My timeline is flooded. “Me too, Me too, Me too” echoes silently across my screen, a haunting chorus of both women I love and women I’ve never met before. It’s the same refrain being repeated over and over: “I have had my body, my being, my humanity violated because I have a vagina.” It’s disturbing and disgusting how many there are. One is too many, of course, but hopefully the deluge of voices will help people recognize how widespread this problem really is.
I didn’t post a “Me too” myself. I couldn’t. At 42 years old, I have never been sexually assaulted. I’ve never been sexually abused. I’ve never even been sexually harassed. I’ve heard some nasty jokes and comments on the periphery, but I don’t recall anything ever being directed at me.
That this is my truth isn’t due to anything I’ve done or not done. I’ve been in plenty of situations where it would have been easy for a man to overpower me, to use my body in a way I didn’t give permission for, and for no one else to ever know. But every man I’ve been alone with has respected my boundaries. Every man I’ve started down the road of physical intimacy with has stopped when I put on the brakes.
I’ve never felt the confusion, fear, and shame that my friends who have been raped or assaulted have felt. I’ve never had my humanity extracted from an interaction and blatantly been treated like an object because I’m a woman. I’ve never had someone try to take my power away from me in that way.
And do you know how I feel about the fact that I’ve never been violated by a man’s hands or words?
Let the absurdity of that sink in for a minute.
I shouldn’t feel lucky that I have never had my privates grabbed, as if I’ve won some kind of sexual assault lottery. I shouldn’t feel relieved that I’ve never been raped, as if I’ve made it through a game of rape Russian roulette. I shouldn’t feel grateful that the men I’ve gotten close to in my life have been gentlemen, when that should just be a given.
I shouldn’t feel fortunate that I’ve managed to make it four decades on this earth without having someone use sex as a weapon to dehumanize me.
And yet, I do.
This is what it is to be a woman in our society. For as long as I can remember, my bodily safety has always been on my mind. Every time I’ve been alone with a man with whom I haven’t already built a solid bond of trust, the thought has crossed my mind, “What if he tries to rape me?” I’ve hatched escape plans in the back of my mind while laughing and chatting over dinner. I’ve pictured throwing him off of me using the self-defense moves I’ve learned while we watched a movie together.
Being alone as a woman means being hypervigilant. Every time I’ve gone for a walk, every time I’ve left a store, every time I’ve gotten into my car at night, every time I’ve found myself in a stairway or on an elevator with a man, I’ve had my guard up.
I once asked my husband if he ever thinks about the possibility of being raped when he goes running by himself. The surprised and baffled look on his face said it all. Mugged? Maybe. But raped? Never. Do you know any men who carry “rape whistles?” I don’t. Sexual assault happens to men, too, of course, and it’s never okay. But let’s be real about this: Most men don’t live their lives in fear of having their bodies violated.
Most women I know, including myself, do. We live with that underlying question of what might happen to our bodies without our consent. It’s not always foremost in our minds, but it’s never far under the surface.
We all know women who have been raped or assaulted. Those of us who have squeaked through unscathed so far have held those women while they’ve cried, imagined with horror-filled empathy what they went through, wondered why we’ve been so “lucky” to escape the same fate.
This is why I stand with those women who have bravely come forward to share their stories, no matter how many years it took. This is why I stand with the women who choose not to share their stories, as is their right, but who live with them every day. This is why I raise my voice with those calling for better legislation and justice surrounding sexual assault and harassment. This is why I won’t stay silent about rape culture even though I’ve never been a direct victim of it.
Because I feel fortunate that I’ve never had my body violated. Because I still fear that it could happen. Because this is what rape culture looks like, even for the lucky ones.