Every woman’s story of harassment or assault is worth telling
Over the weekend, the #metoo movement on social media went viral with women changing their statuses to signal that they too had been a victim of sexual assault or harassment. But not every woman felt her story was “bad enough” to warrant telling.
That’s what motivated video producer Leena Norms to write a thread about dismissing her own experiences of harassment and how silence surrounding any instance of abuse can help normalize that behavior.
In a brilliant series of tweets, Norms explains her thought process behind holding back her stories of being harassed because they’re “not that bad” compared to others.
I have been sitting on my #MeToo contributions all day because dismissing my experiences of harassment as 'not that bad' is second nature
— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
She says that although she’s never been raped, it’s still a “slippery slope” to write off more minor experiences that police wouldn’t necessarily see as punishable.
Call me Suburban Sally, I've never been raped and never had anything happen to me that the police would 'file a report for' -— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
although that alone is a slippery slope of what the police would consider filing or not -— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
But like most women and girls, Norms has still had her share of unwanted advances, harassment, and outright abuse throughout her life.
But from the age of 11 I regularly had vulgar things shouted at me in the street on my way home from school,— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
male teachers making inappropriate comments about what they can see down my top, or using sexual language to describe groups of us— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
I've had men not let me leave rooms in pubs, grabbing my wrists, men follow me home because I wouldn't give them my number,— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
cars slow down and try and pull me inside on my way home from work,— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
boys when I was a kid put their hands up my skirt, and when I was older grown men I didn't know try and do the same— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
I've had men at house parties threaten to kill me or rape me when I've asked them to leave....— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
Despite this list of terrible and demeaning occurrences, Norms still sees herself as having “gotten off the lightest” among friends who have had “worse” things happen to them at the hands of men.
And the worst part is I STILL DO NOT THINK THIS IS A BIG DEAL. I'd say out of most of my friends I've got off the lightest— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
She then lights on something some of us might be thinking, but have never said out loud — women who haven’t been raped or physically assaulted don’t want to take away sympathy or attention for those who have for fear of lessening the response to their experiences. Because the world’s threshold for listening to these stories is pathetically low.
I would imagine that there's a lot of women who don't want to drain the short attention span the world has for the subject 'harassment' -— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
- by mentioning these things we've been taught to filter as 'normal'. We do it out of care for those who have had 'worse' -— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
By leaving our more minor incidents out of the conversation, we’re trying to amplify the voices of women with a “bigger case,” and that’s left Norms wondering if the silence has done any good as far as helping those who have been victim to more serious instances of assault.
- in a twisted way we think our silence or acceptance will leave room for the world to take 'the bigger cases' seriously -— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
there is a sisterhood of reverence and respect that manifests itself in silence - and #metoo is asking a good question - is👏that👏working👏?— Leena Norms (@leenanorms) October 16, 2017
Judging by the sheer number of women and girls changing their statuses to “me too” over the last several days, it looks like that silence over lesser instances of abuse hasn’t helped anything — it’s still happening, all the time. Women are still fighting to be believed and heard. Many men (and some women) are still incredulous or in denial about the severity of these issues, and that means that if anything, we need to speak loudly about our experiences if we’re comfortable doing so — no matter how “small.”
Twitter was very much on board with Norms’ thoughts as other women chimed in that they felt the same way, but stayed quiet for the same reasons she did.
— Michelle Elman (@ScarredNtScared) October 16, 2017
Because growing up in a small town taught me that "boys will be boys" and it took me a long time to un-learn that. https://t.co/Yl7DjeH5LG
— Maddie Jane (@maddiejane_i) October 16, 2017
— Helen Skinner (@Egmel) October 16, 2017
The more we talk, the louder our voices, the harder it will be for the world to ignore the very real problems of sexual assault and harassment. By normalizing speaking out, we give courage to those who are holding back — and every single story matters and deserves to be heard.
Although we wish those stories didn’t have to exist at all.