When I, or any Black girl, walked through the halls of James Blair Middle School, we knew that our butt could be grabbed. Sometimes the halls would be crowded and a girl wouldn’t be sure who had “touched her tail” as we called it. Or sometimes, the grabber would make himself known. In response, most girls would playfully hit her perpetrator and laugh. The entire dance was viewed as a form of flirting: innocent and sweet. I remember being flattered when a cute boy “touched my tail” and being envious of girls who already had high, round, pronounced butts.
Eventually I got that butt I prayed for; and continued to be felt up from time to time in high school; although having a steady boyfriend quieted most grabs. The focus in high school became more about which guy teachers liked the female students. We didn’t speak about the two teachers with alarm, but with a light matter-of-factness. “I told Coach T that I wasn’t feeling well so he said I didn’t have to dress-out today. I haven’t had to wear gym clothes or do gym in 2 months,” someone would share while giggling. I don’t remember one person speaking about these teachers poorly or about their attraction to teens being seen as disgusting.
Every year that I was in college, we would become alarmed at the distribution of the annual “freak list”—a list compiled by anonymous guys ranking the freakiest women on campus along with a short description about why she earned that honor (gave head to 5 guys in one night). It was said that some girls had been placed on the freak list simply because they angered the wrong guy. Either way, the freak list destroyed many girl’s reputations and education (as several girls ended up leaving school following placement on the list).
Also while in college, agreeing to dance with a man at a club essentially meant that you agreed to be touched in a too familiar way. You could meet a man one minute and 2 minutes later, have his hands grabbing your hips and butt or even his penis grinding in the same areas.
I haven’t had a job where a man hasn’t made an inappropriate comment or hit on me; though I’ve never been touched. When I was at a company Christmas party and one of my colleagues suggested that we spend time together afterwards; or when the principal of the school where I was teaching let me know how attractive he found me; or when the Vice President of one of the firms my company teamed with outlined how good he’d be to me were we to have an extramarital affair—I think I was more stressed about what to say to avoid offending the men than I was about how I felt. I had to work with these people, after all; and I certainly didn’t want to offend them. I never considered that what they were doing was offensive to me.
It is this emotion that has struck me most as the “me too” movement has grown: I had never considered that the harassment that was done to me or to people around me was wrong. It was life—the way life is. I had accepted being harassed as a mere fact of life in being a woman . . . . sort of like having a period. I never viewed myself as a victim of anything.
I realize that there is something very wrong with that.
As I automatically do with everything, I wondered if this way of thinking is equally common for all women — regardless of race — or if women of color struggle with seeing themselves as victims; and having others see them as victims, or worthy of help and care. The same question could be asked about poor women; or women who are disenfranchised in any way.
Perhaps society has taught us to devalue ourselves. Consider that Tarana Burke started the “me too” movement 10 years ago to unify those who have been victims of sexual violence, especially women of color, and received no media attention, no immediate wave of firings or broad support. No one seemed to care until white, beautiful, wealthy women said that they were victims.
How does one explain a world where Anita Hill was almost ruined for telling her truth; where some find ways to justify Roy Moore’s and Donald Trump’s behavior; and we can’t even see, protect and advocate for ourselves when we are victims?
If the women who have revitalized the “me too” movement truly want to empower women; they need to include all women in their feminist movement. Since their voices are the ones that are heard; they should emphatically echo one’s “me too” with “her too.” “See her too! Hear her too! Help her too!”