I Didn’t Realize Sexual Harassment Was Part Of My Every Day Life—Until The #MeToo Movement

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When I was 23 I started working the early morning shift at a local news station. I was part of a skeleton staff full of a handful of reporters, writers, and producers who, to my inexperienced eyes, seemed to be the epitome of professional journalists. After a few weeks I met a seasoned reporter who started stopping by my desk on a regular basis in between newscasts. At first the conversations were mundane: the weather, the news of the day, last night’s baseball score. But then came the comments: Did I know maroon is a good color on me? Did I get a haircut? Busy news days would warrant passing jokes about the unusual spelling of my name or a pat on the shoulder as I worked.

My colleagues laughed it off, called the reporter a “nut job.” But I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want the attention. I was scared. I didn’t want to put myself in a dangerous situation. I was naive. I didn’t know how to handle it.

Notice how I said “I didn’t want to put myself in a dangerous situation.” As if it was my fault.

After reports of sexual harassment complaints about Harvey Weinstein were made public, women around the world shared their stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media. I woke up Monday morning to a Facebook newsfeed flooded with the “me too” rallying cry inspired by the #MeToo movement started years ago by activist Tarana Burke and made popular over the weekend by actor Alyssa Milano.

Every day more women are coming forward, sharing their stories: Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, America Ferrera, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, Molly Ringwald, Gabrielle Union, Debra Messing, Viola Davis,  Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney. The list is unbearably long.

#metoo

A post shared by America Ferrera (@americaferrera) on

I am lucky to have never been the victim of sexual assault. It’s not that I didn’t dress a certain way, or that I paid better attention to my surroundings, or that I didn’t drink too much, or that I responded firmly enough to unwanted advances. It’s not good fortune or preparedness. It’s good old fashioned luck.

I have, however, been the victim of sexual harassment. Every single day.

As a woman, there’s a fear that sits in the back of my mind. It’s the way my stomach drops when I hear an unfamiliar noise. It’s the buzzing in my ears when I hear someone walking too close behind me for three blocks. It’s my tight chest when I walk, quickly, alone at night. It’s the same feeling, even when I walk alone during the day. So many of my friends, work colleagues, fellow dancers have experienced similar fears, similar paranoia, while simply going about their days. 

Then there’s the shame. The self-doubt. Societal norms boring into my skull that I should have broken the eye contact sooner, I shouldn’t have laughed at the reporter’s joke, I shouldn’t have let him sit so close to me. It’s the fact that I have to make myself smaller, less visible, when I wear dresses to work. It’s the anxiety I feel when I’m walking to work and I see a group of men on the sidewalk up ahead sitting on a bench. The nausea I feel when they whistle and one of them says, “Hey sweetheart, pretty dress.” It’s the insane fact that I feel the need to smile, nod, respond in any way so that they don’t get upset. Because I’ve learned that if you don’t respond, they don’t stop.

Beyond all of this is the fact that, as I’m scrolling through these posts, appreciating these women for sharing their stories, my first instinct is not to post, to minimize my own experience as “not bad enough to count.” That simple instinct, to put myself down, to invalidate my own experiences, shows just how normalized sexual assault and harassment are in our society. 

 

 

Gillian Smith

Gillian is a videographer by day and a writer by night. A native of Boston, MA, she is a loyal Red Sox fan, company member of DanceWorks Boston, and lover of baked goods. She does not eat ketchup.

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