When I was seventeen, I worked as a hostess in a local restaurant. At the end of each night I often found myself leaving work alone after hours. I walked to my car, inconveniently parked in the back of the dimly lit lot next to a line of trees. Employees always parked in the back to make room for paying customers near the entrance. But every night on the dark walk, I clutched my keys between my knuckles, scared, but prepared, for something or someone to be waiting for me.
I wasn’t the only woman walking the dark path to the back spots; we complained about it repeatedly. Once, during a staff meeting, I asked my boss to consider more lighting in the parking lot. Rather than create a safe space for female employees, he suggested I ask a male co- worker to walk me to my car at the end of my shift. He genuinely believed this would alleviate the problem. Even at seventeen years old, I wasn’t convinced. Could I trust my male co-workers? Should I take my boss’s advice and invite them into an already dark and potentially dangerous situation?
A year after I quit my job hostessing, I flicked on the evening news and saw a former co-worker handcuffed, shuffling across the screen. Scratch marks trailed down his face and police officers surrounded him. While working in his parents’ clothing store, he cornered a woman who was shopping in the store with her child. He attempted to sexually assault her, and when she fought back, he strangled her and her eighteen-month-old daughter in the dressing room.
A male co-worker capable of assault and murder is an uncommon experience, but it’s a common fear among women. My employer didn’t regularly face the fear of assault on the walk to his car at midnight. He didn’t worry about what lurked in the shadows. When I said I felt unsafe, I wanted him to take action. I wanted him to believe me.
When the news of Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual assault broke, women all over the world added their voices to the resulting #MeToo movement. Stories with endings far worse than mine rose to the surface.
After scrolling through Facebook and finding almost every woman I know virtually nodding their heads in agreement with #MeToo, I decided not to post anything myself. What effect would one more voice have on an international outcry? Experiencing sexual harassment and/or assault as a woman is a given. We’ve all experienced it in one form or another, and I’d be flabbergasted to discover otherwise.
After seeing the surprised and sad responses of my male friends online, I changed my mind. I added my own #MeToo because a single voice in the face of male incredulity does matter.
I have lived a curiously female-centric life as a wife and mother in a traditional Christian environment, and I’ve had far fewer experiences with fear and harassment than most women I know. Yet still, “me too” is a part of my lexicon. As I rewind the film strip of my life, time and time again, memories of fear for my personal safety confront me. Fear that the boys following me around the mall would find a way to corner me. Fear that the long walk to my car in a dimly lit lot after an evening shift would result in a final ending. Fear that the grown man who called teenaged me at work and asked for a pair of my panties would surprise me in the parking lot after my shift and insist on collecting them.
Have I been harassed? Yes. Has my body been fodder for male chatter? Yes. Do I fear for my safety? Yes. Are men surprised by this? Continually.
I once had a conversation with my husband, in which I told him I think about being assaulted every time I step outside our front door to go running.
“What? Every time? I think that’s just you,” he said.
“It’s me and every other woman you know,” I replied.
Expressions of sadness, surprise, and disbelief from my male friends slipped in between the stories my friends and I recounted online. Men simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the sheer volume of women raising their hands with #MeToo stories.
A few men told me they were sorry for my experiences. One friend offered a blanket apology for his entire gender. A few more said how sad they felt. The gender divide surprised me. As a woman, male sadness is poor comfort. What do we owe each other as a sea of #MetToos swallow our society? Women owe men the truth. Men owe us the gift of seeing and believing.
Cover image by Lydia Abigail.
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