You already knew what was happening, didn’t you? You — the men — you knew. There are too many stories, too many women, too many facts for you to possibly believe that this is all made up. Every year, you are the ones that require us — the victims — to resurface all these deeply buried stories and lay them out in the sunshine so that you can dismiss them, or find fault in them, or, worst of all, pretend not to see them at all. You didn’t need 500,000 tweets or 12 million Facebook posts shouting “me too” because you already knew.
It might not be every single woman, maybe not your girlfriend, or mother, or daughter. I believe the women who say they have never been assaulted, never had a pair of unwanted hands grasping at their bodies without their permission. I am not lucky enough to be one of them. But it was easy enough for me to look at the deluge of posts on my Facebook feed Monday morning, type five letters into the status bar, and click update. Me too.
Ever since actress Alyssa Milano used those words in an Instagram post on Sunday, the ranks of the Me Too Army have only grown. Originally launched almost a decade ago by the activist Tarana Burke in support of women of color who had suffered sexual abuse, the phrase has taken on a life of its own. Women not only posted “#MeToo,” they told stories about exactly when and where their bodily autonomy had been ignored, how they were made to feel about it, and what this movement meant to them. The day after Milano’s post, Molly Ringwald — another former child actress — wrote an article for the New Yorker detailing (among other things) how she was forced to wear a dog collar during an audition. Gymnast McKayla Maroney, who won an Olympic gold medal as a member of team America in 2012, joined a campaign against a USA Gymnastics team doctor alleging that he had molested her for years. Dozens of other celebrities added their voices to the chorus, including Reese Witherspoon, America Ferrera, Jennifer Lawrence, Gabrielle Union, and more and more and more.
I did OK for a few days. I read these stories. There are many Harveys, they all said. And boy, is that true. I wrote a story of my own. But women around me were collapsing. These stories are important and powerful and necessary, but they are also traumatizing.
Every time this happens, I remember something: a memory, dredged up to the surface. Reading TV critic Mo Ryan’s recounting of a TV executive who sexually assaulted her, I remembered it: a music publicist at a South by Southwest event, older than me, weighing my breasts in his hands like meat at a butcher counter, trying to force his hands between my legs. I was 21 years old, a college journalist. A crowd of men were there. No one said a word. The music industry, like Hollywood (and every other industry for that matter), has no shortage of these men. Even Taylor Swift, one of the most powerful women in music, had to deal with this. Over the past week, several of these assaulters have even been named publicly. For years, I thought this guy was just an asshole. So ingrained were my perceptions of sexual assault as rape and rape only that this didn’t even register as assault.
But as I sit, writing this, I am shaking. Someone is assaulted every 98 seconds in the United States. Fewer than half of all rape cases are ever reported. I am so angry that these things happen to women, and that so little happens to their assaulters. We have said “me too” so many times that it is hard to believe our voices mean anything anymore. “We are going to be vocal until this stops,” Milano said on Good Morning America. “What that enables us to do is say, ‘No more, no more. We’re not going to put up with this anymore.’ ”
But the thing is, we’ve done this before.
Two years ago, it was Bill Cosby. Then came Roger Ailes and his rotten core of Fox News cohorts. And then last year, almost a year ago to the day, America heard Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking about a woman who could not hear him:
“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
“Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Do you remember this? I do, because it reminded me of the boy in my middle school who did this to all the girls as a game. I do, because it dredged up memories of men at bars who never asked permission. I do, because so many women on my feed posted their stories in the aftermath. Me too, they said then. Me too. When the tape came out, the stories had a direction, a purpose: to keep him from getting elected. They didn’t work. So what on earth do we do now?
Of course, too often, when we talk about what “we” should do next, we are talking about the women who are the most affected. That “we” has to include you guys, the men. Or this is never, ever going to get any better.
I get it. For you to truly accept that women have been assaulted at the rate that they have means that you have to turn the camera on yourself. It is an awful and terrible thing to be forced to confront your past self. Can you honestly say that every single sexual experience you’ve had was consensual? Fully?
Maybe you can. But that discomfort — that feeling that maybe the system that needs to be dismantled is the one you built your masculinity upon — needs to be reckoned with. Sit with the uncomfortable fact that, in all statistical likelihood, at least one of your friends has sexually assaulted a woman at some point in his life. It’s horrifying. Now sit with the reality that you, a good guy who has never raped or assaulted anyone, have sat idly by while the men around you crossed lines in conversations. “Locker room talk,” our president called it. While they said awful things about women, you were silent. The thing that will always haunt me about the Access Hollywood tape is Billy Bush’s laugh. That he listened to Trump’s boasting of sexual assault and said absolutely nothing.
There are hundreds of actions you can take to support women. There is a whole hashtag campaign of men promising they will change. But there is the one thing that you have to do, because no one else can: You have to speak up, to stop being a coward when men say offensive things about women in all-male environments. In light of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, Quentin Tarantino spoke up yesterday. He was two decades too late, but at least he admitted it, telling the New York Times, “I knew enough to do more than I did.“
“Hey man, that’s not cool,” is three words longer than “me too,” but a hell of a lot easier to say. You have to start calling out the men in your lives when they cross those lines. We don’t hear them, but you do. You have to start shutting down those conversations even though it is uncomfortable and difficult and will make you feel like an outsider.
You have to start doing something because we, frankly, are doing enough.