I have been watching all the #MeToo posts over the last few days and searching my brain for an example in my own life. The posts are popping up everywhere.
- Facebook feed of best friend: #MeToo
- Facebook feed of Oscar winning actress: #MeToo
- Instagram: #MeToo
I know I could not possibly be one of the only women in America who has not been a victim of sexual harassment. Yet, I really couldn’t think of even one time I felt sexually violated, harassed or assaulted.
My friends are posting about boyfriends in high school (I didn’t date until college) who violated them. My other friends are discussing having their bosses ask them to their homes for “special seminars” (I worked for my father after college and then became a stay at home mom. Now I am my own boss as a freelance writer. So no problems with my bosses.).
Walking on the street? I don’t pay attention to the men on the street. In fact, am I a horrible feminist because I like it when I see I turn a man’s head? Am I disgracing the hard work of The Suffragettes, Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou and so many other strong women because I like when a man notices me? Am I a bad feminist?
Wait a second!
I like it when I turn a man’s head as I walk by. I feel valued. I feel important because that unknown man thinks I am attractive. He has no idea what kind of human being I am. He doesn’t know if I am kind or generous or honest. He sees my hair, my boobs and my tush. He thinks I am worth looking at. I know it is wrong but I do like it. I feel seen. I feel valued.
- My value = how I look today.
- My value when I was 50 pounds heavier < My value today as I walk down the street with my smaller body.
- My value today at 47 years old > My value next year when I am closer to being a 50 year old woman with more and more wrinkles around my eyes and on my neck.
These are all the things the voice in my head tells me. However, these are NEVER things I would tell my 21 year old daughter.
The voice tells me the following don’t matter that much. I am an intelligent and driven college educated woman. I have reinvented myself after a 22 year marriage and still have a good relationship with my ex-husband (even if he gets annoyed because I enjoy referring to him as my baby daddy). I am so proud to have two children thriving in college and one adjusting well to high school in a new city. I have siblings and family who I love and love me and the most incredible female friends I can count on.
I am so fortunate to have all these real life accomplishments. Still, there is a voice inside who absolutely believes my value equals the size of my body, the appearance of my hair and whether or not I took the time to apply mascara today.
Of course, I know there are amazingly successful and talented women who are not “attractive” by current “Hollywood Standards”. I know that a physically gorgeous woman who is cruel is not a good person. I know that one of my favorite people in the world is a family relative who is in her 80s and not someone who would be a Playboy centerfold.
However, there it is, my eternal reference to beauty – The Playboy Centerfold.
Wait a minute. Me Too!
Of course. I was a victim of sexual harassment. It was in such a different way than the stories being told and at such a young age that to me it is normal. My harassment was part of my life from such an early age that I didn’t know it was harassment. It was just the way the world is. I was programmed to believe attractive people matter more. I accepted long ago that if I didn’t look good one day, I wouldn’t be treated as well as a day when I was dressed up with my hair done and wearing a cute and flattering outfit.
I was programmed from a young age to believe I needed to look a certain way to have value.
I was taught this by my first love. My first Superman. My first boss. My father. (Obviously, there is a lot more to the “my father” story which needs to be told in another place at another time.)
My father had Playboy magazines to teach me beauty and value. No, they weren’t required reading in my home by any means. I never even discussed that I read them. However, they were never hidden. My father didn’t have his magazines put away somewhere I wouldn’t see them. He never thought about how I would be corrupted by these pictures and stories. How I would grow up with a sense of self that was compared to the 34-24-34 blond 18 years olds whose turns ons were walks on the beach, mustaches (this was the 70s) and fast cars. He didn’t realize when he referred to my friend as “such a pretty little girl” or gushed over women in front of me that I was taking notes of the message he was sending me. He didn’t know that I could see the change in the way he looked at and treated my mother depending on where she was in her up and down weight cycle.
Back to the magazines. These exciting reading materials were stacked neatly in the bathroom at his office where I spent so much time as a child. My parents worked full-time running a furniture store. My elementary school friends were picked up by their stay at home moms and rushed home for a yummy snack of peanut butter on white bread sprinkled with sugar (Yes, one of my friends would invite me over after school and her mom would make that. It was heaven and most likely the reason why peanut butter sandwiches are my all time comfort food. As a child, peanut butter = love.) I was picked up late after school by my grandfather who would drive me to my parents’ store to hang out there, do homework and count the minutes until I got to go home to watch TV and relax. I would find ways to entertain myself at the store.
One of the ways I would entertain myself was to go the bathroom where my father openly kept the Playboy magazines (at least it was Playboy, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I first saw Hustler or who knows how much more I would have been affected.) Looking at pretty pictures of women and reading the jokes was more interesting than my math homework. I did love the dirty jokes and the little old lady cartoon. Mostly, I was fascinated by the centerfolds. These were the women my father felt were important so this is what I need to be. Blond, skinny, sexy. That is how you are loved.
The first time it really hit me that something was wrong with him having these so easily accessible was when I was already in college. I was looking at one of the centerfolds as I always did when I was bored at his office. I noticed the young woman’s birthday. She was born the same year as my younger sister. Suddenly, she wasn’t just some girl my father could look at.
Oh My God. This could be my baby sister. To clarify, it was not her. My sister never did anything of the sort. The shock was the idea that Miss December was the same age as my sister. The idea that it was an 18 year old who could be in class with my sister. This girl with her picture spread out here with the staples attaching her midsection to the rest of this month’s issue was in preschool at the same time as my baby sister. Men of all ages, including my 44 year old father were looking at this girl and doing – well, I didn’t want to think about that then and I definitely don’t want to now. It is funny how I never thought about the ages of the naked women compared to me. However, when I could relate it to my younger sister, I felt physically ill.
I understand how ridiculous this sounds coming from a middle-aged woman with 3 kids and a happy life. I had been looking at these pictures for so long, I didn’t know this wasn’t just something you accepted as part of life. I didn’t question it. If my father did something, it must be right.
Imagine the 11 year old little girl looking at these images. It is the same 11 year old little girl who is being told how ugly she is at school because she looks different from everyone else. The same 11 year old little girl who watches The Brady Brunch any chance she gets and dreams of a life in which Carol Brady and Alice are there for her after school to make peanut butter sandwiches and solve all of life’s problems in 30 minutes. If you are Marsha Brady, life is wonderful. Mixing all these messages together, I grew up to believe, being blonde and pretty and most of all THIN is the answer to happiness.
No, I can’t think of a specific time when I was sexually harassed or assaulted to write about as part of the #MeToo movement. How about just an entire childhood of being programmed to believe if I am not attractive, I am not lovable? Isn’t that a another form of harassment and assault? Even as I write this, I feel melodramatic. The voice tells me to get over it. It is just life and I should accept it. The voice needs to be told to Shut the Front Door!
Fortunately, I now sit and write this from a very healthy place in life (or maybe just the healthiest I have ever been). I know I have value at any size and that as I get more and more wrinkles on my freckled face, they are the sign of every experience I am lucky enough to have. However, there is still a voice inside who does argue with me. That voice tells me to enjoy today while I still turn heads on the street because the clock is ticking. I try to quiet that voice. I try to be reasonable with that little girl and apologize to her for what she was taught years ago.
I make every effort to honor and comfort that little girl as I look at her. I see her little freckle face, wildly out of control red hair and chunky pre-pubescent body. She pulls me down so she can whisper in my ear.
When I lean down and she puts her mouth very close to my ear, I can barely hear the words she is saying but when I do, I know right away what she is telling me. She is saying,