All week I’ve been asking myself, why haven’t I said #metoo? Why has seeing so many tweets and Facebook posts and Instagram captions full of stories of others’ pain made me feel sick instead of loud?
Why am I so fucking quiet?
It took a dose of Roxane Gay to help me figure it out. As she puts it in her searing op-ed for the Times, I am also too tired. I’ve done this jig many times in my personal life. I’ve written about it here. And I don’t want to keep having this conversation. I cannot keep telling everyone my stories. I don’t owe it to anyone.
I don’t want (to borrow another’s phrase) to keep performing my pain for others.
Let me tell you how tired.
A week ago, someone grabbed me at a concert. He avoided eye contact as he pushed past me, then clamped his hand on my ass as he walked away. Startled, I told my husband, “Don’t freak out. Please! I don’t want to miss the show.”
Yeah, I said that.
It wasn’t until the next day, while chatting with a colleague, that I reflected on how truly bizarre my reaction was. Especially coming from me, often first in line to speak up. But those are the tiny decisions so many of us make every day: Must I exit a public space every time a man finds a reason to make me uncomfortable? Must I question my choices in clothes, behavior, opinion? Must I wonder if maybe he meant to just pat some other body part? (Is that OK?!) Must I ask myself if the psycho who followed me to the gym the other day and then banged on the window when I ran inside was “just” crazy and not really after me specifically? Must I say things to myself like, “There are so many beautiful 20-somethings here, it can’t be that, it can’t be me”? Must I wonder: Maybe it was a compliment?
No. Thank. You. I already cross the street when I see or sense a man coming toward me, look over my shoulder, use store mirrors to track weirdos, wear headphones with no music while walking alone, carry my keys splayed out while walking through parking lots alone…you get the picture. I went to therapy. I did “homework.” I told everyone, over and over, about my life. My private life. Fuck if I am leaving concerts now too. And fuck if I am defending why I didn’t.
I don’t want to have to tell my stories over and over just to prove to people that rape jokes aren’t funny or that women’s experiences are fundamentally unequal or that pain and fear are features of our lives no matter how much we are paid or how far we advance or how awesome our husbands are or how great our male colleagues are. (On both counts, I’m lucky. I mean that word in its literal sense.)
And that, I suppose, is what got to me about #metoo. Why is the onus on us to keep talking? Why must I share my painful stories in public? What is the expected result of all this discussion?
To all people who’ve been harmed in this way and in so many other unbearable ways: No, it is not your job to remind everyone that you too are human. It is not just on you. (And frankly, this extends to just about every social ill. You don’t need to prove you’re victimized “enough” to merit a response.)
I’m not suggesting there’s no power in talking, or in awareness; there is big, bad power in bearing witness. We need it. But at some point, we also need to say hey — I’m tired of this shit. Aren’t you?
Back to Roxane. She put into words what I could not.
“…And then there are the men who act so overwhelmed, who ask, ‘What can I possibly do?’
The answer is simple.
Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say ‘me too’ while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small…It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it. It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.”