I sat in the back of my best friend’s blue Volvo and I whispered in her ear, describing my real-life nightmare while her mom drove us to her house. We hadn’t seen each other in two weeks, and it felt like an eternity. I couldn’t wait to see her — I needed her.
After going through puberty that spring, I’d gone to visit a family member, and he put his hands on me. Again.
It had been a regular thing, in fact. My first memory was of me potty training and him joining me in the bathroom. I believe I was 2.
I endured the sexual abuse for years, but this time it was different. I’d been able to stuff the ugly truth deep inside of me for so long, it was a habit. But I couldn’t hold it in any longer. So I didn’t.
I’d only uttered the words about my sexual abuse one other time — to my older sister one afternoon when we were left home alone. I felt safe. I felt brave. So I told her. But the moment I starting saying the words out loud, I wanted to take them back. “Don’t tell,” I said. “Don’t ever tell Mom or Dad,” I repeated. We never spoke about it again.
My abuser’s words — “Don’t tell anyone. This is our secret.” — paralyzed me as a little girl. “I do this because you are my favorite, you know.” The fear of “telling” on him outweighed my wanting to free myself from this dirty little secret. I would be in trouble if I disobeyed. But more than that, I wanted it to all go away, and somehow, not talking about it made it feel less real.
Until it snuck up and haunted my dreams, haunted me when I played, haunted me when I saw my parents kissing or a love scene in a movie. My idea of romance and love was so distorted. I felt depressed when I saw two people who were in love show affection toward one another. But as I grew into a woman, I had to talk about it because there was a part of me that was dying; I could feel it pulling at my core. I knew I had to try with all of my might to save that piece of me. And the only way I knew how to do that was to start talking.
There were many who would listen to me, sure. But when I say that, I mean many young girls would listen to me because they could relate — it had happened to them, too, and like me, they kept that part of them hidden until they knew it was safe to come out and speak their truth. But our safe places were limited, and we knew it.
There were so many females who’d been affected as children, grown women, or both, who’d had their world twisted and scarred because some man couldn’t keep his fucking hands to himself.
Because he felt her body was his.
Because he was too much of a coward to face his own demons, so he decided to pass them on to a child or a woman and leave them feeling like they couldn’t climb out of the dark chasm that he’d created.
Because he thought it wasn’t that big of a deal and his actions and words were harmless.
Because he was a disgusting asshole who does shit like this for pleasure.
So when women hear “Not all men,” we want to give you the middle finger with both hands. We don’t care who is saying it. Because in those three words, you are so missing everything we are finally standing up for.
You should be more concerned why so many young girls and women have been harmed. And you should be getting angry about that truth — not because you feel we are giving all men a bad name.
At this point, we don’t fucking care. You shouldn’t either. Stop centering yourself. This isn’t about you.
So now, here we are seeing women come out of the woodwork. Feeling strong, being brave, admitting they, too, had an encounter where they were harassed, abused, raped. And the response “Not all men” is not relevant. Not to me. Not to my sister. Not to my best friend. Not to my daughter. Not to my cousin. Not to any woman.
In fact, it’s invalidating and degrading and inappropriate. Because, remember, this isn’t about you.
The very point we are trying to make — that this has happened to so many women — causes us to feel torn between wondering, How the hell could this happen to so many of us? To not being surprised at all because it seems to be the norm. I refuse to accept this. I refuse to raise my sons and my daughter in a world where we feel this is so common we might as well not say anything at all, and if we do, we should make sure we back it up by reminding people not all men are guilty. Nope, I don’t think so.
I am begging you: Do not dilute this. Because the moment we do, the moment we stop talking, the moment we feel ashamed to speak out, ashamed to share our stories, is the moment we let shame win again. Haven’t we been doing that for much too long? Women have been hiding behind our stories and our experiences because we are frightened. Because we don’t think anyone gives a damn.
And “Not all men!” instead of “I believe you, and I’m sorry” seems to cement our worst fears.
We owe it to ourselves to stop giving a fuck about making people uncomfortable. We owe it to the women before us who didn’t have a choice in the matter. We owe to the women who have suffered in silence because they needed their job to survive while raising kids on their own. We owe it the women who kept quiet because they feared for their life. We owe it to our daughters, our nieces, the girls we see walking hand in hand on the playground at recess. We owe it to our sons to show them this is not how we treat women.
The truth is, when someone stands up and talks about this horrific nightmare that they have endured, this terrible experience they will carry with them for the rest of their days, they are not painting a bad picture for “all men,” so get the fuck over it.
I am speaking my truth. They are speaking their truth. We’re done minimizing a life-changing traumatic experience that every women I know has had to face, in one way or another. It’s unacceptable and disgusting. It’s our fucking turn, and #MeToo is more important than trying to let men understand we know they aren’t all like this. Give me a damn break.
Maybe not all men, but if you’ve stood by and watched this happen to a woman and you didn’t do anything about it, if you looked the other way and sat back because you didn’t want to get your hands dirty, if you laughed with your asshole friends, you are part of the problem. So do some soul-searching instead of invalidating our trauma.
We know what our job is now, and we won’t be quiet, and we are not obligated to follow our stories up by saying “Not all men” to cater to your sensibilities. We need to show our daughters and our sons things are going to change. Starting now. I won’t back down. Are you with me?