The hashtag says it all. We don’t have to read each and every story in its entirety to know how it ends. Some end worse than others, every scenario is different, but the premise or the plot, if you will, is still the same. Women and men sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, scared, embarrassed and carrying a huge sense of guilt.
Yes, #metoo. I was sexually harassed by a superior for a long time. He was my friend. He was my boss. He said I was the best at what I did. He couldn’t get through one hour without me, and I made his job and his life easier. I was recognized at work for my efforts, which gave me a sense of pride and a sense of obligation to this man because he saw my hard work, how much I enjoyed it and how much I needed that validation.
Therein lies the problem.
You see, not only #metoo, but I too.
I, too, was part of the problem because for a long time I saw this as harmless banter between friends, emails to pass the time, and if we are being honest, as a way of getting attention and hearing how “great” I was. I was harassed by a smart man, a handsome man, a man that was my friend, a man that sang my praises and signed my paycheck. A man who flirted with me and sent me explicit emails at work – emails which I felt obligated to reply to and fake-giggled about when he was around, but later felt uneasy about when I drove home.
I am not a victim here, I will never call myself that because I feel I was fueling the fire, even if I didn’t fully realize it at the time. I was 22, dying to be noticed at work, scared to lose the only income I had and naive enough to think that none of the words we exchanged were causing me any harm. As time progressed, I became scared to be alone in the copy room, I felt sick when opening yet another email, and I dreaded walking into his office to ask questions or get a simple signature. Yet, I did nothing.
I confided in coworker, who was and is one of my oldest and dearest friends, but we didn’t know what to do – Do we speak up and face the consequences? The industry we worked in was a man’s industry and most women were there to push papers, take dictation and fetch coffee. If I spoke up and stood up for myself, what about all the responses to those sexually charged emails, which I did not refuse? It didn’t matter that they were all initiated by him, with scenarios he created. Would people see it that way or would they wonder what I did from 8 to 5 to make him say those things? Would they wonder if what I wore to the office was carefully selected and worn accordingly to seek his attention and unsolicited groping? Would I be labeled the office whore because I laugh a little too loud, am overly friendly and I work the extra hours after everyone clocks out?
I did nothing.
I said nothing.
I was afraid and I was ashamed.
I blame us both. He pushed the boundaries and I didn’t establish any. I should have put a stop to all the emails, I should have smacked his hand away when he groped me instead of having a secret “code” for my friend to come into the copy room when he got too close and his hands got too “grabby”. But I remained silent because I thought that nobody would believe me over him. I was a young paralegal and he was one of the main partners, so I kept quiet and truly believed that “if we were not physically doing anything, nobody gets hurt and he will soon stop and it will all be okay. Things will go back to normal once he sees this is not going anywhere.”
I was wrong and I admit it. I, too participated and I take ownership of it. I accepted sexual harassment and unwanted advances because at the time I was young, I didn’t know my worth, and though I was afraid, I never thought the situation would escalate to more than what it was. It didn’t. It didn’t because I quit that job rather than speaking up because though I did not ask for all the things he did, I didn’t necessarily stop them either. Pushing his hands away, ignoring emails, and running into his office when he wasn’t there to leave documents and pick some up got to be too exhausting, too scary and too degrading; yet still I did nothing but run away in silence. That is a mistake I will never make again.
So, dear one, if you feel like I feel, like you belong to the #metoo movement but also like you were part of the equation, forgive yourself. No, what he did wasn’t right, but I own up to my own actions or lack thereof. I did not want it, I did not seek it, but I didn’t stop him. He was “my friend” he was “my boss” and we both crossed blurred lines that we had no business going even close to near to for very different reasons. I admit to my mistakes and to the lack of self esteem I had when I was 22 and vow to never allow myself to get into that cycle.
Sometimes you are the hamster, sometimes you are the wheel, but you don’t ever have to remain caged. Free yourself of your guilt. I know it is hard, but #youtoo can do it.