Last week, the #metoo social media campaign went viral in response to the accumulating accounts of media mogul Harvey Weinstein taking advantage of women in Hollywood. When I saw this hashtag in my Instagram feed, I had a fiery reaction – a compulsion to join in and tell my stories. Repeatedly this anger and determination would bubble up and then subside. Laziness and fear would couple, and I’d delay this post another day. But here I am, typing slowly and apprehensively, knowing I really, really must get on with it. I must, at the very least, write it out – and to actually post it? – well, I can decide that later.
Most of these took place about 15-20 years ago in my late teens/early 20s, yet my memories surrounding them are vivid. And they always make me livid, embarrassed, and regretful. More on that later..
I want to address the losers who will remain unnamed, in chronological order:
- to the multiple older high-schoolers who in the halls would yell “bombs away” and pretend to engage in “motor-boating” when I walked by – you made me anxious and embarrassed.
- to one, a high school senior when I was a sophomore, and two, a fellow classmate, who didn’t take no for an answer and took my head in their hands and used force to get what they wanted – maybe you think I was too drunk to remember, but I never black out and I remember everything – I said no, and I cried, but you would not let go – I should have bitten.
- to the Amherst classmate, a true “bro” and fellow privileged legacy student who seemed to think that all actually mattered, who also wouldn’t take no for an answer when he asked me back to his dorm room/seemed like he just didn’t believe me (bc who would ever decline such a demigod’s advances?) , and when he proceeded to linger/follow me to mine, I locked him out – yet he stayed in my study area and went onto my computer and found personal (“artistic”) topless photographs of myself and a close friend and proceeded to send them to the entire lacrosse team (and consequentially all the male varsity teams and even beyond our campus) – your actions made me hate my college experience, and somehow make me angrier than any of these other stories all combined.
- to the Amherst dean/counselor/I-don’t-remember-who-exactly but what I do remember is that I had to meet with you (a complacent man about 50 years old) when I came forward about what had happened you informed me that you couldn’t help me unless I decided to name the lacrosse player and face him in a disciplinary hearing, but then added since you could “sense” I wasn’t ready for that the repercussions of that, you would let me get a special permit to have a car on campus, and then said maybe I should seek professional help (a bribe if ever there was one to a scared freshman) – this also ranks as most reprehensible to me amidst this group. Side note to the Amherst College administration (and President Biddy), I know a lot has changed since then – I am so thankful for this and to the brave female students who prompted the change.
- to the guy at the UMass house party who for some reason couldn’t stop making advances despite my repeated declines, who knew I had no way to leave and nowhere to go, so I eventually found myself locking myself in a bathroom (see a coping trend?) terrified as you banged on it as I waited for you to go home or pass out – I mean yikes, I hope you haven’t truly physically hurt anyone else.
- to the UNH 55-ish year old photography professor who posted an unpaid summer internship at his house, who asked me to wear some bright red wool tights for photos (you liked my “strong legs”) in the morning and at the end of what ended up being my first and last day took us on a trip, having me drive his Jeep Cherokee, got us beers (I was underage), told me he liked my jean skirt (again noting those “strong legs”), and then became furious when a beer spilled on the lap book he was simultaneously editing on in the passenger seat while I was driving – I hope all your equipment was destroyed.
- to the married/dad photography editor/workshop leader who encouraged us to send him photo submissions, who when I asked for any advice on what images to submit, responded late night with a simple “the photo of your ass” – yah, that was not cool or professional.
My first draft had quite a bit of swear words throughout this section. In order to sound a bit more mature, I deleted them. Instead, I am just going to write one big: FCK. YOU. ALLLLLLLLLL!
Whew!! Ugh. Literally my hands are shaking now, my face is hot, and I’m fighting back tears per usual. So much of what I feel is frustration at myself. WHY haven’t I done anything about any of this?!
A strong belief I hold is that nothing in this world is black and white. While I hold these losers accountable for most of what happened, in each case I believe some of the blame must be placed on myself. For example, why didn’t I password protect my iMac and why was I wearing a jean skirt to an internship? I was never a reserved girl. I was provocative, a first child who enjoyed attention, an exhibitionist in many ways. Photography became my favorite medium at the age of 14, and I was way ahead of the game with creative/aware “selfies” (see above) which so clearly brought me trouble. I had bright blonde hair and 36e/G breasts and was chubbier than I am now. I also partied and drank too much. At the age of 20, a year after the emailed photo debacle occurred, I went in for a breast reduction. I told most that it was due to “impending back pain”. The truth was I couldn’t deal with either having to cover myself up in oversized clothing or suffer constant humiliation and treatment as a purely sexual object. The reduction helped tremendously with both. I can wear the clothes I want to in order to express myself and don’t receive stares and commentary like I used to. And, I’m still not the quiet type. I am a wife, a mom. A professional. An artist. But I don’t think I am quite the exhibitionist I once was, either. To actually make this post live terrifies me now, though I like to think that had I had social media and the internet back in the day, I may have written this back in college. That said, I also fear I may seem like I am resorting to the exhibitionist behavior I once engaged in.
The past few days I have asked myself to think through the repercussions of posting this. I wondered if I am looking for a particular outcome or response. The truth is, I don’t know what I want from this. While I feel empowered by the scores of women posting their own awful experiences, the action of writing this does not feel cathartic. I don’t know what kind of response I want or don’t want from readers, family, friends. What I do know is that EVERY, SINGLE, TIME I think about these incidents, I get furious at myself for not taking action when I was younger. Especially with the college incident. And I feel physically sick, dwelling in something more emotional than simple regret. To any young female who may read this and who is dealing with similar violations, I encourage you to be braver than I was and speak up!
So that is where I am. Another confused and pissed-off woman.
The only thing I do know as a result of all this is that there is a clarity with which I approach motherhood. As a mother of two boys, the only concrete goal/motto I consistently engage in is that I want to raise GOOD men. Ideally I would love for them to be happy, healthy, intellectual, creative, successful, curious, engaging, musical, blah blah/ as perfect as possible. None of those are my primary goals – nor musts. In fact, I don’t believe in perfection. I believe in balance. That said, they MUST BE GOOD PEOPLE. Respectful and loving. Which they are right now! As a witness to what my boys and so many seem to be at this age, I believe so much of grown male poor behavior stems from “nurture” – a mix of culture and parenthood – and for this reason, I know I must work hard to preserve their integrity. It is my job. It is something I can do to truly benefit this world. And I better not fail.
** Addendum : I have received so many kind, supportive comments in response to this piece and I realized I had not given thanks to the hundreds of thousands before me who were so brave to share their stories! Celebrities and public figures paved the way, and now the general public is voicing the problem in herds. I also want to thank the many news sources who have publicized the $metoo campaign and various stories of every day women. Keep it coming!!