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Me too

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Fuck, this blog has got a little neglected again, but I am so overwhelmed by life at the moment, I really just don’t feel like I have anything worthy of saying. That was until this week, from the title, there’s a good chance you already know what this one is going to be about. Since Harvey Weinstein’s allegations have been exposed, social media has been alight with brave women standing in solidarity, saying “me too”. It was both empowering and disheartening to see so many women I love, admire and some I don’t even know, share their experiences with sexual harassment, assault and abuse. I wanted to update my status with the same sentiment, but something held me back, I still can’t decide what. I needed to process and unpack my feelings around this issue, knowing that the space I would use for that was right here. So this is where I say, me fucking too.

The harassment began for me when I was 11 or 12 years old, every time I entered a public space alone, or with other girls, I was immediately the subject of men’s attention. I saw it as just another thing that came along with the awkwardness of puberty, much like periods and underwire. It’s important to note here that this still happens to me at least once a week, but never in front of a male that I know. This is a glaring example of the dismissal of women’s autonomy, as when I’m with another man in public, I’m already spoken for. This is perhaps what infuriates me the most when it happens. Two years ago, I made the status update “It's actually outrageous that I cannot walk the 2km from my house to the library without at least one guy thinking he has the right to shout something at me out his truck window”. I anticipated the usual response of “me too”, but what I got was so much more. Most of the women who were over the age of 30 implied that it was because of the way that I looked, I was shocked, to say the least. They didn’t seem to be concerned with the fact that by stepping into the public sphere, I was not giving permission for men to engage with me in any way, shape or form. One young woman spoke about how when she was younger, she thought she wasn’t good looking because she wasn’t catcalled. That’s what really shook me, because I knew, as I was growing up that I did base a lot of my worth on my perceived appeal to men. Others spoke about acquaintances commenting on their weight gain or loss and having objects thrown at them. Overwhelmingly, the narrative was the same, women's bodies are perceived as open for critique, at all times.

When a similar conversation came up at work, the only male coworker said that he didn’t see a problem with catcalling, that we should all just take it as a compliment. When we told him that most of the time, because of what we had been taught, that it makes us feel unsafe, he hit us back with the “not all men” argument. When you’ve been told your whole life to only sit in the backseat of a taxi, to text a friend if you’re going to meet someone new, that you can’t run trails alone or walk around at night, how are you supposed to believe its not all men? I saw a tweet that said something along the lines of “how is it that every woman knows a victim, but no man seems to know a perpetrator?”, this struck a real chord with me. This is the part that I find so scary, that this behaviour is so prolific in our culture that it has become invisible. A few days later we saw this coworker walking through the mall carpark, and yes, you guessed it, we publicly catcalled him. He walked quickly, with his head down, exhibiting the same discomfort and shame I had felt all too many times before. While this wasn’t my finest moment (we apologised profusely afterwards), he said he kind of understood.

The second part of this story is about what isn’t said, the silence, the unspoken. When I was 14 or so, a man more than three times my age put his hand on my bare inner thigh while I sat on the couch in a skirt. Terrified and disgusted, I text my mum asking her to feign a family emergency and collect me immediately. She called me, and the first words that spilled out were “What did he do to you?”. Without me saying a word, with the accumulation of her knowledge and experience as a woman in our society, she knew. I never really took it any further, because I didn’t think it was ‘serious’, I just kept my distance from him and considered him a bit of a creep. What I want to stress is that it is ‘serious’ and it needs to be spoken about, at all levels. It is this silence that we are forced into that becomes a vital tool in the reproduction of rape culture. I’ve been reflecting on this the most this week, as I scrolled through each and every “me too” on my newsfeed, I wasn’t shocked by even one of them. I think that is the most profound revelation I have come to around the situation. I don’t want to live in a world where this is accepted and expected. As an aunty of 5 (soon to be 6) young girls, I feel compelled to stand up and speak out about this, to do what I can to dismantle this culture. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but we need to mobilise this movement, talk to your friends, brothers, sisters, colleagues (hopefully with more grace than I) and let’s work together to make change. Those who are able to speak out have to for those who can't. The silence ends with us.

Chanelle

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