The typical narrative surrounding these types of situations blames women: “she should have known better," “she shouldn’t have let him in," “she should have been ‘strong enough’ to say no.” However, it is this narrative precisely that the #metoo movement purports to change, and these situations hold an important space as a part of that change.
I Know Because it Happened to me
The man who I had in my house was, at the time, my boyfriend. I don’t remember how he got there or what we had been doing that night. I don’t remember how long we had been dating, perhaps a couple weeks. I don’t even remember his name.
What I do remember is him asking me to have sex.
And then he asked again.
No, I don’t want to.
What I do remember is relenting – not consenting – to having sex with him. If I just simply do it, then he’ll leave. It’s not like I haven’t had sex before - I remember reasoning with myself.
What I clearly remember are the feelings of deep shame and embarrassment I felt once he left. How could I have invited him in? Why wasn’t I strong enough to have kicked him out?
I mentally replayed this night over and over and agonized over not having reacted differently. And what might have happened if I had? This night affected my self-worth for years to come. I never told anyone. I thought it was my fault. I was ashamed.
Re-examining My Own Experience
This experience has been dramatically reframed for me in light of #metoo. With so many survivor stories from brave women coming forward, for the first time in my life, I heard stories from women that were just like mine. Until this time, I’d never challenged my own assumption that what happened to me was my fault. It was an amazing awakening for me – I could reframe this painful experience in light of #metoo, and crucially, it wasn’t my fault.
What I also heard at this time was feedback from those who questioned the validity of these situations within the context of #metoo. Claims that women who spoke about the discomfort, the pressure, the relent-rather-than-consent experiences took away from the ‘real’ victims.
But this is not what the #metoo movement is about. Under #metoo, women of all backgrounds, places, and situations must be encouraged to speak their truth. And we must remember that one person’s truth does not mitigate another’s.
Women must feel free to stand up and speak about these experiences, as it is through talking about these experiences – all experiences – that we begin to recognize where we, as women, can demand real change to the way our bodies and opinions are respected.
Situations where women are pressured into giving consent, or without a clear-cut definition of sexual assault under the law, all have validity and relevance under the #metoo umbrella.
All women’s voices add to and strengthen the #metoo movement because they shed light on how deep the roots of women’s discomfort and lack of basic safety travel. Because they hold up for us the ways that women have internalized them to blame themselves – a deep shame that has ensured their silence and the perpetuation of more sexual relenting.
By encouraging all women to talk, we can and will affect real change to protect ourselves and the future generations to come.