Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Content Warning: mentions of sexual assault.
At the start of fall break, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw a post from a former teacher of mine saying “Me too.” I hadn’t been following the news and had been off Twitter for a while, so I didn’t immediately know what the post was referring to. After the second and third posts, both also by women, I thought to look up the phrase. In light of the stories brought forth about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, survivors of sexual assault and harassment have been posting “Me too.” on social media to display the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence. Though the spark for the recent wave of “Me too.” posts seems to have been prompted by actress Alyssa Milano, the use of the phrase in this context stems back to the ‘90s and activist Tarana Burke.
I had been thinking a lot about my assault that week, though frankly I think about it most days, and so I posted, too. Only later did I realize the campaign was supposed to be for women, specifically. Or, at least, according to some sources, that seemed to be the case. At this point I felt self conscious and a little guilty. Was I, as a person who performs masculinity, shifting the focus from women survivors who have to fight against patriarchal norms every day and turning attention onto myself with this post? This discomfort prompted me to reflect on my experience of being sexually assaulted by a woman; was this experience irrelevant to the campaign because it wasn’t explicitly about the sexual violence men do to women? In many ways, my assault seems to also be the result of patriarchal norms, and perhaps for this reason, I chose not to delete my post.
I’m fairly vocal about what happened to me, at least to my friends. It happened freshman year, and it took me months to register what happened and put a name to it. I have some solace in the fact that the person acknowledged what she did and apologized. Reflecting on the event now, it seems clear to me that what happened, though the gender roles were reversed, was still a result of cultures of sexual conduct established by the patriarchy. First, there is the assumption that men must want sex at all times; this played into my confusions about wanting to say no, and likely also into her assumptions about my desires. Second, the seduction (read: assault) pattern of heavy alcohol consumption followed by a fraternity party and then a quick adjournment to her Mertz single, was one that had, as I later found out, been enacted on her before. In this way the patriarchal cycle of violence repeated.
In response to the “Me too” campaign, some called for men to publicly acknowledge the ways they’ve engaged in misogynistic behavior. Though I am a survivor, I am not exempt from the charge of perpetuating misogyny. In the years it’s taking me to process my assault, I have become more conscious of how I interact with people in the hopes that I don’t make anyone come even close to feeling the way I did. But it shouldn’t take being assaulted to get us to start changing our behavior. It’s on all people, especially men, to stop perpetuating misogyny and sexual violence; this includes calling out “jokes” and harassment when they happen and asking explicitly for (sober!) consent before initiating physical contact. Unlearning toxic patterns of behavior is hard, but it’s necessary and can lead to more fulfilling interactions. I don’t mean to give the impression that I’ve succeeded in no longer being misogynistic; I’m trying to be better and still have a long way to go. Here are some resources provided by the Title IX office regarding sexual assault response and prevention that have been helpful for me, and could be helpful for you, too.
The featured image is the cover art for the album Hospice by The Antlers, courtesy of dangerousdeven.deviantart.com.