry the burden of sharing their experiences? What if the hurting did not have to prove their numbers for us to make a change?
What if the responses I saw on social media were not ones of disbelief, dismissal, or denial?
I know there are many—too many—abusers, aggressors, and enablers who will never admit to their part in creating a culture that allows this many people to be victimised. And I know there are others who will not only admit but will boast of their perpetration of injustice—I’m looking at you, POTUS.
But what about the well-meaning majority? What about the people who genuinely want a better world, who believe themselves to be good people, who passively allow these wrongs to continue?
What if we stood up and admitted the ways we have, knowingly or unknowingly, made possible a culture of inequality?
Here, again, I can say, “Me, too.”
I, too, have allowed oppressive systems to continue, giving permission by my silence.
I am a victim, but I am also an enabler.
I, too, have laughed at sexist jokes and judged people by their conformity or nonconformity to gender roles.
I have allowed harassment to go unchallenged and unreported, expected women to prove their abilities in male-dominated fields, and expressed admiration for characters whose masculinity is defined in part by their objectification of women (hey there, James Bond).
I have disparaged things purely because they are coded as feminine.
I have dismissed someone’s viewpoint because I have not experienced it myself, ignored truths because the speaker seemed too emotional, used words related to women as insults and words related to men as compliments.
I have questioned victims rather than believing them.
I, too, have propagated this culture.
There’s a quote attributed to Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
We know better. We must do better.
Awareness is important. The voices of survivors are important. Revealing and acknowledging the magnitude of the problem is important: in the US, someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and that’s not even mentioning those harassed but not assaulted. We need to recognise that this is absolutely unacceptable.
But we also need to take these passive phrases and turn them on their heads. We need to demand the active voice, to say not only, “This has been done to me,” but also, “I have done this.”
Until we recognise the ways that we contribute to the problem, we will never solve it.
What if all those who know better committed to doing better?
Again, I want to stand up and say, “Me, too.”
I, too, commit to change.
I have kept silent or protested passively; now I commit to naming sexism, harassment, abuse, and aggression in all its forms, to speaking up and calling out the jokes, the slurs, the stereotypes, the microaggressions.
I commit to hearing to the voices of the oppressed, to challenging the status quo, to identifying and rejecting toxic masculinity.
I commit to supporting victims by listening to them, believing them, and speaking for them when needed.
I commit to admitting, apologising, and adjusting when—not if—I perpetuate harmful ideologies, to accepting criticism without defence, and to changing my behaviour without complaint.
But I—we—cannot stand alone.
This week I taught my students the concepts of power balance, vulnerable people, and allyship. We discussed that some people have less voice and that those with power can help those without it.
In a gendered situation, I am the one without power. I am the one whose voice is drowned out, whose complaints are trivialised.
I am told I am oversensitive, that my experiences are invalid, that I am ignorant of how far our culture has come.
I am told “not all men,” and, “it’s just the way it is,” and, “can’t you take a compliment?”
So I am calling you out, you who identify as male, you who have power, you whose voices are not ignored. I am calling you to step up in the active voice and say, “I have done this—but no more.”
I commit to learning better, and I commit to doing better.