Me Too

He gave me a ride home from a party. He was older. Maybe eight or nine years older. He was a friend of the guys my friends and I were hanging out with that night. Pot-head frat types who played great music and had a big room for dancing in. In our first year of college, my nerdy writer friends and I quickly figured out that going to a few of the less mainstream frat houses was a cheap, jolly way to have fun on a Friday night. At this particular place, we felt comfortable. The guys were not grabby or patronizing. We could hang and dance. We felt safe. They were chill, ya know? And we were innocent. Naïve. Very, very smart, but… not really that smart.

Forty years later and I am still friends with one of those guys, someone I dated for a while, thought I was in love with, maybe even was. But I never told him this thing that I’m now going to post publicly on my blog. I never told anyone until the day in marriage therapy when it bubbled up. I said the words out loud for the first time and my then-husband looked at me, incredulous. Twenty-five years together and I had managed to avoid mentioning that I’d been raped. By a trusted semi-stranger in my own apartment at eighteen, a week into my third semester at UVA.

I spent most of my life telling myself a version of the story in which somehow it was “my first sex” and an inevitable, even normal way to “lose my virginity.”

Normalizing sexual harm, male aggression, female powerlessness—yes. I did that. I participated in the massive cover-up that is our male-privilege normative society. I did not want to admit I’d not had power in that moment. I wanted to believe I chose those offensive eight minutes, because what would it mean if I had not? So, feminist that I am, I did not say the word rape to myself, let alone anyone else, for decades. Years of therapy in which I dealt with a lot of crazy shit did not excavate that little artifact of experience from my subconscious. So what finally did?

Don’t know, really.

Fast forward to 2017. The grossest kind of misogynist is in the White House. The entire government seems hell bent on disempowering, disenfranchising, and just plain dissing women and anyone else they don’t want to give up their white male privilege to. And yet none of us who sees what’s going on seems willing to go gentle into that horrific night.

And now, this month, October 2017. A worldwide movement of saying, “Me too.” Me fucking too, ya bastids. It is a huge problem, okay? And you can’t shove all nine zillion of us under a rug.

Many are embracing “me too.” Some question it. Some think it does not do enough to create change or real dialogue. Others ask, “Why is it always on women to tell the hard truths?”

As for me, I don’t even want to analyze it or question it. Instead I’ll simply wholeheartedly applaud the countless women who are saying, not just to their sisters and friends, but to everyone who cares to read their status on Facebook, their blog, or their Tweet: ME FUCKING TOO.

Are people surprised? I don’t know anyone personally who is shocked that women are routinely, daily brutalized in small and huge ways. If people are surprised, I simply don’t want to know that. I would be too angry. Seriously. Enraged at the stubborn obliviousness people hide in, like a closet of privilege that protects them from uncomfortable truths. Because think about all the times that (let’s face it pretty much every) woman has been catcalled or assaulted. Shoved into a corner with a leer and a wink. Groped in the empty hallway and then silenced by shame, threats, or feigned innocence (“Honey I didn’t mean anything by that!”). Blamed by society for her experiences of harassment or sexual violence because of her clothes/attitude/choices. Propositioned by employers or superiors, or just treated like shit for being smart, sexual, ambitious, tough, emotional, or badass. And raped. Violently or quietly or multiply or repeatedly. By the stranger, the trusted friend, the uncle, the boss, the neighbor, the husband, the priest, the therapist, the teacher, the guy who is just pissed off because she did not acknowledge his right to possess her.

And these are not “bad experiences.” These are not “experiences” at all. Experience is when you go outside and there’s a rainbow. Or when you spend the day in the museum. Or you have an afternoon of glorious sex with the windows open. Or jump in the car for an impromptu road trip. Those are experiences. We participate in them. They occur. They can be sought or they can be serendipitous. But no one is perpetrating them.

Assault, sexual intimidation, rape—these are not things that “happen”—they are done by men to women against their will.

So given the reality of “me too”—what about the men? For every me too there is a man who took action. To grope, grab, hold down, threaten, penetrate, bribe, intimidate, belittle a woman. To order her to get on her knees, or fetch him a beer, or smile, or shut up and enjoy it, or just plain shut up.

What about the men who know about it, see it, hear it? How dare men be surprised or “taken aback” by this long-overdue public awareness announcement from all those women on their social media feeds. Where have they been?

I don’t remember much about that semester, after that “ride home.” (“Your friends want to stay. I can give you a ride home if you want.” “Really? That would be great.”)  I remember spending Thanksgiving at a friends’ house in Philadelphia. I remember nothing about Christmas. I know I was not completely in my body. That feeling of not “being yourself?”—that’s when part of you leaves and the rest of you feels incomplete. School—always my happy place—had lost its luster. I did not want to go to class. I did, of course, being always more than adequately “good” at doing what needed to be done. But, you know. The thrill? It was gone.

I left school that second semester of sophomore year. I went to visit my dad for a couple weeks. Returned to Charlottesville. Got a job. Went back to school. And, not sure how, but I gradually regained my optimism, my desire to go outside and see a rainbow.

These experiences take a toll on women. Women survive and “move on” because they have to. These women—so so many women—may, briefly or for decades, have their inner knowing knocked out of them when men steal their power and rob them of…so much. Women may be set back—literally—and need to catch up yet again, to prove that “WE TOO” will persist and all the shit you do to us won’t keep us down.

But it’s hard. It’s exhausting. And it is absurd—a folly, a civil wrong—that it is still on us to fix this mess not of our making. Men? Grow the hell up and stand up for your sisters literally EVERY TIME. In the board room, the classroom, the bedroom, everywhere. If you are not one of the perpetrators, prevent those who are from getting away with it and joking about it later. If you are one of those dudes—if you rape or insult or beat or catcall or belittle or grab or assume—STOP. Just stop now and live with honor for the rest of your days.

And as for me, the rape on the hallway floor of my apartment was one of several catalysts in my youth that prompted a lifetime of self-reflection and an insistence on growth and forward movement. A refusal to accept any status quo. A refusal to stay hidden.


17 thoughts on “Me Too

  1. Wow, Vanessa, wow! An amazing piece of writing. You have always impressed me with your ability to move beyond the shit in your life, and I’m sorry this has been part of it.

  2. I loved this I want to share it with all my friends and family . I have always admired your eloquent style of speech and writing and this just reminds me of it . Thank you for sharing. The only sadness I have is how many times I have heard a similiar story. Why must aggression be a part of any sexual experience. Where has our society forgotten to teach our boys that’s not necessary.

    • Renee, Thank you. I’d be honored if you would share this widely. I feel that anything that connects women to one another is a good thing. And I feel that acts of sexual aggression of any kind are less about sex and more about power. It is always the way, right? I’m grateful that you read and commented. Much love….

  3. I had to read that in installments, not because I am horrified that you went through that (which I am), but because your herculean strength and light shine through so powerfully that I needed to take it in slowly. So honored to have landed in your orbit.

  4. I am so sorry. Sometimes I wonder if we are supposed to find that person and tell them how it affected us. What are your thoughts on that? Did you ever see him again? Did anyone notice the change in you? We never see it coming. I know.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I am not sure I think it is necessary to find that person. Of course, many cannot. I don’t remember his name. I suppose I could find out, maybe…. But have no need to. I am SO FINE and better than. Yes, it sets us back, knocks us down, but we DO RISE and, if we are lucky, can refuse to let that person have any power over us. I know every experience is different. I think some women might really benefit from that particular kind of closure, but as I said I don’t think it is universally required for “proper healing.” Keeping it buried is of course the most dangerous of all….

      I am not sure how many people saw the changes in me. I did, of course.

      Hope you are well…. V.

  5. Commenting again before I’ve read the thing. Like millions of women, nothing had ever touched me like the me too movement (I started to say “nothing has” but Parkland’s #NeverAgain movement has grabbed me by the short hairs. I’m a mother.) But I have a confession to make, and you’re the only one to whom I’ve made it. I haven’t read one story. I haven’t told mine. I’m a screaming supporter, re-tweeting every #metoo post I come across, but… I am afraid I will never climb back out of it if I start. My coping mechanism is walking away. It’s always been. You can guess I don’t sleep well, because it’s impossible to always walk away from what’s in your head, but it’s my number one go-to. I have spoken my story before, when I was younger, but it’s been years and years (yonks, my mind supplies). I walk away from relationships, from memories. I’ve forgotten vast swaths of my past, even the stuff I want to remember. Really forgotten. Locked the door and lost the key (although the ghostly afterimages are surely what prevent sleep without OTC assistance). I feel a desperate guilt every time I don’t read someone’s #metoo, and my mind screams they would understand why and I know they would, but I fight the urge, the need to climb down into the pit with them. To shovel out the shit and expose it, to play my part in hearing them, to add my own stories to their chorus. I fight because it’s so hard to close the door again, and I rely so heavily on those doors.

    When I read the title of this post, I knew my fight was over. Yours will be the first #metoo story I’ll read, and I am quite literally honored to be the listener to yours. I’m typing through a tear-filled breakdown because I need to tell you that I am offended to my core that someone forced you to own this story, and I hope (what a small word) that telling it felt like victory. It didn’t. I know. But how I wish it had.

    • I hear all that you have said. I am fearful of having retraumatized you with this #metoo blog of mine but I am honored that you chose to read it. Mine is not the most egregious story to tell, but it is mine. Can you tell me… what happened? Did it speak to you? Are you okay?

      Forgetting is the price of self- preservation and it has always bothered me so much. The things I’ve forgotten would fill seventeen volumes. I wrote a blog about forgetting once. If you’re interested:

  6. I can tell you. Today. LOL Yesterday, not so much. I cried through all of the rest of yesterday. It is somehow easier to allow yourself to grieve, allow your heart to break, for someone else’s pain. Knowing that it didn’t break you (and recognizing that mine didn’t break me), and admiring the beautiful creature that you are (and please know, I follow a lot of blogs – by which I mean that I’ve saved their url and I visit them occasionally – but no online acquaintance has ever touched me so immediately and consistently. No one else’s words have ever resonated and I mean that like it’s supposed to be meant, a tuning fork, a rung bell, two voices singing the same note and the sound builds and builds until the world is vibrating with it. I recognize you from somewhere inside me. I don’t talk to the other blog writers, other than an occasional note of praise on a well-written post…and yes, if I look at it too long, I go away because If I was you I’d think I was crazy, and I really don’t want you to think that. OMG I am obviously secretly addicted to parentheses.) gives me permission somehow to admire the fact that I made it. To be a little proud. Whew. I didn’t think those words until I typed them. Why wouldn’t I be, for Pete’s sake? How offensive. That someone subverted my right to be proud of my strength. Damn. I tried to write that sentence differently and still couldn’t. No fair.

    God bless.

    When I was eight years old, my 14 year old cousin molested me over a two-week period. He only put his dick inside me once, in my ass, and I screamed so loudly that he removed it immediately, and from then on would simply have me squeeze my legs around is dick until he ejaculated. When I was twelve, at the end of an 8-week vacation to visit family in Arizona, I told my mom and my step-dad that I wanted to stay in Arizona for the last two weeks of summer, and that I would ride with my birth father in his tractor-trailer back to Ohio where we lived. My father had convinced me that it was my right to ask for such a thing. We were somewhere in Alabama when he raped me. Earlier in the day he had bought me a bottle of wine and a pretty watch. I’ve only this second wondered if that’s why I don’t wear watches. Probably not. I like the occasional glass of wine. Although, he had stowed the wine under his seat and it exploded in the heat, so I never drank it, so… It was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink. My cousin (the same 14 year old, now 18) had been married at the beginning of this vacation, a huge wedding, and they had bottles of Tickle Pink at the champagne table, and the kids had been allowed a tiny sip and it was good, and when I saw it at the store that day in Alabama and told my Father that I liked it, he bought it for me and I remember thinking that’s why my mom divorced you, you’re not a good parent, you’re not supposed to buy wine for your 12 year old daughter, but it exploded and I didn’t have to drink it, and somehow he made me feel guilty that I hadn’t drank the whole bottle before it exploded. I loved that watch for the rest of the day, and after that night I thought it looked like an accusation, like something I had to hide. I don’t remember when I lost it. I’m just glad it’s gone.

    I remember your blog about forgetting. That’s when the bell-ringing started. I wanted to be a writer when I was young, and you write beautifully, so I already was drawn to you, but the forgetting…you are the only other person who forgot as good as I did.

    I need a drink. Or a nap. I think I’m going to take a walk and clear my head. No drinking at 10 a.m. That sounds lush-y. I rarely drink. Holy shit. I’m sorry. I can’t pull it together yet. I am okay. You asked, thank you for asking. I’m okay, I swear. I’m better than. I’m just, LOL, more info than you want, my period tracker says today is the day I start, and PMS puts tears on a hair trigger, and makes emotion a little more immediate, so part of it is hormonal which I hate the connotations of but let’s face it, hormones are real and whatever, I’m making excuses now. I promise I’m okay. Tons of typos because my fingers are stupid right now. Obviously I’m still typing to try and avoid posting this god damned comment, and forget that shit. Posting now.

  7. I forgot the most important part. Yes, dear, dear lady. It touched me. It spoke to me, with all the words you did and didn’t write, with all the things you did and didn’t remember. It gave me permission, and I know I didn’t need it but somehow I did. Thank you is absurd when it’s meant so deeply. When the gratitude is everything, thank you means nothing. I am so grateful. Even though my mind runs from the idea that I should be proud, I’m chasing it down.

  8. That’s not the whole of it, of course. That’s not the manager at the restaurant I worked at when I was 23…who I was friends with when he was a cook, but when he was promoted to manager he would allow me leave thirty minutes early so I could pick up my daughter from after-school care on time and avoid the fees that I couldn’t afford, as long as I went into the bathroom with him and let him suck on my nipples for about a minute each time. He would unzip his pants and put his hand inside them, and I never saw if he ejaculated. And he wasn’t my friend anymore. I know there are more. I don’t remember them all. Those are the ones I remember without trying. I have never told anyone that. I told about my cousin and my father, a lifetime ago to the therapist my mom sent me to as a teenager…she sent me because I told her about my father when she threatened to send my little sister to live with him because she was doing/saying/behaving whatever it is teenagers do to enrage their parents. But I’ve never spoken about the manager. The other two, I was so young, It was embarrassing and I kept it hidden and maybe I was just too young to name the emotion, but this…oh my god the shame associated with this memory. My mind refuses to remember his name. I think I could, if I tried. I keep shying away. I don’t want to know it. He wore a ballcap that said Tex when he was cook, he said that was his nickname, but we never called him that.

  9. How stupid is that, that one minute of sucking on someone’s nipples is worth a friendship? I’m so tired of I don’t even know what. So tired of it. Realistically, the friendship was likely one-sided and the other side was more what-can-I-get-out-of-this. We must figure out how to give young women the support net they need, so they never feel like this horrific offer is their only choice. (Why do we have to call it a support net, when it ought to be what we mean by civilization???)

  10. My dear girl, you are proof that a person’s story is not that person. Your experiences, forgetting or no, are terrible and should never happen to anyone. Your resilience and courage are heroic. I am humbled that you shared so much, so openly with me. Thank you for writing, for reading, and for being on your journey so beautifully.

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