#MeToo

And odds are if you’re a woman, perhaps you too.

There’s lots of chatter about this hashtag and this two-word phrase making the rounds on social media. Can two words really make a difference? Well, I’m not sure. But I can tell you that there is strength in solidarity and knowing you’re not alone. And that’s not nothing.

Fear and shame are two sides of the same coin, I think. And when it comes to something as life-altering (and life-shattering) as sexual assault, harassment, or something worse such as rape, I think fear and shame are unavoidably foisted upon the victim. There is the fear of speaking out. Will anyone believe me? Will I be fired/sued/harassed/ostracized/abandoned? And of course there’s the shame that comes with the actual act of telling your story. Here’s what happened to me in all its icky uncomfortableness. Am I less valuable, unworthy, a sinner, unlovable?

When I read some of the stories emerging from the #MeToo hashtag, it makes me realize how lucky I am. Seriously. Lucky. There’s really no other way to describe it other than luck. I have never been raped or sexually assaulted, but I know women that have. And their stories are important and fragile and worthy of being told. I’m in awe of the women speaking out and my heart hurts for those that simply cannot bear to say a word.

And this all leads me to the weird feeling I have, which I think is all just another part of this whole #MeToo thing. Are my experiences justified to share in this space? Of course they are, but still, there’s this feeling of “well at least I was never raped or sexually assaulted…” Nice to see that imposter syndrome isn’t just reserved for the work and career space.

I have experienced sexual harassment and lewd behavior by adults and people who should have known better.

The creepy male gym teacher who made us 8th grade girls lay on the floor, knees bent, and do sit-up crunches as his eyes were laser-focused in the private space between our legs. Note: we all wore the same tank top and baggy school-logo’d gym shorts so in that position the shorts were baggy enough to give you a clear view of a 13 year old’s underwear and private areas. This happened almost every week in gym class and I remember feeling so uncomfortable that I spoke to the female gym teacher who taught the 9th grade girls. She seemed disgusted, but unmoved to do anything. Nodding her head she said, “Yeah, that probably did happen. He’s kind of creepy like that. Just keep your legs closed. Or turn the other way.”

Or the equally creepy geometry teacher (same school) who, with a wink and a smile, poked my ass repeatedly with the pointy end of a protractor when I stayed after class one day to ask about math formulas. No one else was in the room and it was gross and uncomfortable.

Or the older high school friend who asked me out. When I said no, he smacked me across the head. Literally – whack. I was stunned. This was the end of our lunch break and a bunch of us were hanging outside the music rooms on the top floor of our high school amid an alcove of lockers. There were tons of other people around but no one else seemed to notice. He stormed off in a huff, unapologetic and carefree, while I quickly gathered my books and headed to class, confused by what had just happened.

Or the time an old man called our house, posing as some kind of salesman and asked me to go find one of my mother’s bras and tell him the size. I was around 11 or 12 at the time, and it was after school. I was the only one home.  Naively, I did what he asked even though it sounded weird. And then he started making groaning noises on the other end of the phone. I quickly hung up, completely confused about what had just happened.

As an adult, I’ve experienced a lot of sexism in the workplace but that’s not quite what the #MeToo movement is about. I’ve not been hired for a job because I wore pants to the interview. Literally, I was told that was the reason I was not hired. WHAT THE FRESH HELL IS THAT ABOUT.

At one point during my Disney years I had a team of supervisors to whom I reported. All but one was female. Coincidentally, all but one told me I was doing a great job in my new role as a lead (a Disney term for a front-line supervisor), while the one male supervisor said I needed to “tone it down a bit” because “many people” thought I was “a little too aggressive.”

I’ve been whistled at on occasion and had a few car horns beep at me when I used to run regularly. None of that bothered me. In fact, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I was flattered. The car horn startled me a bit, but mind you, I’ve never been cat-called and no one yelled disgusting things at me so there is most definitely a line. Side note – I’ve seen a few people (including the super disgusting pedophile Woody Allen) question whether men will still be able to flirt with women now that so many women are coming forward. To which I respond: if you don’t know the difference between flirting and harrassing or assaulting then you need help.

And of course, as I said on Twitter recently, if I had a nickel for every time some dude told me to “smile” I’d have eleventy bajillion nickels. (roughly). Seriously men. Don’t tell women to smile. Ever.

I don’t know what it’s going to take to change a culture that allows people like Weinstein and so many others to not only exist but to be, in a sense, untouchable. But I will say that there is freedom in speaking out. Whether it’s by using a hashtag, writing a blog or social media post,  peeling back the layers on a therapist’s couch, confiding in a close friend, or filing a report in the HR office.

Not only are we living in a misogynistic culture, we also have a culture that encourages silence. It’s just easier that way, right? Just move on with your life and forget about it. But like a cancer, this slowly eats away at a person’s self-worth and self-esteem.

Like everyone else, I was surprised to see my Twitter feed light up with this hashtag (less so on my Facebook feed, but I suspect it’s because there is greater anonymity on Twitter). And then to hear the disgusting stories of what Weinstein has done over the years? Blech.

Note: I was equally as repulsed with Ailes, Cosby, Allen, Polanski, O’Reilly, and yes, even with what Clinton did. But for some reason, this is making me angry.

The night before last I had a dream about Weinstein. I know. Eww. He was wearing a tux and a smug look and he dangled a toothpick from his lips. I don’t remember anything else about the dream other than the fact that I must have been right in front of him because I uncharacteristically kicked my left leg up in a Bruce Lee type of move to nail him right square in the face. Keep in mind I do not know any kind of martial arts and have never in my life had to physically defend myself. I have no idea where this anger and rage came from in my dream (or the decent technique, if I may say), but lordy it was there. I woke myself up and realized I had karate-kicked the sheets and comforter into the air with a swift force. Thank goodness my six-year old hadn’t come into sleep with us that night.

And that, of course, brings me to the part that really angers me: my daughters. It is simply not right that I have to have certain conversations with my girls that I surely would not have with boys.

I often drop off my older daughter at a theatre for rehearsals and when I do it’s usually from across the street. I wait until she’s crossed safely and has entered the building before driving away. On more than one occasion, as she’s crossed, I’ve noticed men in stopped cars watching her cross. I realize she’s not a little girl anymore, but she is still a child and a minor. They didn’t do anything or say anything, but their faces told me they didn’t hate what they saw. And that makes my stomach turn.

Not only do we as parents have to remind our daughters that nothing they do, say, or wear is to blame for any kind of sexual assault, but we also must provide a plethora of preventive measures that will help keep them safe…just in case.

Women, you know just what I’m talking about. Making sure you walk to your car with keys clutched in your hand. Checking under the car and in the backseat before entering the car, especially if it’s a dark or unfamiliar place. Parking in a well-lit area. Never leaving a drink unattended unless you’re with friends. Mace, pocket knives, a rape whistle. Going to the restroom or to a club with a friend rather than solo. Hidden cameras in ladies restrooms. Consent – what it is and what it is not. Choosing an upper-level apartment or hotel room versus one on the ground floor…I could go on. And I bet you could too.

Bottom line is, I’m hopeful that women and men will be silent no more. That more people will be brave and speak out strongly against sexual predators and those that commit sexual assault and harassment.

I’m hopeful that men will stand up and speak out when they see their fellow men engaging in this type of behavior (yes, I realize women do it to men and that is not at all acceptable, but this is overwhelmingly a crime against women).

In my book, the silence of bystanders – of those that know and see and still choose to do or say nothing – is complicity. It is a rubber-stamp approval of behavior that is not only gross and despicable but also criminal.

I’m hopeful this movement will help move the needle and begin to change the culture. But more than anything, I hope that the hashtag #MeToo is one that my daughters will never have to use.