I have struggled for months with whether I wanted to publicly join the #MeToo movement.
I’m ready now, and I want to share a story. It’s one that is not easy for me to share. I am fearful that I’ll be judged. I’m fearful that I’ll be pitied. I’m fearful that I’ll be told that it could have been worse and to stop complaining. But most importantly, I’m fearful of not speaking up. Of not having my voice heard. Of what would happen if someone needed to hear what I have to say, and I didn’t say anything. Because those same fears are exactly what I felt in the moment, and why I chose not to say anything. I know that I’m not alone – others have gone through the same and others have gone through far worse. This is just my story.
Years ago, I had a very difficult experience of sexual harassment from a person in a position of power. Things you should know: this did not happen while at my current organization, it is someone who is no longer in that position of power, and I have not been in contact with the person since – the details don’t really matter in my story, so I ask readers not to guess or ask – it’s my choice to leave it there.
It was an incredibly humiliating experience, and one that is hard to find words to explain. I was at an event and was one of the last people there, left behind with a man who decided to abuse the moment and his position, and went on to say some extremely inappropriate things – far beyond ‘hitting on me’. As things rapidly progressed, I tried to remove myself as quickly as I could – though in retrospect, it was not nearly as quickly as I would have liked to. It was too late, the emotional damage had been done. The next day, I received an apology email – he had too much to drink, he was sorry, please forgive me. And I said, it’s okay.
It was not okay. Obviously. But I was so caught off guard and did not know what else to say. I deleted the email, and never interacted with him again. I want to use this opportunity to share how helpless, ashamed, embarrassed, and stupid I felt. Should I have left the bar earlier? Should I have walked out at the first uncomfortable comment he said? Should I have forwarded his email to someone? I had no idea what to do. And as a strong, outspoken, values-driven person, coming to terms with this has been hard.
What has been even harder? Reminding myself that this matters, and that it did have an impact on me – I still think of it every so often, and still experience feelings of shame and embarrassment. Of course, it could have been worse. I was not sexually assaulted. I was not raped. For years, I told myself that it was okay because it didn’t go further than words. However, I know now that it does not negate the fact that it hurt me, and caused me to second guess myself, to feel stupid, to feel ashamed.
I am here to say that for me, while the situation may seem simple, my feelings and reaction were complicated. I’ve struggled with the fact that the #MeToo movement – as amazing and important as it is – hasn’t made me feel like I know exactly what to do when something happens to me or someone I know. How do those of us who are not celebrities or at huge corporations deal with it? For me, this is my first step. I want to share my story. Judge me all you want for the actions I took – or didn’t take – but if my story can help one person know that she’s not alone in a messy, complicated, embarrassing moment like this, then I’m okay with that.
I am here. I am ready and available to talk and support women (or men) who have been here. I am here to talk to anyone who is trying to understand why it’s so hard for women to come forward. Again – what happened is not okay, but I am okay. It’s hard to convey my feelings on this situation in a concise post, but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say – and if you don’t, you don’t. I may write more about this, I may not. All I know is that this experience, which was beyond ‘getting hit on’ or ‘being flirted with’ was horrible. I like to think that I would know what to do should it happen again, but I don’t know that for sure. And I hope to never know. But for now, I have decided to share this story, to open my door, to show that it is okay to feel confused, and helpless, and to not know what to do. I will continue to vocalize my support for the movement, and to support other women who have been through similar experiences. This is my story, and I am here. Thank you, for listening.