The very first thing I heard when I turned the news the other morning was, “Overnight, Trump mocked the Me Too movement at a rally in Montana.”
I stopped mid-cereal pour and felt the rage begin to build. I was surprised by the tears. Isn’t this what we’ve come to expect? Every day, we get up and hope the world isn’t a huge dumpster fire and yet, there it is, the flames still white hot.
It was a dig on Elizabeth Warren, who has said she is part Native American. Trump wants her to prove it for some reason and suggested—because nothing makes sense anymore—throwing a DNA test at her because what else would a dignified President do? But, he added, “we have to do it gently, because we are in the Me Too generation.” And every woman in her right mind cringed at the words “we have to do it gently” just as much as the words that followed it.
And the fact that Trump doesn’t know #MeToo isn’t about tossing items gently at women but rather about not treating them like inanimate sex dolls is only the first atrocity. Openly mocking the pain and courage of survivors of sexual harassment, assault, rape and violence is vile. I would call it unfathomable, but I could have fathomed this moment coming from a mile away.
Still, I felt the anger boil up inside of me as I continued pouring cereal for my 2- and 4-year-old daughters. I thought of all the women, girls, who had the courage to say, “No, this isn’t right. This happened to me a long time ago or a short time ago or it’s happening now and it’s not right,” and how someday, my girls could be in that group. I can try to teach them all the red flags, warning signs and self-defense tactics I know, but it won’t be their fault if an abuser or an assaulter still finds them, tricks them and hurts them.
Will they come forward and say, “No, this isn’t right. This person did this to me and it isn’t right”? If they don’t, it’ll be because of moments like this. Moments where men and women, mothers and fathers, clapped and cheered and yahoo-ed as the most powerful man in the world gave them permission to make fun of survivors of sexual assault.
They may not come forward for the reason so many never did until #MeToo, or still haven’t: Because they knew no one would believe them.
I was 20 when I got fired from a nightclub in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was a cocktail waitress serving martinis and the manager let me know on the first night, without a twinge of shame, “I’ve slept with all the cocktail waitresses here.” I let him know, without a twinge of hesitation, “I will be the first one to break your streak then.” A month later, he fired me for talking to a customer. A male customer who was ordering a drink from me. “We don’t spend our time flirting here,” he said with a smile. “You don’t need to come back.”
I told one of the other waitresses what happened. She just shook her head. “Sounds like him.” And life went on.
Luckily, I got a new job as an office assistant. My male boss was also my then-boyfriend’s rec league soccer coach in the evenings. His business was making trophies. He had a wife and a son and a daughter. And by the third month, he told me I should wear dresses more often. He didn’t expand, and in all my young naiveté, I interpreted it as that my jeans were too informal for this office … where I was the only employee besides his wife.
One day, I wore a simple beige wrap dress. We rode somewhere in his car together; I can’t remember why. But I do remember his eyes scanning my legs and, even though I wish I didn’t, I’ll always remember what he said. “You can have anything you want in that dress.” He stared at me the way no married man should ever stare at a woman not much older than his daughter. I laughed nervously. “Even a raise?” I joked, hoping I was so wrong about what I thought he meant. “Anything,” he purred.
I went home enraged, embarrassed, sickened. I told my boyfriend what happened and he cocked his head to the side. “He didn’t say that.”
“But … he did.”
“He’s my soccer coach. He’s married. He must have meant something else.”
A few years later, the night of a friend’s wedding, a man whom I’d barely said two words to, whose first name I don’t think he offered up, had the gall to follow me to my hotel room and try to push his way in under the pretense of “helping” me. With what, exactly, I’m not sure. I was of sound mind and body.
When he tried to kiss me in the open doorway, I tried a “no thank you” approach, still believing I could exit this politely. When he forcefully pressed both of my arms against the wall and tried again, I struggled to get away, and my protests were drowned out by his mouth on mine. He began to unbuckle his pants and it registered to me that this was quickly getting out of control. I nixed the politeness and pushed him away with feeling. One might say that feeling was rage. In disbelief, I asked him the most obvious question I could think of.
“Are you seriously trying to rape me?”
He looked thrown that I’d pulled out the big guns, the “r” word. Perhaps it’d never registered to him until that moment just how thin the line was between aggressiveness and assault. What killed me was he took a moment then, a pause as though he was about to say something else. Something in defense, maybe? Because when I said no and he said yes, he thought it was a debate, and he was still interested in winning. I hope it was my death glare that made him decide against that and choose to leave instead.
I didn’t tell anyone the full story. The next day, I made a joke about it, telling my friends he thought he was going to get something he definitely wasn’t. It was me, this time, who didn’t believe myself. He’s a friend of the groom, I thought. That couldn’t have happened.
He’s a friend. He wouldn’t dare.
He’s a soccer coach. He’s married.
He’s Bill Cosby. He’s a legend.
He’s Johnny Depp. He’s my favorite.
He’s the President. We have to respect him.
There’s always a reason why he isn’t guilty and why her memory is fuzzy. Because to admit otherwise would be to accept what I had to some 18 years ago—that not all people are good. That talent, money, fame and kindness can mask a whole lot of horrors. That admitting we are ignoring it also means admitting that we are contributing to it.
I’m afraid my daughters will have to say #MeToo one day, but I’m more afraid that no one will stand up afterward and say, “I believe you.” Knowing they have, thankfully, no idea of the atrocities of the current world, I said it out loud this morning anyhow.
“I’ll always believe you,” I tell the girls as they take turns scooping gigantic handfuls of raisins onto their cereal.
“I know, Mama,” says my 4-year-old. “In this family, we tell the truth.”
And then, I realized, I needed to tell mine.
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