Pondering "Me Too"
I am sitting in my office preparing for my classes this week. Tomorrow we will discuss excerpts from bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and John Duffy’s “The Good Writer: Virtue Ethics and the Teaching of Writing.” I read Duffy’s line that “virtue retains for some its troubling association with an exclusively Christian doctrine, with right-wing ideology and with the historical oppression of women.” My mind wanders a bit. My Facebook feed is saturated with “Me Toos”—women I know from all over the world are noting their despair in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, reaching out and telling everyone in their social media landscapes that they too have been victims. From stories of microagressions (if that is even an appropriate word here) to heartbreaking narratives of rape to the experiences that they still cannot put into words, women want the world to know that sexual harassment is constant and that no matter what our cultural narrative attempts to say, women are subtly and forcibly victimized every moment of every day.
Why haven’t I posted my “Me Too?” I certainly stand with these women, and I, beyond any shadow of a doubt, have experienced much of the same. From the old man at my church handing a teenage me a $20 bill folded in a note that asked if I would come to his house and sit in his lap to the time in my early twenties when a man pulled up beside me and masturbated (and the men I went to tell laughed at me). Me too. And these are just easy examples--low hanging fruit. I cannot recount the hundreds of unwanted touches, the professional experiences when male colleagues made statements that stunned me, or the experiences that are too painful to write. And this does not include the rape narratives and stories of sexual abuse I read every year from students who want to be heard.
Why haven’t I posted my “Me Too?” I go reread my Facebook feed. I realize that all of the “me toos” are posted by my academic friends. There is not a single “me too” from a single friend who is outside of academe. I know they have had similar experiences. I also realize that of my ridiculous number of “friends,” only a small handful (fewer than twenty if I had to guess) of them are under the age of forty. Where will my daughters see “me too?” Is Instagram lighting up with images and memes that say “me too?” Will my daughters come ask me about it? I don’t think so. Will this week include snaps from all over the country with women recounting their “me toos?” Snaps that will appear and just as quickly disappear? I don’t think so. Will Facebook offer a “me too” photo filter before the day is over? Most likely.
I wonder if I am guilty of giving up. I guess I find it hard to believe that a Facebook status update will give people “a sense of the magnitude” of sexual harassment. We live in a country that elected a man to our presidency who claimed his celebrity gives him the right to “grab them by the pussy.” A world in which many of our presidents, even those we continue to herald, were serial cheaters. A world in which women are quick to blame other women for their experiences with sexual harassment, assault, and rape.
There is power in collectively voicing our experiences. But there are also those who cannot participate in a viral smashing of the patriarchy. And, more importantly for me, there is the fact that my daughters and their friends (girls and boys) are highly unlikely to see these “me toos,” and if they do see them, they will not understand. Not yet.
Part of me feels a sense of pride and solidarity when I read these “me toos,” but I also feel a sense of loss and regret. I need to find a different version of “me too”—one that can reach my daughters and my students. This version is not enough.