Yesterday as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed, I noticed several “Me, Too” posts in response to the recent campaign to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault. One of the posts asked, “Why didn’t all these women speak out and share their stories sooner?”
That might be a fair question were it not for the fact that women and girls are systemically taught to stay silent.
I can only speak for myself. Frankly, it had never occurred to me to speak out until this campaign encouraged me to do so.
I might not have joined in at all if not for a coincidence. The day before I became aware of the “Me, Too” movement, I read the obituary of a man who had harassed me years ago. Reading of his passing reminded me of his behavior and of other incidents I have encountered over the years.
So why didn’t I share?
I learned from a very early age that speaking out would change little to nothing. When a little boy on the playground hits or teases a little girl, the girl’s complaints are met with, “Oh, it’s just his way of saying he likes you.” “Ignore him.” “Be a good sport.” “Laugh it off.”
Often the little boy in question is not asked to change his behavior. He might even be given a wink, an implicit “Attaboy!”
Little boys grow into bigger boys, and the behavior escalates. The girl is sometimes blamed. She continues to be told, “Get over it.”
The phrase “sexual harassment” was not part of my language when I was a young professional. I was simply a woman putting up with unwanted advances by the creepy guy who worked down the hall, “showing he liked me.” I brushed it off as I had been taught to do.
Women have always looked out for each other. We warn one another about the creepy guys. We tell friends to watch out for the date with “Roman hands and Russian fingers,” or the one who expects certain favors in exchange for dinner and a movie. We try to protect one another, but the behavior of the creepy guys continues.
I suspect that even in 2017, for every woman or man who speaks out about sexual harassment or assault, there are dozens who quietly suck it up, laugh it off, and try silently to “get over it.” They have many reasons to stay quiet, and should not be required to tell their stories; but they should certainly be believed and supported when they do so.