I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be able to walk down a street without looking at glass store fronts or at shadows to see if someone is following me.
I don’t like rainy days, but when I’m walking back to my dorm late at night I am thankful for my umbrella, ready to flip my grip to turn it into a self defense weapon at any time.
I hate that moment of indecision when I get catcalled. Ignore him? Snap back at him? All I can do, in that moment, is evaluate what I’m wearing. A long-sleeved dress. Or jeans and a tee. Or a blazer for a formal event. I bow my head and keep walking, hoping the man in the car will eventually speed up instead of trailing behind me.
It’s not just the isolated incidents when I’m out and about in public. Sexual misconduct pervades places of learning and work. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced that at school. However, the latter is another story.
This was what I was wearing at an event for National Geographic’s premiere of “Mars.” It was a classy cocktail event at The Beverly Hilton pool deck, where I was on a mission to interview the cast of “Mars” as well as real-life astronauts and NASA engineers. At certain parts of the party I was mingling with other journalists as well.
I was introduced to a man and two women, all professionals who were interested in my journalism career. I told them I’ve been in the industry since I was 11 years old, worked under a variety of online outlets, was currently covering for the Los Angeles Times High School Insider.
“Wow,” the man chuckled. “Who’d you have to sleep with?”
I can’t remember what I said in response. I must have laughed it off. It was only after I came home and recounted to my mom the conversation that I realized I had been humiliated. I cried. All my skills, hard work, time and energy I poured into my work that got me to my position was dismissed in the implication that I had used my body to advance my career. He knew full well he was talking to a 17-year-old high schooler. The other women who were part of the conversation said nothing.
I’m glad the #MeToo movement is picking up steam again. But it should not be a comforting movement, for women to stand in solidarity with each other. While that is a good effect, the purpose of the movement is to make people uncomfortable. It’s to show how pervasive sexual misconduct is, from the streets to the workplace, from asphalt to red carpets. My experience should be an exception, not a norm. #MeToo is a wake up call.
What to do? Use your voice. Real cool advice I read: practice saying “that’s not cool” or “you crossed the line” or “you need to rethink what you just said” or “back off.” Use your voice and perspective to call out backhanded sexist comments that perpetuate sexual assault. Whoever you are–your voice matters. Use it.