Two years ago America spontaneously decided it was ok for women to be furious about what men do to our bodies without our permission. And not just bosses but coworkers. Equals. Strangers. Partners. Creeps in clubs. Creeps at church. Anyone who didn’t have our consent. The new c-word.
It was astonishing. Every unsolicited shoulder rub and ass grab, every lewd comment, every hug that lasted too long, every public transportation frottage and every assault and every rape — everything we’ve been socialized to ignore or endure — suddenly, spontaneously it all came to the surface and in one collective grotesque perverse tortured exhale we were allowed to admit that it had all happened, that it was disgusting — all of those unwanted hands and mouths and boners and panting and threats — we could all finally say, Fuck you. Fuck all of you.
It was like a blood-letting or an exorcism. It was not immediate or cathartic, it was messy and unexpected and traumatizing. It was a fuck-all of a Monday that lasted for weeks that were more numbing and confusing than cataclysmic but it was, ultimately, liberating.
We have since consequenced powerful men who’ve abused their power their entire careers but we haven’t made as much progress in restorative justice for their victims. It’s easier to take away someone’s livelihood than it is to restore someone’s life.
We learned not to center straight white women in the Me Too movement. We learned to listen to male survivors whose trauma is compounded by social stigma against male victims of anything, not to mention sexually motivated crimes.
We have also made some men fear false accusations as much as we fear being raped and/or murdered. Never mind that men are more likely to be raped by another man than they are to be falsely accused by a woman, some men recalibrated their behavior in all the wrong ways, Mike Pence-ing themselves from female coworkers instead of just not sexually harassing them or indulging sexual impropriety in the workplace.
Good men learned that not mentoring or collaborating with female colleagues was not at all the right solution and would in fact negatively impact women’s professional mobility, thereby double-penalizing them in the workplace.
Some partners learned that the women they love have bottled up a lot of ugly secrets, a lot of skeletons in the closet and some secrets they buried alive just because they had to survive and get back to work.
Some men got defensive. Some men shut down altogether. Because just hearing any woman’s litany of horrible things horrible men have done to her was apparently worse than living those things. They couldn’t even bear to listen let alone live it.
My own partner at the time said, Why should I have to apologize? I’d never hurt a woman. This kind man who read me poetry every night to help me fall asleep had zero fucks to give and made it damn clear our little lovers’ quarrel was over. It was one of the quietest heartbreaks I’ve ever endured. This good man did not want to help me.
I didn’t know what I needed at the time. My head was spinning from suddenly falling out of a spaceship and landing in a brand-new culture. I was drowning in too many resurfaced memories to understand, let alone articulate my needs in this new culture that allowed us to rage. But what I’ve learned in retrospect is that I just wanted him to hold me while I grieved. We were finally allowed to be angry and to grieve. Those are powerfully exhausting emotions on a spectrum of complicated and conflicting emotions. And I wanted a safe place to weep and purge. I wanted him to be enraged on my behalf that so many men had done so many things to my body, this small body that he adored. Don’t we normally and reflexively comfort the ones we love when they’re hurting?
My sweet man never came around on Me Too. I grieved with my girlfriends and two male friends who helped me work through my own history. We worked through our reanimated traumas together.
It was kind of like getting a DNA test back — some components are familiar and expected, others are total dormant surprises but having the map in front of you provides an almost spatial understanding of your own trauma. You can start to connect the dots. You can see how some of it informs your worldview, your ability to trust.
That topography can be painful. But the collective suffering and reckoning of American women went global.
The alchemy of high-profile stories coalesced, none of them new in the scheme of human history, but suddenly they had gravitas, momentum. And in one big-bang hot second rape culture erupted.
Two years on we haven’t made as much progress as we need to. But we will take every baby step and big bang it takes until men and women are equal, until sexual impropriety is adjudicated fairly, and until women aren’t afraid of men just because they’re men.