I hesitated to write this post because I’ve “only” experienced sexual harassment and not sexual assault. I felt guilty. Like I would be taking attention away from the more important problem of sexual assault. But I’ve realized that while assault is farther across the line, harassment is definitely on the same side of the line as assault — give an inch; they’ll try to take a mile. So while assault is very much not okay; I’m acknowledging that harassment is certainly also not okay.
I’ve also realized, as I’ve thought about this over the last few days, that the sexual harassment I’ve experienced has legitimately affected my self image, my behaviour, my clothing, my life habits, and my health. It was “simple” sexual harassment, but it had far-reaching effects. And that is very much not okay.
For much of my life, I have felt cursed with a “too feminine” body. Early on, I began to realize that my body shape seemed like an invitation to strangers — boys and men — to approach me. Literally just because of the shape of my 5’8″ teenage body. As I grew older, I became angry about my body shape. I felt that it was betraying me. The only thing I could think to do was dress it like a boy. I felt safer dressed more masculine. Dressed in baggier clothes, I felt hidden. I didn’t want to wear clothes that accentuated my shape (even modest ones!), because I felt that I’d draw unwanted attention! I stopped wearing skirts.
And now, after having two babies, as I’ve come to the place where I’ve more or less matured and generally healed from that fear and hurt, moving into a place of experienced indifference, I don’t have that body any more. And I feel the loss of having wasted so many years on those fears. Fears of men not being able to control themselves and approach me with lewd language and vile invitations. Fears of men placing their hands on my body when they have no right to. Fears of men becoming angry and violent when I politely reject their unwanted attention. I feel the loss of the time when I could have been enjoying being feminine, enjoying wearing skirts and dresses, enjoying being myself.
I have lived in fear of my own body and of men’s reaction to that body for far too long, and I’ve now realized that sexual harassment has been and is a “little more” than just irritating; it has affected my whole life.
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too,’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. #MeToo