In a week, those two little words have gained immense meaning. Since The New York Times reported the serial sexual abuse perpetrated by film mogul Harvey Weinstein, women all over the world have taken to social media using the hashtag #MeToo to share their own stories of sexual assault, abuse or harassment.
It has been heartbreaking to read harrowing encounters that women from all walks of life have experienced, and I for one have been inspired by their courage.
I’m a passionate advocate for women’s rights, and for years I’ve fought against gender inequality. I’ve long discussed issues of harassment and assault in depth, and yet I always relied on statistics and other women’s stories to back up my arguments. I’ve never shared my own stories because I have been ashamed and afraid of what people would think.
And yet I do have a story – most women do, as we’ve found this week.
“I’ve never shared my own stories because I have been ashamed and afraid of what people would think. And yet I do have a story – most women do, as we’ve found this week”
I can’t bring myself to share #MeToo on social media as I’m scared of what will happen. So for now, I let the braver women of this world share their stories openly. And I make my stand, by writing mine anonymously, here.
When I was 12, I was on the London Underground and a man exposed himself to me, stood in a corner and masturbated staring straight at me. It was a quiet train and no one else noticed as I was the only one looking towards him. I got off at the next stop. I stayed silent and ashamed.
When I was 16, a boy who I had never met, told his school that I had performed oral sex on him. Everyone heard about it and people called me a slut. I had never even met him, but I felt that it was my fault. I stayed silent and ashamed.
When I was 18, a boyfriend – who I thought I loved – forced himself on me during an argument while I begged him to stop. I didn’t understand that it was rape because it wasn’t a stranger outside of my comfort zone. It was in my house. The next day he apologised and I quietly broke up with him, never admitting why to my friends. I stayed silent and ashamed.
When I was 20, I got locked out of my house for a night and stayed over at a colleague’s. I woke up halfway through the night with him touching me. I screamed and pushed him off but he yelled back, saying I had been begging for it. I worked with him for another three months and never told anyone. I stayed silent and ashamed.
When I was 25, I was out walking late one night and three drunk men grabbed me. They pulled my skirt and touched my breasts. Luckily, their drink slowed them down and before they were able to hold me down I ran away. It was dark. I shouldn’t have been walking that way. I stayed silent and ashamed.
Last night, on a main street, a man walked up to me and said “Hey baby.” It was dark and I silently sped up, keeping my head down. “Fucking bitch!”, he yelled as I ran away. I stayed silent, scared that he would do something worse.
These are a few snapshots of times in my life when I have felt ashamed to be a woman. For years I’ve been angry at myself for bringing these incidents on. So many incidents happening to one person, it must be something I’ve done.
This week has been triggering for me – it’s brought back memories that I have spent years trying to forget. But it’s also been liberating and hopeful. It has made me realise that the force of this movement around those two little words shows the sheer scale of the issue.
Now, more than ever, we need to bring a stop to it. To make it very clear that this is not acceptable. That as a woman you are not asking for anything, and deserve respect for being a human being.
I have to keep coming back to this when these memories swarm back to me. It is not my fault. I will not stay silent. I will not be ashamed.
I have been attacked but I will never be defeated.