I wanted to share my “me too” experiences as a sign of solidarity.
But when I sat down in front of my computer, I realized that I didn’t know where to start. As I thought about the last 25 years of my life, so many old memories flooded back into my brain that had essentially been buried back there indefinitely.
The countless, disturbing memories probably had their own special room in my mind — just laying there, unsolved, unacknowledged, and simply banished from further thought.
So where should I start?
Should I begin with how every single job I’ve ever had in varying occupations always came with the element of harassment or inappropriate behavior?
When I was a waitress at 22 (18 years ago) I was hit on several times a day, usually by older men. The act of me serving men coffee or food seemed to be an open invitation for them to comment on my body. These men had no qualms in telling me I had gained weight or that they preferred the top I was wearing the day before. They also felt no shame in asking me personal questions about my relationship status or if I had children.
Clearly, none of these topics are anyone’s business — even a paying customer.
For a certain kind of man, to eat in a restaurant, have me wait on him, pay for the food and leave me a big tip at the end seemed to be his ticket to comment, harass, or feel somehow entitled to any part of me. I know I’m not the only waitress who has experienced this. There’s probably a waitress experiencing it right now.
There were numerous times that I made latte’s for a male customer and was told to just stick my finger in it to make it sweeter. Who needed sugar when there was me?
What do you do? What do you do when you need that job desperately? What do you do when you know if you quit this job the next one will potentially bring the exact same kind of behavior with it?
At 20 I was raped by someone I had dated and broken up with. I didn’t think of it as rape because I had dated him previously. After it happened he then told me that he had contracted HIV and that I was going to get it. I thought I was going to die. I thought that my life was over.
Long story short, after weeks of waiting to get tested and then 4 more agonizing weeks of waiting for test results, I was okay. I’ll never know if he was telling the truth. The violent, vicious reaction I had set off in rejecting this man turned my life into a living nightmare. I never reported him. Yes, I should have. He probably did it to other young women. It’s one of my biggest regrets. It was mortifying and I almost never talk about it.
About a year later, one of my friend’s boyfriends cornered me in a hallway and offered me money to have sex with him. I thought it was a joke. When I scoffed at him and tried to get away, he pinned me against a wall. At that moment I heard one of my girlfriends come into the house calling for me. He instantly put his hand over my mouth so couldn’t yell for help. As my friend came closer to our location, he suddenly pulled out a knife and told me if I told anyone he would hurt me. He let me go and left. I never told my friend. I never told anyone.
Fast forward to the office job which I kept for over a decade. I was a great employee. I was hard-working, dependable, and organized. My job was in a male-dominated industry. I dealt with all kinds of men on a regular basis via phone, e-mail, and real-life interaction.
I would say a good handful of the men I interacted with were friendly, respectful, and totally professional. The rest were taking bets as to who would sleep with me first, rate how hot I was, or ask me personal questions such as when I was going to have babies or get married. On days when I suppose my belly pouch was a bit too “pouchy” men at work would be asking me if I was pregnant.
I could go on and on with this stuff. Yes, it should have been reported. No question. The bigger issue is why are so many women not reporting these experiences?
It’s because we’re scared, we’re shamed, we’re threatened, and we’re bullied. It’s because we want to keep that job or our life. It’s because we probably can’t believe that this experience just happened. It’s a stunned silence, a disbelief that this is how we’re still being treated.
It’s because it’s normal behavior for so many men.
Well, we need a new normal.
More from Michelle: What My Husband Taught Me About Domestic Violence