After a full day of rehearsal and dinner with some cast mates this weekend, I got home and began the usual social media scrolling that one does after a long day. My timeline was full of the words “me too,” but I didn’t know what it meant. After continuing to scroll I saw the above quote in someone’s status.
I immediately felt compelled to post in solidarity, then stopped myself, because I thought of what I’ve gone through in comparison to some of the stories my friends have shared. I rated my experiences as “normal” encounters that almost every woman endures with men in her lifetime and decided not to post. These were the literal thoughts running through my head. I continued to scroll and tried to distract myself with other social media fodder.
A few minutes into scrolling and I continued to come across people on my timeline who shared details of their experiences being sexually harassed or assaulted; either in the work place, during a night out on the town, in auditions, or with perceived friends. I was surprised, but at the same time not surprised at all by how similar some of these experiences were to my own. But I still wouldn’t post “me too.” A half hour, maybe an hour went by, and the overwhelming amount of people posting “me too” on my timeline was still on my mind. I’ve come up with this rule in my life: if something stays on my mind for an extended period of time, I’m supposed to take action. So I posted “me too.”
The next morning I started a dialogue with two of my close girlfriends about our experiences and how we’ve been conditioned to brush off these situations as if they’re not a big deal. After talking with them, I realized that I needed to write. Then I procrastinated for about three hours, because that’s what I do when I know something isn’t going to be easy. But here I am, because it needs to be said.
The first time I remember being touched inappropriately was in elementary school. I was at a haunted house at Rotary Boys and Girls Club dressed as Red from Fraggle Rock. My hair was in pigtails, I had my poppin’ red turtleneck on, and I completed the look with a skirt and tights. I was waiting in line to go through the haunted house and kept feeling something weird on my leg. I didn’t know what was going on, but kept trying to brush off an invisible cat rubbing against my leg. I thought I was going crazy. As I got further ahead in the line I saw two little boys giggling underneath the table I was standing by. They had been rubbing my legs while I stood in line. I didn’t tell anyone.
Fast forward to senior year at Howard University. My friends and I were out for my good friend/roommate’s birthday having the time of our lives. We met this group of guys who were super fun and ended up in most of our pictures from the night. They were all really cool, but one of them was kind of sleazy and seemed like he was just trying to get with anyone he could that night, but he came with the package so we just put up with him. I don’t remember the full progression of the night, because alcohol was involved and I was very intoxicated, but me and one of the other guys hit it off. At one point I realized that I had drunk a bit too much and needed to sit down. I made my way to a couch in the VIP section by the DJ booth. I was falling in and out of sleep and super out of it. I remember opening my eyes and seeing the sleazy friend sitting next to me. His arm was around me and I felt something down my shirt. I was having trouble making out what was going on, but I eventually realized that his hand was down the front of my dress and he was fondling my breasts. By the time I understood what he was doing, the guy that I hit it off with saw what was happening and intervened. Again, I didn’t tell anyone.
These are two specific instances that I remember vividly, but it doesn’t include the many times I’ve been called names for not giving a man my number or not accepting his advances. It doesn’t include the times that my clothes or body have been touched or grabbed inappropriately while out at a club, party, or event. It doesn’t include the times that random men have come up from behind me trying to rub their dick on my butt at the club because “that’s just club culture.” It doesn’t include the times that my “no” has been badgered into a “yes” or the times that I just gave in to doing something I didn’t fully want to do, because it was easier to give in rather than to keep saying no.
I’m not sharing this for sympathy or to make myself the victim. In fact, the reason I didn’t want to post “me too” in the first place was because I felt like my experiences were nothing compared to what other women have gone through and I didn’t want to claim being a victim in these circumstances. The fact of the matter is, I was normalizing the things that I’ve gone through when none of it should be acceptable. Anything done to a woman or man without her or his consent is unacceptable and in no way, shape, or form should be normalized.
I was in 2nd or 3rd grade when those boys were rubbing on my legs. My mother always taught me to tell her if anyone touched me inappropriately, but because they just felt my legs, I convinced myself it wasn’t a big deal. They weren’t touching the private parts of my body that I learned were inappropriate for others to feel, but I still felt violated. I never gave them permission to touch me that way, but I was too ashamed to let anyone know. I never said anything about the guy who felt me up at the club, because he was caught in the act by his friend and I put a lot of the blame on myself. “I shouldn’t have gotten that drunk. If I was completely coherent that wouldn’t have happened. I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation. I have to be more careful and I’m lucky it didn’t go further.” I took ownership over the entire situation rather than calling out the sleaze-ball who took advantage of me.
I won’t speak for every woman, but after talking to my friends I’ve realized that we (my friends and I) combat these instances with humor and changing the narrative in our minds to take power over the situations that actually made us uncomfortable. So much focus has been put on how girls and women need to act in order to avoid being sexually harassed and assaulted, that we begin to internalize the wrongs that have been done to us and blame ourselves for not saying “no” firm enough or for giving the other party the wrong idea. The conversation I had with my friends the other day started with me wishing I would’ve handled situations differently in the past by being firmer in my objections and not letting certain behaviors slide. Again, I was putting the blame on myself for dealing with unwanted advances or physical contact. It’s unfortunate, but often as women we learn to “be okay” with certain behavior from men, because it happens so often. It’s not okay. My friend quickly reminded me that I need to be careful when I focus on what I could’ve done differently, because a lot of times it’s about what they shouldn’t have done. They shouldn’t have tried to coerce us. They shouldn’t have touched us without our permission. They shouldn’t have touched us when we said no. We shouldn’t have to fight those things, but they often get excused because society teaches us that they’re men and that’s what men do. In the end, women are the ones carrying all the guilt and shame.
Let’s stop putting the focus on the way women behave, and start teaching boys and men to truly respect women. Not just when other people are in earshot or in front of the men in our lives, but respect us behind closed doors and when were drunk and half naked. Listen to us the first time we say no and stop trying to turn our noes into reluctant yeses. Thank you to all of the brave women who posted “me too” and shared their stories. Thank you to the brave, silent me toos! You don’t have to share your story, but know that you’re not alone and you have nothing to be ashamed of. The problem is not ours. It’s time for society to stop accepting toxic masculinity and the accompanying entitlement to women’s bodies. We’re not some conquest to be had, desire to be fulfilled, or object for your gratification. We’re complex individuals with our own emotions and desires and we have the first, middle and last say when it comes to our bodies.
And lastly, thank you Tarana Burke, the black queen who created the “me too” campaign 10 years ago. From Ebony.com:
The 44-year-old said she began “Me Too” as a grassroots movement to aid sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities “where rape crisis centers and sexual assault workers weren’t going.”
You can read the full article about Tarana Burke and her campaign here:
I'm Lauren, aka Just Du Pree, and I want to thank you for reading. This is a space where I share my very personal journey healing from topical steroid withdrawal, life lessons I've learned along the way and occasionally the thoughts of an awkward Black girl (no Issa Rae). I'm also a performer and filmmaker, so if you feel so inclined pop over here to see what goes on in my mind on the regular. If you like what you see you can stay up to date with my work here. Much love, friends!