As a woman, I’ve spent most of my life trying to take up as little space as possible. This was easier in some ways because I have always been on the smaller side of normal. And the message from the world is that women should be small and quiet and agreeable. Fortunately, at this time in my life, I have been pushing myself to take up space. Today I had an opportunity to do this. My sister has a large Facebook following related to her health coaching business. She posted something today about sexual assault related to the Kavanaugh hearings. It was in support of believing women. A man that we attended junior high and high school with began trolling the post. He was antagonizing every commenter who voiced support for women. I commented in support of her post before I read any of the comments. And (not surprisingly) this man replied to me.
The poetry of this is that this man is someone who, based on my interaction with him as a teen, should be concerned about the Kavanaugh outcome. Sexual harassment was pervasive throughout my junior high and high school experience. I had relatively large breasts on a small frame, which made me an early target, but I don’t think sexual harassment is exclusive to women with a figure. Comments about my body were a regular part of my classroom experience, to say nothing of things said in the hallway. Thankfully, for me, it was limited to harassment and I didn’t suffer a sexual assault but, given the culture, it could have easily gone there.
The Facebook troll, referenced above, was a particularly unrestrained perpetrator of sexual harassment. I had very limited interaction with him (mostly because I avoided it) but even so I remember him deliberately making me uncomfortable with sexual remarks while I was sitting in class. I remember feeling that my only option in this, and the dozens of other situations like this one, was to roll with it. To be a good sport. To understand that boys will be boys. And to try to find some flattery in this unwelcome, aggressive and inappropriate attention. This was the cultural expectation. I’m sure if my parents really understood what happened in the classroom they would have come to my defense, but I knew it was better to play along, keep my head down and avoid confrontation. So they knew little. I saw what happened when girls stood up to this kind of treatment and it often turned into ugly bullying. I think we’re all familiar with the vocabulary used to describe women who are not complicit.
Reading the rantings of this misogynist today made me ask, “At my age, at this point in my life, do I have to sit, complicit in my silence, and watch while he vomits his misogeny all over my sister’s lovely post?” My normal answer would be some version of, “It’s not worth it, Michelle. You won’t change his mind anyway and he’s just going to rail against you.” But today I decided it WAS worth it. Not because I would change his mind. I don’t pretend to have a bit of power to do that. I decided it was worth it just for me. Just so I could feel myself taking up space in the world, giving voice to my opinion and my experience.
This is what I wrote:
Based on my (thankfully) limited interaction with you during our adolescent years, I am not surprised that you find it concerning that actions from that time of life may have consequences that reach far into the future. What I say to you, I say to all men who have used the patriarchy to maintain advantage over women: we are coming for you. And not out of hatred or bitterness but out of love for ourselves and the men who have never and would never use their advantage to dominate a woman.
It felt powerful to voice this. It felt like a small amount of vindication for years of sexual harassment I endured, to say out loud into the world that it was never okay. To my sisters, I say, if this resonates with you, then find your own way to speak your truth. This is from a powerful speech given by Abby Womback:
Women must champion each other. This can be difficult for us. Women have been pitted against each other since the beginning of time for that one seat at the table. Scarcity has been planted inside of us and among us. This scarcity is not our fault. But it is our problem. And it is within our power to create abundance for women where scarcity used to live.
As you go out into the world: Amplify each others’ voices. Demand seats for women, people of color and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. Call out each other’s wins and just like we do on the field: claim the success of one woman, as a collective success for all women.
Joy. Success. Power. These are not pies where a bigger slice for her means a smaller slice for you. These are infinite. In any revolution, the way to make something true starts with believing it is. Let’s claim infinite joy, success, and power—together. Abby Wambach, Remarks as Delivered
I echo her voice. To the men who use their privilege to assault, harass and dominate women, WE ARE COMING FOR YOU.