During my freshman orientation at Bryn Mawr College, the resident advisor invited us into her dorm room to sit on the floor in a circle and get know each other. To break the ice and build connection, she wanted each of us to share something we were either bad at or nervous about (so I recall). As someone who’d drunk the college’s feminist Kool-Aid, and chose to go there thinking it would transform me into an utter badass, I found the exercise ridiculous and demeaning. It made me question my decision to enroll.
Why not bond over our hopes or our strengths?
Later that year or the next, a bunch of us sat around a friend’s room and played an all-gals version of truth or dare. I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable and anxious that I, a poor liar, would be forced to divulge something I did not want to, or did want to share with an entire group. Like a poker player, I wanted to be the one who revealed the least and learned the most about the others. I probably valued my privacy more highly than a sense of belonging, but I also did not yet know I was an introvert, more comfortable with one-on-one interactions rather than trying to bond en masse.
I had forgotten about all this until the #MeToo hashtag began trending on social media. If you’re not familiar with it, #MeToo means the person posting it has, at one point, been sexually harassed or assaulted. The idea was to raise awareness of the staggering magnitude of the problem, brought to the forefront this time by allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Tragically, when just one woman accuses a man of harassment (or worse), and no one else steps forward to corroborate, she is often not believed or, if she is, given hush money. The problem continues. That dynamic, alas, is one reason I kept quiet about a former colleague who, while he never touched me, slimed me with his words.
That many people I know wrote #MeToo did not shock me. Still, I did not create such a post, partly because it reminded me of sitting in that freshman orientation in college and having someone else set the agenda. I wondered if the severity of some of the experiences, or the pain of the aftermath, might not be palpable when reduced to two words, a flickering of pixels on the screen. #MeToo might reveal the breadth but not the depth of the problem and its effects over time on particular individuals.
Still, the ferocity and the extent of the online outcry against entrenched misogyny, and the courage of many to come forward, made me wonder if my tendency towards privacy, while not as absolute as it once was, no longer served me. Had I, for a long time, confused being vulnerable, which all humans are, with being a victim, and therefore couldn’t admit my shortcomings, or the moments when I behaved in ways that sabotaged my highest vision for myself? The Weinstein revelations triggered an old memory, a secret I don’t think I ever told anyone, and one I thought I’d buried. It’s not about harassment or abuse, but about being sexually vulnerable. Perhaps I could help myself and possibly another by sharing my reflections. As I’ve learned in writing workshops, it’s the stuff you’re afraid to say that needs to be said. Yet, there were details of this episode I didn’t wish to divulge. Even though I have a personal blog, to a certain extent I’m still a private person. For several days, I warred with myself, tossed and turned and even lost sleep: was I going to share nothing publicly, or would I be fearless and tell everything, to the extent I could remember? In the end, I found the middle ground and a way around my dilemma. I shared a secret while retaining some privacy. Here is the result.