I remember when Trump’s pussy grabbing story came out about a year ago. I remember the shock and disgust most people felt about this excuse-for-a-human who was running for president and could say such things and get away with it. But what I remember most is the collective triggering this speech had for women. I remember saying to a few of my guy friends: “this is really hard for females, because whether they’ve ever openly admitted it or not, almost every single woman in your life has experienced some form of sexual harassment.” I remember being met with disbelief, dismissal, and the same spectrum of responses women often get in response to making sweeping statements like this: you’re overreacting. Over-dramatizing. Over-exaggerating.
And here we stand, a year later – where did the yarn start to unravel? Maybe it was Susan Fowler who wrote about her experiences with sexism at the Silicon Valley giant company Uber. Women began standing up and speaking out from other companies, exposing similar stories of mistreatment. Justin Caldbeck getting publicly taken down for unwanted advances toward women in the tech industry. Dave McClure getting busted for sexual harassment and inappropriate misconduct with the women of his portfolio companies or potential investment companies. It just kept bubbling and popping – one sexual deviant male scandal being added into the pot after the next until we hit the biggest catch of them all: Harvey Weinstein. And then the whole thing boiled over…culminating in the viral outpouring of the hashtag “me too.”
So many men have started to take a stand and speak out in support of women and these stories, but what shocks me (or maybe it doesn’t, really) is how surprised they all were that their newsfeed was taken over by female friends writing “me too” – over and over. George Clooney spoke out suggesting that “this is a watershed moment.. where women feel safe enough to talk about this issue [and] feel believed.”
And all I could think was FINALLY.
I do, however, have some reservation that this will really change anything. After years and years of being shown things I don’t want to see, being touched in ways I don’t want to be touched, and being told things I don’t want to hear, I’m jaded. But I finally feel safe enough to share my personal experiences.
My negative experiences with men started really young and I’ve never fully felt completely at ease with them in isolated situations ever since. From the older family friend who forced me into a room to show me his erect penis and demanded me to show him “mine” when I was 6…to the group of teenage boys who would harass me on my walk home from the school bus when I was 11 to show them my “boob trap”… to the guy in one of my friend groups when I was 15 who would NOT stop putting his hand down my pants in group situations like backseat car rides or movie theatre visits. He thought it was particularly fun if he made it down there to jab at me violently while I would try to squirm away without making a scene. Sometimes I bled from it. I eventually had to stop hanging out with those friends. To the guy who, when I was 18, invited me on a “date” but then picked me up, took me to a liquor store, and took me back to his empty parent’s house and fed me nothing but alcohol. When I kept asking for food and then to go home, he just kept insisting I drink more. I finally passed out and woke up hours later with him doing things to me I clearly had not consented to. That was probably the worst experience of them all. But things didn’t stop at 18…into my career in my mid-20s, a boss who made inappropriate comment after inappropriate comment to me, showed up drunk at one of the focus groups I was running and demanded we go out drinking together after. That same boss is the reason I don’t wear bare legs to work to this day.
Not all men are bad. Most of them have been complete gentlemen and supportive mentors to me in life and my career as I’ve grown into a woman, but I carry these experiences with me around like a deranged charm bracelet. The more ugly charms I collect, the more it serves to warn me: “Be careful Kenna. There are a lot of bad men out there who don’t have your best interests at heart. Protect yourself, girl.” And sadly, most women carry around a similar ugly bracelet…with sad and unfortunate stories that accompany them as they move forward in life.
So while I’m glad that we’re blowing this open and shining some much needed light onto the things that I’m going to boldly suggest that every woman has experienced, to varying degrees in her life, I’m skeptical that it will exercise change. In my heart of hearts I truly hope it does so that our daughters and granddaughters don’t have to carry around the same ugly “charms” that we’ve had to. To the women out there: keep speaking up. Keep standing out. Keep telling your stories and demanding better.