Two simple little words that didn’t really mean much to most people just a short time ago. It was a way to be part of a club, a group, a trip to the market or an expression of agreement. Me too!
Now it has become an unfortunate way for so many women who have been hiding in the shadows with their shameful experiences of sexual abuse, assault and/or harassment to finally have a voice. Even if it’s a restrained whisper of two little words.
With the recent declaration and strength of so many women standing up to join the “me too” movement, I found myself drawn to their courage. To their compassion for each other when one woman after another placed the hashtag and words “me too” on their social media pages. It wasn’t and isn’t a fad. It’s not a joke, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. When we put “me too” out there for the world to see we weren’t looking for sympathy. Unknowingly, we were looking for a community, and unfortunately, we found it.
I say we, because yes, #me too. Multiple times actually. I had some encounters in high school with harassment etc, but it wasn’t until I joined the Army as a confident, bright eyed 18-year-old girl looking to conquer the world that it really escalated for me.
For me personally after the first time I was a victim of one of the above listed incidents, I told someone. I thought I was doing the right thing. I was strong. A military squad leader. I would be listened to. Right?
I thought he would be held accountable, and that I wouldn’t feel what I felt anymore. I was wrong. I was belittled, told that I must have done something to invite such an “event”, and nothing happened to him. I can still remember the smirk on his face as he looked at me while I stood in formation at my basic training graduation
At that time, in a male dominated military culture, women were seen as the secretaries and nurses, not as soldiers and doctors. Even if we held one of those positions, we were a joke. If we excelled or by passed the men in marksmanship, academics or rank, we were considered a pushy bitch. Ambition was not an encouraged characteristic. Not much different from the outside world, but in the military if you were a victim of any type of sexual harassment or worse, it typically fell on deaf ears.
So, the naïve, but strong 18-year-old started to learn that things were going to happen, they were going to involve creepy men, and nothing was going to happen to the perpetrator. During the next couple of years, I had other times where I was a victim. I didn’t tell anyone. Why bother. Did I really want to temp my reputation as one of “those girls” who reported and got a bad name? I witnessed what happened to those girls. They weren’t taken seriously, most of them didn’t advance in their military careers, and their professional and personal reputations were tarnished.
After a certain incident where I was a victim, I told my mother. I finally had someone convince me it was not okay. It wasn’t to be tolerated, and should be reported. So, I did. I finally got the courage to report the latest occurrence. I took a chance and hoped for the best. And what happened when I finally went to my captain and told him about how my superior had made repeat uninvited and aggressive advances towards me? And that I repeatedly told him I was not interested and how he made threats to me if I refused his “affections”?
I was told I had misunderstood him, told he was having marital problems, told that I should have more sympathy for him and his children. And I was asked if I really wanted to damage the reputation of such a high ranking fellow soldier. I was shamed into silence. My report ended there that day, as did my faith that I would ever again tell anyone.
Many years passed, and as most women do, I fended off more creepy men with their uninvited advances. Then I joined the ranks of one of the most male dominated occupations out there. Law Enforcement. You would think that perhaps the “good ole boy” system had been retired by then, and men wearing badges were mostly of higher caliber than those who I had encountered over the years. Well, they were… Mostly…
My most notable incident of sexual harassment was from a higher-ranking officer. He was creepy, graphic, and I hated being alone with him. But I was new to the job, new to the organization, and I was on probation. I had recently heard of another girl who had a similar situation in a nearby office. She had reported it, and now was considered the “snitch”. Other cops didn’t want to work with her. They didn’t believe her, and her reputation as a serious police officer was forever tainted. I knew I didn’t want to be like that, but I couldn’t continue with officer creepy. I told someone “off the record”. He wasn’t surprised, and he believed me. But he did agree that if I took it further I would probably be altering my career. I didn’t tell anyone else at the office.
But I did tell someone. I did tell my mother. She had been a probation officer, and completely understood the level of harassment I had endured. She had been a “me too” as well. I told her every time I had to deal with more advances, more snide distasteful remarks, and more insinuations from officer creepy.
Then a day came when my husband was nearly killed in a car crash. It was life altering for him and everyone in our family. He was bed ridden for months and months and I put my work on hold and took care of him. During that time period my mother got sick. She got sicker and sicker and eventually passed away. I was a crumpled mess on the inside, but still had a family to raise. I took care of my husband, took care of my children, and ensured my father was okay.
A few weeks later I had to return to work. Back to the uncomfortable work environment I tolerated. I’m not sure if it was my grief, my exhaustion, or just the failure of my level of tolerance for this “boys will be boys” junk I was experiencing. But I put my guard down and told someone at work about officer creepy. The word got out fast. I couldn’t be trusted, I was lying, and was just another “female” looking for a quick lawsuit to win. Then the wolves really began to circle. I was accused of lying about a case I was involved in. And even with the facts in my favor, no one would believe me, no one would back me, and even the union representative told me it would be best if I just quit because even if I won, would I really want to work there? He had heard about officer creepy as well. The scoffing expression on his face said so much.
After nearly losing my husband, and actually losing my mother, my main support system throughout my life, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Officer creepy and his gang of bullies had won. I quit. I knew I was walking away without defending my reputation. I knew there were several other officers who I respected and considered friends who would now have a different opinion of me. I knew if I challenged my accusers I would win and the real truth would come out. But then what? I just didn’t have it in me.
We all have those times where we wish we could turn back time. I wish I could go back to that first abuser and we had a system in place where women were believed and supported. I wish the next time and the time after that I would have had support and human beings around me to show me that I was not at fault for being a victim. I wish at such a young and naive age I would have had someone say to the perpetrators, NO, you can’t do that. I wish that I would have felt comfortable enough to tell someone and that my job wouldn’t be affected negatively. I wish we lived in a world where the locker room talk and “boys will be boy’s” mentality didn’t allow college men to rape girls behind dumpsters and serve only 3 months of jail time. I wish we didn’t have a culture of males who consider women an entitlement for them to do with as they please.
But this is our reality. And what can we do about it?
Stop the culture of victim shaming! Teach our daughters that they DO have the support now. That they will be believed. That they can and should report inappropriate behavior. But also, be grateful for the men who DON’T think it’s ok. For the men who DO stop the assaults. For the men and women who DO raise their sons to respect women and girls.
Even though I didn’t have that support system in place throughout my dealings with aggressors, my hope is that my daughters and sons and others like them learn from my experiences. There wasn’t much talk about how to “prevent” female victims other than what appropriate clothing to wear, self defense etc. Our discussions were about how to deal with victims after the fact. There definitely wasn’t and still isn’t much talk about how to prevent female victims by teaching males that the behavior is not okay!
There are so many decent men in our world who don’t think the behavior that led up to “me too” is okay. Two of those men still work at that office I left. They both have daughters. It is with them and others like them, who have sons and daughters of their own, that we place our hope that they will help overshadow the creeps and support the women and girls to help make the “me too” movement unnecessary.
I do not tell my tale for sympathy. My hope is that those who are now shaming the “me too” women coming forward will know that everyone has their own story. Everyone had their reasons for not coming forward at a certain time. And everyone will hopefully get to their own level of comfort to express and share their tale if they want to. Even if it’s with those two simple words…