Updated: Oct 14, 2019
I don’t usually write about current affairs. As long term readers of this blog may have noticed, my thoughts and philosophies are usually future based, drawn from past experiences and ideas. I have yet to cover a topic that is in the public forefront in the moments that I am writing. But then came the #metoocampaign.
As I write, social media is currently being flooded with more and more statements of ‘hey, that happened to me, too.” To scroll through Twitter and Facebook without knowing what the #metoostatement means you could be forgiven for thinking it was a trending fashion. Just another clever hook, concocted by someone with enough followers to create influential waves within our internet screens. After all, it’s only a hashtag. Don't we see them all the time?
But then it clicks, in both a realising and a technological sense; the thousands of ‘me too’s’ are real time. These are some of the people around us who have in some way been sexually assaulted. This isn’t a trend. It’s an epidemic.
Initially, I didn’t warm all too much to the movement when I saw it start to spill out across my newsfeed. I feared that in stirring up millions of hashtags the real sense of human experience may be lost. But then I realised; perhaps this really is the time to start a conversation. One that won’t get lost in translation. One that can continue long after the tablets and iPhones have been put down for the night.
So. What is it that we’re dealing with? What do we mean, when we join in saying those two short words?
In the last few weeks I been engaged in conversations with friends and colleagues of mine, as well as readers of this blog, discussing what may or may not apply in terms of being part of the #metoocampaign. Although varying in response, many were united in feeling they had not spoken out sooner because they themselves were unsure if their experience would 'count' as assault or not. This particular point, to me, seemed to be the loophole within which so many situations have been buried from view.
But the facts are these;
If you are made to feel uncomfortable, and there is no way of stopping or halting the behaviour, then this is not OK. No grey shades.
The ‘Not OK’ I am talking about is the type of feeling you might have when someone causes you to be uncomfortable in your physical self. It is the slice of vulnerability that you are caused to feel when in a situation you cannot escape. It is in the moments you feel unduly uncovered. This can occur without a single finger being laid upon you. It can be by a total stranger or your husband. It can be from the same sex. Sexual assault comes in varying forms, and there is no typical situation or offender. Yes, more women than men typically receive harm in this way. But not exclusively, by any means.
But when exactly does a situation become one that isn’t acceptable? Where is the line drawn, the line that shouldn’t ever be crossed, or pushed? Is there a way to know for sure?
I was thinking all of this over yesterday while I was driving to an events job I was working on. It was a one off booking, where I was demonstrating fitness equipment in a leisure area of a large manufacturing centre. My role was to demonstrate the equipment and hand out free samples of health drinks. What should have been a straight forward job turned into a perfect example of exactly what I had been thinking over on the way to it.
During the 3 hour event I repeatedly had to defend myself verbally against leering behaviour and inappropriate comments about my ‘sporty legs’. Men ranging from eighteen to in their sixties were ignoring the professional information I was giving them, preferring to crowd around me asking what I did after work and whether I was as flexible as they thought I might be. Yes, they approached me in a comedic fashion, largely to make their friends laugh. No, I didn’t feel in any real danger. Not one of them touched me, or even attempted to. But did that make the experience acceptable? No. Absolutely not.
I could handle the situation. Being a teacher sometimes helps in these situations, as I feel confident to control a crowd that are getting out of hand. But that doesn’t make it OK. It shouldn’t be acceptable just because I got away unscathed. If we were to apply that rule, then we would have to accept that all drivers drinking under the influence are of no harm to anyone, until they crash.
During my lifetime, like many others, I have endured varying examples of inappropriate sexual approach. I have had my bum pinched in clubs by not only men, but women, who wanted to make their attractions known. I have had a Moroccan man grab at my chest in a daytime market while living in Marrakech. I have had an agent I was working with in India try and offer alcohol and sex to me in the apartment I was staying in, in exchange for movie parts and notoriety. My room stayed locked that night. My first sexual experience was at 14, where a popular boy from my senior school told me that we were to play ‘traffic lights’ where he will stop doing what he wants to do when I say red light. I said red light. He didn’t stop.
I feel strongly that it is unhelpful and ineffective to try and grade the level of acceptability of each incident or act over any other. Range in gravitas is not parallel to that of acceptability. In short; any inappropriate behaviour of this kind is equally not OK. The variance is found only in the seriousness of the act itself. But each and every moment of unwelcome approach or invasion of wellbeing is as unacceptable as another.
I can, and will, now state that I was sexually assaulted in my previous relationships. I have been woken in my sleep to find my partner having sex with me. I have been touched in times I did not want to be touched. And I have been coerced into sexual acts I was not comfortable with. This is not something I have written about before, and not something I have shared with anyone barring the police on a few occasions. If I am to continue to open the door to readers and supporters of the ‘Living Liberté’ blog then I must be open in order to cultivate an environment where conversations can be had. I was afraid to for far too long, and I am still yet to allow myself to open up fully with even my very best friends. But I continue to keep pushing myself beyond the guardedness that might feel instinctive, to find a place of truth that can be liberating for us as a community.
Of course, in the full scene of my life as a whole, these darker moments are but small details. They are memories that stay with me, but they do not define me as they might have once. I am all the more grateful for the freedom I now enjoy in my life, and the incredible friends, family and people I meet and enjoy spending time with. I am enjoying dating now, and spending time with good people. My memories serve as inspiration to keep moving forward, and to keep growing the#liberté online campaign via this blog and on social media.
But the daily occurrences of situations of this kind that are still happening daily all over the world to the men and women we care about. It has to stop. In order to do this, we must start to talk about what’s right.
Because it isn’t the length of our dresses or the volume of our voices that make us guilty in moments of coercion, assault, or attack. It isn’t our culture, the street we live on, or the type of person we are. There is no ‘you were too friendly to him’ or ‘but what did you expect’. Let’s spread the word to our sons and daughters, to our colleagues and friends, and to those we spend our time with - we are ofvalue. And in this way, we are not to be mishandled, mistreated, or made to be objects of entertainment or gratification. You are of value to me, reader. And to so many others.
My high school sex education consisted of learning about condoms and body odour. It did not prepare me in any way to know what was acceptable as a sexual partner. My parents taught me high self value, but I didn’t realise that this was something that I could apply in circumstances I never expected. They say knowledge is power. I agree.
And so, let’s get talking! Whether it’s via this blog page, in the comments section below, or in a private message. Where you might want to e-mail me, or e-mail a friend. Perhaps you might want to spend some time with a friend you know may need to talk some things over in response to the hashtag campaign. Or perhaps you have friends that you have seen posting their own#metoo statements on their news feeds. Wherever it is, whenever it is, let’s not let this moment pass us by. Too many have sailed by already for us to allow any more to get swallowed up into history.
Let's celebrate more of the brilliant, loving, caring people we know, and encourage more of the love and brilliance they share with us. Let's use the best parts of our lives and ourselves to light the way out of any shaded darkness wrongly handed over to us or to the people we know around us. Let's take on this battle using the ultimate power of overwhelming kindness as our tool to do so. This is where we can, and will, overcome. The door to freedom can be found. It’s there. Sometimes we may just need a friend, or perhaps an anonymous voice of support, to help us find it’s handle.
Speak soon, friends.
H E L E N V I C T O R I A
writer | relationship expert | coach