opinion

If you think you don't have a #MeToo story, here's why you're probably wrong.

“What would you write about, if you posted?” my sister messaged me last night.

Our conversation had inevitably turned to #MeToo, the prevalence of sexual harassment and how we felt about the news cycle suddenly becoming dominated with the voices of women.

Her ability to mind read would have been comical, had the situation lended itself to, well, humour. I had been thinking about it for days.

I was honest. I had no idea.

“I legitimately can’t pinpoint,” I told her. “But I know I have been. Because there are times I have felt self-conscious, uncomfortable, hyper-aware of my body or embarrassed about my presence somewhere – which means I know it’s happened. But I just can’t remember.”

She shot back with the same sentiment.

How did I get to 23, and although known, deep down, I had been in situations where I had been unequivocally harassed, could I not conjure images, circumstances, names?

I was embarrassed. Who just forgets this stuff? I spent the rest of the night trawling through my mental archives, locking down the times the world, older men, younger men, made me feel like my footing in the world was a little less secure.

They came in thick and fast.

The time I went running, only to be chased a young man who jumped in front of me, pulled his pants down, filmed my face and proceeded to do his thing in my line of sight. I was trapped.

All the times after that where I imposed rules on running for myself – run only in the light, and only in the periods where the track had serious thoroughfare. Those times equated to about two hours a day. Two hours where I felt safe to run.

The times at a club, where he wasn’t just accidentally brushing against me at all.

The odd comment from the old man that didn’t mean harm, though it made me squirm.

The times walking along busy roads to be hollered at by groups of men in cars.

Exchanges that are often pitched as compliments, but land as insults. Circumstances that didn’t change me, but maybe my perspective on my place in the world. Times where the effect wasn’t my lingering and physical discomfort, but instead a more general feeling of disconnect.

Harassment I couldn’t give a name too. Harassment that didn’t seem serious enough to warrant reflection. Harassment I gave the benefit of the doubt, because maybe he didn’t mean it like that? Maybe they weren’t honking at me, maybe his brush against me was accidental. Maybe it was all in my head, and maybe this is all ego?

Listen: #MeToo explained…

Laura Dern, star of Big Little Lies, thought she too was one of the “lucky ones”.

But after attending ELLE’s Women in Hollywood event, where women like Jennifer Lawrence and Reese Witherspoon detailed their own experiences, she realised she wasn’t lucky at all.

“It was an extraordinary experience, perhaps more than ever, to have this shared space and a tribe of women and artists talking about this industry, and ultimately therefore talking about sexual harassment in the workplace. And a very interesting thing happened this morning,” Dern told Ellen DeGeneres on Wednesday.

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“I woke up and I realised that in that space I talked about how I was one of the lucky ones because I was raised by actors who told me their stories and told me what to look out for, and I realised that I was I still justifying behavior,” she continued. “And it was my mum who said, ‘No, no, no, Laura — that was sexual assault. That was harassment. That was assault. No, you were 14 then.'”

“You realise how in our culture we have justified, and therefore even condoned behaviour, as though it’s the norm,” she said.

We’re careful with our language, us women. We’re careful of not wanting to accuse someone of something they didn’t do. We’re careful of not wanting to appear dramatic, because the world doesn’t embrace hysterical women. We second guess ourselves, our allegations, our experiences.

Image: Getty.

Are we just desperate to join the conversation? Have we misinterpreted someone's advances? Moreso, should we be focusing on intent, not impact?

In that moment of discomfort, we dismiss the entire exchange. We play it down, make excuses, move on.

And then, some many years later, when forced to reflect on the times the world felt strange and our place in it less certain, examples evade us, because we never called it out at the time.

But this language, this fear, this attitude? This is what has stopped women from coming out all along.

We're not dramatic, nor are we hysterical. Sometimes it takes time for experiences to rise to the surface, and appear as they always were.

They were harassment, and yes, perhaps #YouandIToo.

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