I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Revisiting the events of sexual abuse and assault is like experiencing your own death over and over.
Two years ago, a woman started a movement that gave a podium and a voice to so many who needed it. It took the form of a hashtag. This was conflicting for me. I thought about why I did not like the #MeToo movement, and why I did. I thought about how I had never been truly vocal about my experiences, and the once-removed reality of the internet, while empowering with a sense of sort-of-anonymity, felt like it wasn’t the kind of real life validation that I think a cause needs in order to make progress. The internet is a great connector, but it is as ephemeral in effect as it is effective in causality. That is to say, what hits on the internet will always have a record, but that record gets buried quickly. I called the hashtag “a sad, last resort of an effort,” and that “a hashtag feels too much like a medal, and when I say ‘I’m a survivor,’ I don’t feel honor.” These feelings are still true. I feel that by nature a hashtag is trendy, and it makes me feel even smaller when I think my experiences are trending, catchy, and fit into a link that become categorized amongst millions. That’s the problem though. My experience is categorized amongst millions. I wrote about that also, saying that “I pretty much assume that every woman walking around has very similar looking baggage to mine.” This assumption is still true for me, and has been emphasized by the #MeToo movement. Two years ago, I said, “that is why the #MeToo campaign was created; to remove the stigma.”
Clearly, the #MeToo movement is alive and well, defying the internet’s ephemeral ways, as we now live in what I’ve heard called a “Post #MeToo Era.” The movement has also, I think, in ways removed the stigma, but not in the ways I hoped. I hoped the movement would have released those who have and haven’t come forward with their stories from the choking feeling that washes over your body when can you feel yourself trying to say something. I hoped that #WhyIDidntReport survivors would be freed from the feeling that they would get in trouble, or be guilty over getting someone else in trouble. I hoped that the feeling that who we tell won’t believe us would go away. Instead, it seems the stigma that has been ridden is that sexual assault and abuse is rare, only affecting those who live a certain life. It is now more apparent that sexual assault doesn’t just affect the few, but it affects us all, and that it is in fact safe to assume that everyone walking around has at least one story similar to mine.
In this realization though, it seems we have lost a sense of urgency. The #MeToo movement hit with a bang and we are still talking about it. Why, then, are the statutes of limitations for how long a victim has to report still the same in almost all states? Why are assailants who attend major universities still being protected? Why is there a president in office who is more likely to be impeached for an offense to the electoral process instead of the allegations of sexual misconduct brought forward by twenty five different women? Why does it feel like everything is still the same, except that the problem is much, much bigger than everyone cared to believe?
I think it is because of the hashtag. I think the hashtag is too casual and flippant. It’s too easy to say, “that guy got ‘#MeToo’d’.” There isn’t any gravity in that statement. Like I said, revisiting the experiences of your sexual assault and abuse is like reliving your death over and over. Now there is a name to the experience. #MeToo. Now every time I hear or read #MeToo, I remember. I remember how my death, the first, second, and third, were like Robert Frost’s poem Fire and Ice, and in that moment of remembering I feel the slow burn and the frostbite all over again. When I hear someone was “#MeToo’d",” I want the statement to bare the same kind of weight as living through your own death without the right to publicly and communally grieve.
A hashtag is a meme. I want a vigil and to move forward.
PS- Jenny Holzer held a “vigil” for gun violence: https://www.designboom.com/art/jenny-holzer-gun-violence-rockefeller-center-light-projections-vigil-10-11-2019/
PPS- Unbelievable is a pretty great show for a variety of reasons.
My post from two years ago:
I often skirt around this topic when it arises in conversation. It's amazing, because sexual assault/abuse/harassment, whatever hat it wears, is one of the issues I feel the most strongly about. That, in itself, is exactly the phenomenon that needs to change. The immediate sensation a survivor feels when given an opportunity, the rare podium from which to deliver their story. That's why the #metoo campaign was created; to remove the stigma.
Why I dislike the #metoo campaign:
Every time I tell my tales of sexual abuse and assault, I am forced to relive events that, quite frankly, I can barely remember because the trauma has embedded itself so deeply in my memory that I cannot recall it clearly. My brain did that amazing thing it does when something so awful is happening that it immediately hides it from your conscious thinking. However, regardless of the details I am able to recall, I know what happened happened, and that is something that I have to live with and think about multiple times a day. So, to say #metoo is one more moment during the day that I am forced to remember events which make me question what my life would be like, could be like, if I wasn't in places at times or knew people I now wish I didn't.
Which isn't productive. Being present is productive, and wondering (wishing, really) what would be or could be is a moment of being present that was stolen from me.
I, also, don't want to tell people about my survivor stories. I realize all we have to do is write #metoo, but that in itself is a story. I'm not giving any details, not that I could, but you, the social media scroller have seen enough graphic movies or read enough horror stories to ascribe the series of unfortunate events yourself.
So between the reliving of events, which I compare to what I imagine dying is like, and purely not wanting to share is a a lot of good reason for not wanting to engage in the #metoo campaign.
Because it's not a survivor's job to educate.
Because this happens so often to so many that #metoo feels like a sad last resort of an effort.
Because a hashtag feels too much like a medal, and when I say "I'm a survivor," I don't feel honor.
Why I like the #metoo campaign:
After the first time I became a survivor my mom did exactly what she should have done; she maintained normalcy. I have had the privilege of seeing a myriad of therapists through life so far, and every time I share this part of the story with them, first they want her to know she's an amazing mom, and then they agree, she did exactly what she should have done.
What my mom did:
1. Noticed a dramatic change in my disposition and habits over a period of time.
2. Dragged out of me what had happened.
3. Told me it wasn't my fault.
4. Did everything in her power to make sure it never happened again.
5. Maintained normalcy.
At the time, I'm really glad she did what she did. Something occurred in my life that I wasn't able to comprehend (sometimes, I'm still not sure I comprehend sexual abuse), and I was young, and she kept the rest of my world functioning. I went to school, I played field hockey, I made dollhouses out of cardboard (that was the art phase I was going through), and I went to sleep, and every day I woke up again. Some people don't do that last part.
I don't wish that anything had been handled differently. For future survivors, though, I want to find a new way of dealing with life after trauma. Because part of "maintaining normalcy" is never talking about what happened. I don't mean talking to my mom, or to a therapist. I mean publicly talking about the fact that sexual abuse is happening to so many people that I pretty much assume that every woman is walking around with very similar looking baggage to mine.
Something I go over and over and over again with my therapist(s) is the fact that people openly grieve death. It's another kind of traumatic event that happens in peoples' lives, and we wear specific colors and have ceremonies and, in my society, dedicate whole plots of land (ironically killing the earth in doing so) to the process of grieving death. Why I revisit this so often is because something I feel is a lot like death occurs more often, and we sweep it under the rug. As I get older, and what happened lives with me every day, but fades for so many around me, the reason for bringing up that I'm a survivor feels more and more arbitrary. Some call that healing, I call it compartmentalizing.
Why do I do that? Why do I shy away from saying, "This is what happened, and some days are a struggle, and I wouldn't wish this pain on even the person that made me this way."
That's why I like the #metoo campaign. Because it's not my job to educate, but the people that are lucky enough to not have the stories I have aren't going to be the ones to stand up either. They don't have the same fire. It's not my fault that I'm a survivor, but it's my reason to stop it from happening.