When the #MeToo hashtag erupted on social media roughly a month ago, I tried dozens of times to write something on Facebook. I’d type the words “#MeToo” and delete them. I’d type the words, and add my qualifying remarks, and delete them. Time and time again.
The #MeToo hashtag started with an appended explanation: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
But two words, it seemed, were too few to explain not just why I could say #MeToo, but also why I hesitated, why I couldn’t.
Two words are not too few because I have too much to say about past trauma. Much the opposite. If anything, I have too untraumatic of a past. I’ve only rarely been catcalled, or had my appearance commented on in a harassing way. I’ve never been assaulted. None of these experiences seem as bad as sexual assault. The #MeToo hashtag equates these in a way that makes my own memories much more disturbing, by linking my comparatively mild experiences with those that are much more horrific.
Yes, there was the time I stopped a boyfriend from going farther than I would have liked. He did stop, and if he wasn’t exactly happy about it, I was very clear about my boundaries, and I fully expected him to respect those boundaries. All the years of all-girls education drilled into my that my body my sexuality are mine, and I simply assumed that if I said no, the other person would have to take that at face value. The outcome for both my body and my emotions could have been so much worse. I think my assumption of this right to my own body protected me, in a strange and uncomfortable way. So yes, #metoo.
I started to wonder if my comparatively few experiences are related to neurodivergence or a preemie-type personality — especially my intense introversion and my subtle difficulties with nonverbal signals.
As a very introverted person, I wonder how much sticking to the familiar people and paths has played a role in my experiencing fewer #MeToo moments. Back in the day when such things were relevant, I almost never attended loud parties with lots of dancing and drinking. I didn’t put myself in some of the situations, or choose to work in particular industries, and yet, I know for a fact that this isn’t necessarily a certain protection. Maybe, instead, I give off a particular vibe, a closed-off, in my own world vibe. I’ve certainly spent enough time dealing with getting “out of my shell,” or realizing how happy I can be when I’m in it. And maybe I’m caught up in my own world thoughts enough that I’m just not very aware of the innuendoes all around.
Also, I have some difficulties with nonverbal signals, particularly for these purposes as relates to teasing, sarcasm, and irony. I’ve always been an easy target for teasing because I’m “easy to tease,” taking the teasing words at face-value – until I know a person well enough to recognize what they usually tease about. The same goes for sarcasm and irony: if I don’t know someone well, I find myself asking, “were you being sarcastic?” and once I know the things they’re likely to be sarcastic about, I speed up my ability to laugh (genuinely) at a witty remark.
More specifically, I’ve lost count of the number of times I had to ask people what various phrases or gestures with a sexual connotation meant, which inevitably left me wondering how other people figured out what these things mean, without having to own up to their apparent ignorance. As an example, when the meme went around a few years back about men asking women to smile, I had to Google to figure out why this mattered – and wondered that I could only think of one time anyone had commented unwantedly on the non-smiling expression on my face.
In other words, if I’m not great at this kind of subtlety – without violent, malicious, or other negative intent – it makes me wonder at my chances of picking up on negative or sexual intent. It makes me think of the times when friends, after seeing me interact with a guy, would say, “Didn’t you notice he was flirting with you?” For all I know, I’ve had far more #MeToo moments than I realized, but simply didn’t notice that they were going on. And that’s a scary thought.
I’ve learned so much about what other women experience through the posts and articles. I knew in the abstract about many of the stories that came out on social media, but – thank goodness to the high heavens — I’ve never been groped, crotch-grabbed, kissed without wanting to be kissed, had my rear pinched, or any of the other similar incidents shared by women I thought I knew well. I can count on one hand how often I’ve experienced street harassment like catcalls or unwanted compliments, and I’ve never ridden the subway in fear of what’s going on around me (and maybe I should have; I’ve ridden the rush-hour subway in more than one city).
So when I read about daily harassment women face in their ordinary lives, it seemed like the height of privilege to say, #metoo, and feel I had to add — but not like that, not so much, not when countless other women are propositioned, harassed, raped, assaulted.
I found I couldn’t post the hashtag on social media, because all the posts put me in empathy overdrive. Without wanting to, I sucked in the feelings of victimization and fear and threat like a sponge, and like a threatened creature, I retreated, and found it hard to say anything when the right words wouldn’t come. With that much emotion coming in, I couldn’t summon the outward-directed righteous anger or the power of sisterhood that so many other women voiced. I couldn’t type #metoo, because the #metoo became about the collective emotional experiences of far too many people.
And in the end, I found I couldn’t post the hashtag, because my comparative lack of negative situations seemed so odd, so strange, as if my existence as a woman was somehow different from that of countless other women, and I didn’t want to call that difference out. I’ve since read enough stories to realize that more women have fewer experiences than maybe I’d thought, but it doesn’t matter, because even one is worth a #metoo. Even if I wondered how I’d been lucky — or is it privileged? – enough to have fewer situations to recall, I still found myself thinking, #metoo.