I'm so conflicted about the #metoo movement and all the current allegations of sexual misconduct against men of power. As a person who posts naked pictures on the internet and reaps the benefit and the whirlwind that comes along with that choice, I feel there's a blurring of lines here that needs some discussion.
To wit, a professor friend of mine posted #metoo on her FB page and a male student of hers commented “You’re the fourth professor of mine to post this. Plus most of my female friends posted it. I'm gutted to think I’m surrounded by women who’ve endured this and I had no idea.”
His response pulled me up short. Was he clueless enough to think that any woman in the world has avoided harassment? Or did he actually think that most of the women he knew had been raped? And even worse, were most of his friends, professors and acquaintances assault survivors?
While anything is possible, I doubt that it’s the latter case. But I’m angry that we even have to ask that question or investigate the depths to which our friends have been degraded because the current climate makes no distinction between harassment and assault.
There is a very important distinction between assault and harassment and I’m really disturbed that there’s no adequate conversation being had about that distinction. Even most of the recent allegations of sexual misconduct don’t make that distinction.
This is a problem, right?
If you categorize catcalling and unwanted advances as harassment, we can safely say that 100% of adult woman on earth have been harassed at some point. If we include some level of inappropriate but noninvasive touching, we can maybe drop that number to about 95%. The simple truth is that most of the women that most of us know have been harassed in a way that’s frightening or degrading or just plain disgusting.
However, most of these incidents don’t leave scars. I’m sure some do, but most don’t.
This is VASTLY different from sexual assault, by which I mean violent and/or invasive non-consensual sexual contact of any kind. The kind of experience that any person who survives it will never ever confuse with harassment.
I don’t know the percentage of people who’ve been assaulted. I’m sure no one does, given the deep level of scarring that comes with that kind of violence and the shame that accompanies the confession. But I do know men and women who have been assaulted and I can safely say that they’ve never recovered from it. They’re permanently bent by the experience, forced down a road from which they’ll never return. And forced to inhabit bodies they have to relearn and come to accept and love again, a process that can take years.
I assume that #metoo it’s a bid for inclusiveness and for safety in numbers but you can’t tell me that the experience of being assaulted and the inconvenience of being catcalled are the same things. I refuse to believe it and I think it’s horrendously insulting to actual assault survivors. Assault and harassment are two very different things that do not belong in the same hashtag.
Since I’m not an assault survivor, I have the luxury of being outraged on principal. If I were an actual assault survivor, I’d want to burn the internet to the ground as people discuss whether a guy brushing up against you on the subway consists of assault.
But here’s the other problem with what we call harassment, and I say this as a woman who voluntarily shows her bare ass on the Internet: compliments and catcalling are two sides of the same coin and we don’t get one without the other.
No one does.
I am an extreme example as I post naked pictures of myself publicly. And I’m also a lucky example as most of the feedback is loving and positive. But this goes for all women clothed or unclothed in the world: If we choose to put ourselves out there in the world as attractive women, we can expect compliments and unwanted advances. We will get a larger share of the love and a larger share of the hate as well.
Look at celebrities for this equation magnified times a million.
But the internet isn’t real life and as a person in the world who wants to post pictures of herself online, I have to accept that with the light comes the dark. If I don’t want to be high profile in life or online, I can make myself beige. I can achieve maximum wallpaper capacity. Attractive women do this all the time so they don’t attract attention. But it is a choice not a sentence and in avoiding the lows, I would miss out on the highs too.
If I choose to be high profile, I must accept that I will receive attention I don't like. I can't pick and choose the attention that I get. I do have a choice in how I deal with it but I must deal with it. I must figure out a way to shield myself from it or deflect it or channel it into something productive; or I have to figure out how to live in a beige world. There aren't other options.
For me, the best solution is to live in my skin. But I think all of us should be wary of anonymous love, let the anonymous hate roll off our backs, be realistic about the world and be careful. Harassment will happen. To men. To women. To the naked people online and the clothed people on the street. But it isn't acceptable and it should be shut down and maybe it took this hashtag and these allegations to have this conversation at all.
For me, I’m gonna continue to post naked pictures and deal with the consequences..
Why would I let someone take that away from me?