Lets start this with something of a disclaimer- I am just about the worst 3rd wave feminist I know. I can’t take credit for being the worst because I have friends who are at least as bad at it as I am, but it’s pretty bad. We were raised with the radical notion that a woman can make any choice she wishes and every choice she makes is perfectly valid for HER. Feminism is a uniquely individual concept- for me, being happily married for 17 years, enjoying both full time work and domestic pursuits including sending my hubby out the door with a made-by-my-hand lunch each day, including home baked cookies made with the Kitchen Aid stand mixer he bought me as a *gash* birthday gift 19 years ago (we weren’t even married yet and he bought me a Kitchen Aid. What’s not to love, right?) I love when he opens doors for me or makes some protective gesture or another when the circumstance calls for it. He loves me and wants to keep me safe. I love him and want to keep him comfortable and happy. Together we make a great team and can take on the world and all the crap it throws at us. And nearly every day I see headlines and images that tell me I am the problem. So fine. I am the problem. I’m pretty OK with that.
Now to the point. I’m sure if you’re reading this you have enough of a grasp of social media to have seen the #metoo campaign that’s been going around the various platforms the last few days. It took me a sighting or two to catch up and it’s been on my mind ever since. I understand #metoo but at the same time, I wonder if the message being received is the one we want to be heard. Is #metoo an effective way to demonstrate the wide-spread problem of sexual harassment and assault, or is making it a hashtag and spreading it far and wide actually diminishing the significance of real, actual, sexual assault. And is this even a subject that should have qualifiers in my head like real and actual, vs perceived or somehow lesser. Am I the problem for thinking this? Or am I a product of training where my own experience is, in my mind, downplayed because it was less than someone else’s. Have I trained myself to think I am worth less than others around me, or have I been told this by outside influences without ever really noticing the training was taking place? Wow. This head. Sometimes I think the rest of the world is lucky to not have to live in it…
Anyway, my #metoo story. In late 1994 I was a 20 year old college student doing a study abroad in Tokyo. Before heading off on our adventure, we had a chance to sit down with the folks who’d come back from our programs the year before, then relayed the favor to the next bunch. One of the things that stuck with me was the warning that you’d probably get groped on a train at some point. There was even a phrase we were supposed to yell out to call attention to the groper and shame him publicly for his actions. Seemed a little odd, really, but who thinks it’s going to happen to you, so I remembered the advice but on a crowded train somewhere in Tokyo, do you think I could remember the phrase? Nope. What’s more, when standing in the overcrowded car and feeling someone’s fingers at my crotch when they were most certainly NOT invited to be there, there was no way I’d have yelled it if I could remember it because, for reasons my 43 year old brain can no longer comprehend, *I* was embarrassed! Why would I want to call attention to my shame? I did a nice little hip check which caused my assaulter to remove his hand from my person and move away from me as much as circumstances would allow (if you’ve done rush hour on a train in Tokyo, you know the comedy of that statement. If you haven’t, well, just understand we’re talking inches, not feet) until one or the other of us got off the train and I’m fairly certain I tried to burn that incident from my memory, telling only my best friend sometime after returning stateside and resuming normal life. And I can’t say the incident had any great impact on my life since then. I think I hadn’t thought about it at all until a few months ago and it was out of my head as quickly as it entered until #metoo.
So now I sit here thinking about it again and diminishing the significance in 100 different ways- it was Japan. The culture was so much different than here. It was nothing to sit on a less crowded train next to or across from a businessman reading a skin mag. Women were, even in 1994, still very much subservient to men. It was only a little finger wiggle over the jeans and, while completely uninvited and unwelcome, what harm was done? I mean honestly, I have a good friend whose first sexual encounter was rape. What happened to me was no where NEAR as bad.
But was it? Is my downplaying it contributing to the problem? I do not believe and will never advocate for a “boys will be boys” mentality so why would I think an unwelcomed touch was somehow OK-ish because it wasn’t as bad as what happened to someone else? In reality, I can’t convince myself these two things are equal. I have no lasting scars, emotional or physical, nor can I really say I even think of it as an attack. Like I said, I rarely think of it at all, where I know my friend cannot say the same. It is a part of everything she’s done since. I don’t want my participation in #metoo to diminish what she’s gone through by making an un-level playing field flat. But at the same time not speaking up, does that somehow make me worth less? Do I think that because I was raised by a strong woman who also put others before herself and that is who I emulate or is it something society still tells us every day? Mostly I think society has its flaws but most of us are trying and we do ok-ish at it most of the time, so probably it’s just the choices I’ve made but maybe it’s time to evaluate those choices and make sure that I haven’t been telling myself a lie for all these years- that I am worth less. Because if i’ve told myself i’m worth less, I’ve certainly told the rest of the world as well and I don’t think I like the sounds of this lesson at all. I’m still pretty sure I’m a lousy modern feminist but maybe not so lousy as I thought?
Girl brains are tough, man. I don’t envy anyone trying to raise a daughter in these confusing times. If I’ve had 43 years to work on figuring it out and am this confused, I can’t imagine trying to make sense of it for a teenager! Mad props to those who do.
Of course, I don’t envy those of you trying to raise young men in their era either. I like cats.