#Metoo? Was it really “Something”?

#Metoo? Was it really “Something”?

 

As the protective veil that shrouded Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds fell before his and the world’s eyes, and women from pole to pole began to post their #metoo experiences I was roused to post #metoo on my Facebook wall.

A collective of female voices surged into a crescendo as women put their experiences of sexual harassment and assault into words: unveiling events that had often remained part of their inner world alone.

After hitting the post button I was promptly greeted by a couple of supportive messages. And with an instantaneous bang: a potent dose of shame and self-doubt flooded my mind. Perhaps these people thought I’d been violated in a major way. Raped aggressively. Forced to perform sexual acts unwillingly. My experiences weren’t in the pressured confines of a workplace. They were minor in the scheme of things.

Had I legitimately been harassed or assaulted? Perhaps I was misleading others by raising my hand and declaring #metoo? Making something out of nothing.

Clementine Ford, a woman who writes with tireless and unflinching frankness about the inequalities women face despite copping death threats for doing so, admitted to being plagued by self-doubt before posting her own #metoo experience. That says something.

Those instances we dismiss as nothing. They’re something. Can we slice the spectrum of sexual assault and harassment in two? Minor encounters up one end divorced from major sexual violence down the other?

Growing up I observed that women reluctantly put up with unwanted male attention that wasn’t overtly serious: dirty jokes, innuendo and sleazy arms around the shoulder or pats on the bum. This reluctant acceptance operated on the assumption men were just like that: governed by their sexual urges which often lead them to do and say inappropriate things to women.

A publication by the Australian Institute of Family Studies  asserts that “the normalization and acceptance of more minor forms of sexual violence contributes towards a broader culture that facilitates and excuses the occurrence of more ‘severe’ forms of sexual violence, such as sexual assault and rape.”

Tom Meagher said it best in his poignant essay The Danger Of The Monster Myth following the rape and murder of his wife Jill Meagher in 2012 when he speaks of “the terrifying concept that violent men are socialized by the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that permeates everything from our daily interactions all the way up to our highest institutions.”

I can’t help but wonder what woman hasn’t encountered the ingrained sexism and entrenched masculinity that Tom Meagher speaks of. Perusing definitions of sexual harassment the standout phrase is unwelcome. I wondered about raising my hand as I reflected on my experiences: certainly having my breasts and crotch groped at concerts as a young teenager was unwelcome. As have been years of catcalling, ogling and being verbally hassled on the street when walking to my car at night. Very unwelcome. And at times unnerving.

When I was nineteen I was training as a competitive swimmer with an elite squad that included a handful of Olympians. I did gym work with a strength and conditioning coach and two of the squad’s best male swimmers, who were also Australia’s best at the time. The coach was part of their entourage and they’d invested time and faith in his ability to help them qualify for the Sydney Olympics.

The strength coach was also a trained massage therapist and would treat our overburdened muscles with soft tissue work. During one particular session at a health clinic he pushed deep into my breasts iterating the importance of releasing my pectoral muscles. It was awkward, uncomfortable, unpleasant and unwelcome.

I doubted the reality of my experience, decided it was nothing and didn’t speak of this incident until one day, months later the Health clinic manager phoned me to ask if said coach had ever touched me in a way that I felt was inappropriate during a massage. Someone else had complained. My experience was validated. “Yes” I said, “me too”. It was something.

Earlier this year I participated in a course to learn a new pain treatment technique with fellow physiotherapists and other health professionals. The man who developed the treatment introduced himself as a man who loved women and sex and made no apologies for that as he laughed raucously. As the thirty something of us took turns introducing ourselves he singled me out and asserted that I’d be so happy by the end of this course I’d be pole dancing for him and gave a lively demonstration.

As the course unfolded I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable with comments that he dressed up as humour as he continued to objectify me. During one treatment demonstration I was the test patient. He enthused “That’s it- pull those pants down a little lower and let’s see that nice ass” before tapping me on the bum in front of the class laughing hysterically.

On the second morning we were told that the course venue (an RSL conference room) had changed. The previous night a bartender made a complaint against the man as he asked her to sit on his lap. His attention was unwelcome. Now we were unwelcome at the venue.

At the course’s end I walked up to him and told him that his comments made me feel uncomfortable. He apologized, said he meant no offence, laughed that “Aussies” don’t understand his humour and hugged me. Not the best choice of action on his part: it was super uncomfortable.

I truly don’t believe this man woke up in the morning with the intention of making women feel degraded. But the point is that he did. Myself, the bartender and I’d bet a few more.

All of these instances were something. They were unwelcome, unwanted and inadmissible. I reckon that’s worth putting up my hand and saying “me too”.

 

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