Today I couldn’t help but smile as my daughter clapped as she watched Moana.
“Yea, Moana!” she said over and over.
Moana had just come across the boats hidden deep within her island, revealing her people’s past as great voyagers, adventurers.
Moana is brave and empowering.
I was proud my daughter has such a strong role model.
Then I hopped on Facebook.
Now I’m clapping. Clapping for my brave and empowering sisters and brothers who are coming forward with two simple words:
Their impact, however, has been anything but simple.
I’ve been sad all day. Sad to discover how deeply such great evil has touched so many people I love so dearly.
My jaw has dropped again and again as unassuming, amazing, wonderful women are coming forward about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault.
But my rollercoaster of emotions whipped me into another feeling entirely. Shame.
No, I haven’t been a victim of sexual assault.
Harassment? That’s a different story. And while I know there are millions of stories that are far worse and more painful than mine, sadly, sexual harassment and assault is a spectrum.
What I have learned today, thanks to empowering female friends, is the fact that even the smallest space on the spectrum, like mine, is too much.
Nearly 10 years ago I worked in the child care of a local gym. I started noticing one particular father dropping off his children 20 to 30 minutes before closing. It suddenly became a pattern. I always closed, and he was always there when I was uncomfortably alone.
He became more and more friendly, often getting way too close to me. While he never laid a finger on me, other than what he perceived to be “friendly touching,” a touch on the arm, for example, the warning sirens were blaring in my head.
Having survived other forms of abuse in my childhood, I’ve always been hypersensitive to how people, especially men, interact with me. The red flags were clear and I told my bosses, both men, about the situation.
You’re a good looking girl, they told me. What do you expect?
This type of response to my concerns of a sexual predator were followed with inappropriate jokes, most of which, I was the butt of. Every night after this until I returned to college was terrifying. Walking to my car alone was enough to send me into a panic attack. I would pretend to talk on my phone all the way to my car, and try to steady my breathing once I was behind a locked door.
A year later, I was working in a restaurant in Disney World. I once again became the object of some unwanted attention from another employee. I put up with it for weeks; the leering, the unnecessary physical contact, the crude remarks. That same siren got louder and louder in my head until I finally told my boss, again, a man.
Now my boss was a good, good man. I respected him greatly. But his response to this situation has been eye-opening to me.
Once a formal complaint was made, the offender and myself were called out during work (I know people noticed) and taken to a private room in another part of the park. There, in front of my offender and boss, I had to recall the advances and their effect on me. It was my word against these two men. I walked away feeling stupid, embarrassed and sick of having two pairs of eyes rolled at me with each concern I expressed.
Though this man was told to avoid contact with me, it did little to calm my nerves.
I walked away from both of these experiences feeling like I was the problem.
Was I trying to cause drama? Was I looking for attention? Was I trying to deal with the trauma from my childhood in an unhealthy way? I was worried that I was creating a pattern of unhealthy behavior and I swore I would never say anything again no matter what happened.
Mercifully, nothing more did happen.
And then today I started feeling that same yucky feeling I had nearly a decade ago as I read heartbreaking confessions from so many loved ones.
I felt unworthy to add my voice to the #metoo movement. Because I believe in it deeply. I want to be an advocate for anyone that has ever felt uncomfortable at the advances of another, ever felt small or voiceless.
“But I wasn’t raped…” I thought. “I wasn’t even assaulted.”
But that’s not the question. The question is when is too much too much?
All of it. Any experience, great or small with sexual harassment or sexual assault is too much. If you don’t believe me, scroll through the thousands of posts today on social media that declare otherwise.
While I know my experiences pale in comparison, they have taught me a great deal.
How different my view on sexual assault and harassment would be if my bosses had taken me seriously. Or even acted like they took me seriously. What if instead of rolling their eyes, they had chosen empathy and shown a commitment to stamp out this inappropriate behavior in any form? I want to live in that world.
So ladies, I sit here clapping for you. I am in awe of your bravery. As women, we have to support each other. We have to speak up and speak out when unwanted attention and advances come our way.
And men, we need you, too. Please, continue to (as so many already do) stand with us as your equals rather than your objects. I am so grateful to the literally thousands of good men I know who would stand shoulder to shoulder with me in this in a heartbeat. You are incredible.
The plea for solidarity goes for all victims, regardless of gender or experience. Any experience on the spectrum is unacceptable.
Because I think again of my innocent, pure little girl, clapping for her hero, Moana. I hope she never experiences this horrific spectrum.
And heaven forbid she does, I hope she’ll have an army of brave men and women clapping for her so she can have the courage to be as strong as each of you.