This week, the hashtag #metoo prompted thousands of women (many of them your own friends, family, and classmates and co-workers) to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment and assault, in order to put a visual understanding on the magnitude of this problem:
“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.”
When I was 18, I went to a party and a well-known high school classmate of mine violated my space, body, and women-hood with his very unwarranted, inappropriate, and unwanted groping. People saw and knew it happen, but laughed it off (despite my anger) and our community continued to respect and love him. He went on to play college ball at a D1 school, which I find interesting. I wonder if that short blip of “success” and “power” led him to act that way toward any others. For years, I looked back at that moment with resentment thinking: fuck that guy for thinking he can do whatever he wants, and people will still love him. I also (quite wrongly) accepted that moment almost as a “part of life”–which it should not be!– and, frankly, didn’t let it make me feel any more or less. It just “was”. A common fact of life for every woman in this world that we are forced to silently expect and then accept. That moment of harassment was NOT the first time and was NOT the last. Harassment of varying degrees has happened to me prior to that night and continues to happen: not just to me, but to all women, everyday.
Myself and many women are now looking back on difficult experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Personally, I wondered for a very brief second if mine was even “really” harassment. OF COURSE IT WAS. It was inflicted because another person felt it was his right to do whatever he felt, solely for his own benefit. It made me feel violated, wronged, and uncomfortable. On this principle alone, it simply is NOT acceptable behavior EVER. Not only for a person to think they could do that to another, but also that myself (and many women in similar situtations) felt it wasn’t “bad enough” to demand more from society. We should ALWAYS demand more from society. No matter the degree or capacity, harassment is harassment and no woman or man should ever feel subjected to it. No woman or man should feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or silenced by shame.
I know this issue transcends borders and countries. I’ve lived in many places and experienced it differently in each place. I think more than anywhere, the United States and Colombia have the problem of machismo, and it’s so deeply embedded in culture that the men (and even some women) truly believe that their actions do not fall within the umbrella of harassment and assault.
Every single day, I witness harassment to some degree and form (whistling, screaming, speaking of women as though their objects, etc) and every time it happens, I see others around me continue to ignore it, laugh at it and allow it to go on. Anyone—but especially men, fathers, brothers and friends—who does not speak up against harassment, help normalize this culture and perpetuate it. If every man and woman who witnessed another person act like this (cat call, objectify women, discuss a woman’s beauty in relation to her intelligence and/or kindness, etc) and demanded them to stop, to change, and to really think about what they’re saying (despite how complimentary the speaker thinks they’re being), we can create an exponential rate social of change within society–simply by teaching them what is appropriate and what is not and what is disrespectful, and what is not– which in turn, might affect the number of women sexually assaulted and harassed every single day.
When the focus is no longer on the victims, but rather on the perpetrators who participate in forms of harassment, we will begin cultural reforms as an entire society. #metoo
*Read more about social inequalities in Colombia: HERE