Me Too

This is a post about secrets.

It’s a post about the need to expose those dark little secrets to the light of day so that we can begin to heal. Yes, those: the ones we’d rather ignore.

It’s also a post about standing up and being counted so that your simple presence can help others to also stand up and be counted. And sometimes standing up means sharing those very secrets.

Today’s post was formed from the “ME TOO” theme running now across Facebook (and perhaps elsewhere? I’m not as active elsewhere) in the wake of the harvey weinstein accusations. (lower case is intentional).

Someone, bless her heart, had the idea to let the light shine in on just how pervasive a problem sexual predation  is.  Every morning, my Facebook feed is filled with a dozen or so posts declaring “Me too.”  I imagine you’ve seen them as well. Occasionally, the women tell a bit of their story; usually, they just stand tall and say “Me too.”

 


ME TOO:

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.

Please copy/paste.

 


[I’m pleased to add a link to the Ebony article describing how this ME TOO began. ]

Following a quick inventory of my many bosses — two women and five men — my initial reaction was, “that’s not me.” Closer to home, my first husband continues to be a gentleman to his core, and my current husband is as much a feminist as I am.

No, I thought. I can’t join the Facebook “me too” throng, much as I’d like to.  I don’t qualify. 

Then . . .

This “me too” theme reminded me that when I was very young “little Me Too” was my nickname.

And that memory led me to another I’d not thought of for decades. I did qualify! I understand one in five of us women qualify.  ONE IN FIVE.

“Secrets make us sick,” the familiar 12-Step mantra declares. And I believe it.

I’m not talking about sharing what’s private and no one else’s business. I’m talking about an event, a moment that you live in dread will be discovered; one that for too long you’ve felt responsible for. You’ve ignored it, pushed it away, or denied it ever happened. Or you’ve decided it’s “not that important.” And in a dark little corner of your soul, it festers and grows.

I know the power of such secrets. I wrote about one in the backstory of my memoir (At Home on the Kazakh Steppe). But there’s a second one, and it’s pertinent here. I’ve spoken about it before, but always in confidentiality-based self-help groups, closed therapy groups, or other equally secure settings. And in the twenty years or more since then, I’ve never written about it.

Nevertheless, I still feel that tinge of embarrassment — as though I did something wrong — in sharing it.  I wonder, if I let this secret out, how many people will think differently of me? And how differently?

These are old reactions. I know now that I can talk to myself differently. I know I did nothing wrong. And I know also that the people who matter to me will not change how they think of me simply because of what this troubled man assumed he could do. And did.

Even with that, I told myself I didn’t need to share this story: it wasn’t bad enough; it was too personal; too long ago; too weird. How easy it was to minimize it once again.

Kathy Pooler’s Memoir Writer’s Journey landed in my inbox Monday morning and her guest was author Janet Lombardi (Bankruptcy: A Love Story) writing about the importance of vulnerability in writing.  In “As Writers We are Daredevils,” Lombardi says that “risk and vulnerability are worthy companions in the pursuit of good writing.”

It was just the push I needed. And, since I’ve long believed that it’s through vulnerability that we humans truly connect, I realized mine was a story I was ready to put out into the larger universe. I would write about it and I’d share it on my public blog.  I’d even hope others would share it too, if they thought it might help someone else come out of their closet of shame.

So, once again, I’m jumping in.

 

Micah jumping off the high dive. Photo by Heather Hoadley, with permission.

Let’s go back to that era when my nickname was “little Me Too.”

I was two and a half when I went to live with my grandmother’s younger brother and his “normal” (i.e., nuclear) family (husband, wife, two kids; they even had a dog) in the suburbs of Springfield, Massachusetts. I stayed with them until just before I turned five, when I came back home to New Jersey.

By the time I was eight or eleven — I’m no longer sure when this ended — this “secret” I’m about to reveal, had become a familiar part of the welcome ritual when visiting this uncle and his family. I had not only come to expect my uncle’s mode of welcome (though I do recall feeling uncomfortable) I had come to accept it as “the way he was” and there was nothing, I believed, I could do but wait for it to pass. Sound familiar?

What did he do, you ask? 

It had begun when I lived with him, so by the time we were visiting, this was all “old hat.” Rather than saying, “Hello” or “Welcome,” he’d pull me close (in my memory he was always sitting), put his large, puffy hand inside my panties, squeeze my buttocks, and declare, “How are my two loaves of bread?” Back then, my response always included a smile: unhappiness was simply not allowed. I assumed my discomfort was my own doing; I needed to be happier.  It gives me the creeps writing this, even now.

It’s tempting to deflect the reality of what happened; it’s always more fun to laugh.Two loaves of bread? Really? Brioche? Sourdough? Wonder? But I can’t laugh, not yet. Not really. Enough therapy over the years has taught me how I had minimized it, discounted it — and in doing so, minimized and discounted me, too.

I believe he had no idea he was being perverse.

I believe he had no clue that what he saw as a simple, friendly welcome would set me on a path where I was unable to decipher appropriate behavior from inappropriate; unable to own my reality as separate from other’s; unable to trust my instincts.

And, from where I now sit, I believe it doesn’t matter what he believed.

When someone in power over you forces — whether through overt behavior or innuendo — on you a level of physical or emotional intimacy that you are unprepared for, unwilling to engage in, or simply uninterested in, it is abuse, it is perversion, it is arrogance and it must be called out.

I couldn’t do that when I was two, four, eight, or eleven.  But I could call him out when I was in my forties; and I can again today, knowing that by simply telling the story, I take a step toward bringing us all to a place where we will laugh at the utter absurdity of what these perpetrators assume.  I look forward to that time.

Until then, I add my voice to those countless others and say simply, “me too.”

 

I’ll also enjoy — temporarily — the anger that has risen to the surface as a result of revisiting this; I deserve it.

 

Next week: I’d like to talk about what Emma Thompson referred to as a “crisis in masculinity” running rampant in our culture.  I’ll bring the video.

21 Responses

  1. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    I am not sure I like this “Me Too”. I agree it is good, absolutely, but although I can remember many times when I didn’t say anthing I actually just woke up from a dream about a time I forgot. The sad thing is this was well documented as the instigator involved many people and then people came from both the Pentagon and Offut AFB to talk to first term females (they were going to many bases since females doing male jobs was new) and for some reason my commander sent me. That was a mistake because I ended up telling my story and a huge investigation was opened and ended in an article 15 for my immediate boss. I didn’t have anything to lose back then. But later in my career and with several stripes on my arm there was a rape that I didn’t do anything about as I had seen several cases where the girl (victim) ended up thrown out of the military. Of course men in power think they are invincible. I had a Lt working for me just 5 yrs ago who was raped in Iraq, didn’t get justice, and finally got out. Within a year of getting out she killed herself—I was devaststed and have tears in my eyes right now. I love my hisband but at this moment I am hating men!!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It’s a very uncomfortable time, isn’t it Susan. It’s never easy and certainly not intuitive to embrace those demons that plague us. But as I write this, I came to envision that light at the end of the tunnel as a time when we might actually laugh — the ultimate payback. Your story is gripping and I am grateful you shared it here. Thank you.

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Janet. I feel bad for the little me, too. I don’t believe your uncle could think putting his hand inside your panties was appropriate behavior, and it makes me wonder him. I hope revealing the secret has made you feel better. (Will family members seeing this?)
    I’ve had hands put on me and been groped, but never raped. I’ve been sexually harassed though countless times, and in grad school, one of my professors attempted to seduce me (for want of a better word). It really upset and confused me, but I didn’t say anything at the time.

    You know I’ve just completed two manuscripts for reference books on rape and rape culture, so I’ve read many accounts of all types of harassment, sexual assault, and violence. I’ve read many stories like the ones Susan Jackson tells.
    Merril Smith recently posted…Of Lies and Better Things on the WayMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’ve long ago made peace with this era, Merril. But my inner Little Me Too thanks you for your support. 🙂

      It’s interesting how this movement has taken off. It is, to me, an upside of social media. These women (and men) who struggle with being victimized can, if they choose, finally know they are not alone. That can be liberating. I see this enormous wall of women, angry women, rising up like a tsunami and towering over the population of perpetrators below. It’s a phase I’m going through; I’ll settle down eventually. 🙂

  3. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I have not incited an investigation involving the Pentagon nor have I written an encyclopedia on rape. Still, I can announce “Me too” along with thousands of other women: mine several times through men’s innuendo when I was a young adult and twice by both a man and a woman who became “too familiar” when I was a child. Thank God I have never been raped.

    With all the stories flooding the news now, I believe the floodgates are opening and real change can be effected. Thanks for taking the plunge with this sensitive topic here, Janet.
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Wordless Wednesday, Imagine a StoryMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes indeed, Marian. All our stories are important. And I thank you for adding yours.

      I’ve come to believe that the more subtle violations can actually wreak greater devastation because they play tricks on our minds. How quickly we jump in to minimize, rationalize, deny. Your experience is just as debilitating as anyone’s. And just as important to tell. I thank you for doing that both here and in the memoir you are writing.

  4. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — Thank you for writing this post. I, too, can raise my hand and say “Me Too.” The numbers on Facebook (and elsewhere) are astounding.
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…Cream of the CropMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’ve been so gratified by the numbers, Laurie. Not surprised, only pleased that so many are able to speak out, often for the first time. Thank you for adding your voice to the chorus.

  5. L. E. Carmichael
    | Reply

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, Janet.

    Me too.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you for adding your voice here, Lindsey. I’m hoping we get to the laughter part in my lifetime. This is still the “icky” phase.

  6. Yvonne Hertzberger
    | Reply

    I think many of us are unaware that we have been personally affected by this. We have been so thoroughly socialized to see it as normal and OK that we do not recognise it as abuse. We blame ourselves for feeling uncomfortable when it is obvious that our discomfort stems from a real violation of our ‘self’. We know a boundary has been crossed but have repressed it so far down that we can no longer see it or articulate it. I suspect that it would be hard to find even on e in 100 women who have not been affected at one time or another. If the tables were turned there would be such an uproar you’d here it clear across the world. Did you see Joe Biden’s video? Perfect.

    • Susan Jackson
      | Reply

      So true about repressing it, since Janet put her list out I have remembered so many times as a young me and three serious times including one rape as an adult. One time I was able to fight the guy off but I was so shaken and so disappointed as I thought we were friends. I thnk I would rather have them in that folder in my brain again and will try very hard to put them back.

      • Laird
        | Reply

        Oh Susan. My wish for you is that you find the way to get angry, in defense of yourself. That’s first. PM me if you want to talk more.

        • Susan Jackson
          | Reply

          Why would I want to get angry? I am 65. I am also a dreamer, every night and this is the last thing I want to be dreaming about as I was this morning which reminded me of the first military one which I haven’t thought about in 30 yrs.

  7. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Thank you for the mention and link, Janet. I’m glad Janet Lombardi’s post on vulnerability inspired you to write this post. Amazing things do happen when we share our stories. The #MeToo phenomena has certainly shed light on the depth of the problem. My #MeToo does not thankfully involve rape but abuse and misuse of power by men has touched my life. And I stand with those who have suffered sexual assault. I’m thrilled that so many are coming forward with their stories–men and women. It’s always hard to hear about cases such as yours and even harder for you to share it. Thank you for having the courage to do so. Sometimes the only way to the other side is through…I hope you feel lighter.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Kathy. As with so many things, telling my stories gets easier each time I do it. I hope your guest appreciates her contribution to this groundswell.

  8. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Janet, thanks for sharing your story. It’s been disheartening, if not surprising, to see so many speaking out this past week on this subject. But, as you point out, it’s also been “heartening,” in a sense, to know that these stories have been met with community. The world has so very far to go in regard to the objectification and mistreatment of women. Let’s hope this is one more step toward progress.
    Tim Fearnside recently posted…The Other Men and Women Who Fought and Died for FreedomMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I feel a shift in the cosmic paradigm (whatever that may mean; the words are stubborn and won’t go away). I can’t tell where this shift will take us, but I feel excited at the thought that good will emerge. Thanks for your perspective, Tim. You always leave me thinking anew.

  9. Nancy Buck
    | Reply

    I, too, had an uncle who was obsessed with my bottom. Always patting, touching. I was always uncomfortable with this, but too young to know why.
    I started violin lessons when I was 9 with a nice older Italian man recently arrived from Italy and married to one of his previous students. She was 16 when they were married- he a number of decades her senior.
    The kissing ( protracted) on the lips and the groping started along with my introduction to my violin. I was an affectionate kid from a very unaffectionate family. I thought he was being- well, affectionate- but in some way I was not familiar with. And I was acutely uncomfortable, but totally uneducated in sexual matters. I was told not to tell my parents because they would misunderstand these events.
    When I reached high school, I became increasingly uncomfortable and found reasons to miss lessons. And eventually I quit. He had wanted me to increase my study time with him so I could prepare for Juilliard. I was “so gifted”.
    I’ll never know if I was – or was not – “gifted”. I never played my violin again.
    Years later I was told that he was in a nursing home, dying, and would have loved to see me. I just could not bring myself to go- and I felt guilty.
    There would be many more “me too”- events as I became a young adult. My mind raced through and bounced off of some of these encounters as I read this blog. I found myself reliving the guilt, frustration, hurt- and anger.
    This culture that has existed for eons must stop. We are so many. It’s time to fight back.

  10. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    We are so many, Nancy. More than many of us realized. Teaching our children, breaking that cycle, and speaking our truth is where I’ve started. I’m very glad you shared your story, Nancy. Thank you. It promoted me to search for my old piano teacher, (and cello in school) who taught me in my home, alone, with the piano in the bedroom I shared with my mom. He was totally professional throughout.

    I’m thinking next week we’ll pay homage to the men in our lives who were/are the good ones. Surely we have them too.

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