“Me too” is trending on social media right now. It’s a way for people (mostly women but not exclusively) to identify that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point. At the risk of sounding trendy, this is a tinder box of triggers for a lot of us.
Where to start…..early y’all I grew up in the 70’s when women were definitely not seen as equals. I was a kid – probably 5 the first time someone tried to get fresh with me. We were visiting a friend of my mother. It was a family but the guy and his offspring were overly sexual. I remember seeing boob mugs and a novelty lady parts on the guys desk. His son, a few years older than me, kept trying to get me naked. I was 5 years old. I refused to get naked for him despite his relentless requests.
Fast forward to me at 7 years old, living in New Jersey. There was a teen boy that lived by my babysitter. He got me to make out with him in a fort. What teen wants to make out with a 7 year old? He was definitely a predator in training. I remember him telling me how we would get married when I was 16. Even at 7, I knew he was full of shit.
Leap to my teen years and I wasn’t making great life choices. I had a brief stint with drugs and alcohol which lasted about 18 months. It was the early 80s and there were times when I was stupid enough to hitch hike, sometimes alone. One time in particular, the driver took me to a remote location. I knew I was in trouble and my teen brain was in overdrive. I liked to think I was cool but I was very inexperienced and afraid. I talked my way out of an assault by making up a story about a boyfriend in South River that had ties to the mob. I rattled of names of guys and streets that were completely fabricated. The driver must have believed me because things didn’t escalate. That was a really close call.
Fortunately I stopped drinking and using drugs at the age of 15. I got sent to an adolescent rehab which was a fairly new concept in 1983. Ten months later, I was in a sexual relationship with the man who was previously my counselor in rehab. I have tried to convince myself that this was consensual. It was in some ways but it wasn’t a level playing field. He was 32, I was 16. If a 32 year old man shows any interest in my daughter when she is 16, there will be hell to pay.
When I started working, harassment was just another thing you had to deal with on the job. I was a cashier at a grocery store for several years in my late teens. One older man in the dairy department insisted on hugging all of the girls and then he would make comments about their breast size. I hated this and mentioned it to management. The hugging stopped but I was looked at as a trouble maker from that point on. “Oh, it’s no big deal, he’s just old and likes hugs” my co-workers would say. “Really” I would retort, “he just commented on your cup size.”
I worked for a large corporation in the early 90s. I was good at my job and got consistent promotions. I was there about 4 years when one of my former managers heard that I had ended a relationship. The next day a box from Victoria’s Secret was on my desk. It contained two camisole nightgowns with matching robes and two pairs of thigh high stockings. It cost a small fortune and instantly made me feel uncomfortable. This man was no longer my manager and we rarely spoke. And if that wasn’t enough, his wife worked for the same company. So I handled it in a way that would leave him some dignity. I thanked him for the gift and said “I’m sure you only meant this as a friendly gesture but it makes me uncomfortable”. I requested that he take it back, he refused and I let it drop. By this point, I had learned the importance of deescalation.
I remember going to a sober get together with male acquaintances that said they would not give me a ride home unless I blew them. I started walking and they eventually caught up with me to give me a ride but I didn’t feel safe. Even sober, I could not escape creeps. There was one man in particular that would go to the same weekly AA meeting as me, he harassed me every time he saw me. Every. Single. Time. The kicker was that he sponsored my sponsor’s husband. She had a fit when she witnessed his behavior one night. She had not idea he treated me that way. To me he was just another asshole that I tried to ignore. It didn’t even cross my mind to tell her about it.
I will say these things don’t happen with the frequency they once did. I’ve been married for 15 years and I am self-employed. I’d like to think the world is starting to change but it is more likely that I have aged out of the target zone. Now my focus is preparing my children for the situations they may encounter. Time to make “me too” the exception instead of the norm, it’s beyond time.