When the #metoo campaign came out, to be perfectly honest, it took a while for me to realize that well… me too. I had to read other women’s accounts before I realized that… well, me too. It’s never gone as extreme as seeing a man forcefully masturbate in front of me or force themselves on me (although I was followed a few blocks by a naked man who seemed to be a bit mental… oh wait, me too!) but after reading a few experiences, I realized that I wasn’t exempt. Frankly, my experience had become so normal, I had completely blanked out and accepted the normality of it all. I had gotten completely used to it.
I’ve gotten so used to walking alone in any city, not making eye contact, to avoid unnecessary exchanges. I’ve gotten used to random catcalls and “hey, sweethearts, where are you off to?” I’ve gotten used to the weirdest pick up lines and attempts to meet up (if I am in a shitty base in the middle of nowhere, telling me you that you will choose your R and R in my base is not cute, it’s demented). I’ve gotten used to being sent drinks when I’m not in that kind of setting and I’m actively trying to be by myself or with my friends. I’ve gotten used to feeling like I have to be grateful for a free drink, some attention, when I hadn’t been looking for it at all. I’ve gotten used to having the Companion app on my phone, to have girlfriends tell me to text them when I get home safe or call them when I’m in the cab.
I’ve also been more than appreciative for friends or colleagues who slip behind me to block the unnecessary attention. I’ve had male friends call someone out for catcalling and shaming them into walking away. I’ve gone out for drinks or a dance and had male friends tell me to give them a heads-up when they need to step in. I’ve had nights when I had to pretend I was solely interested in my group of people to avoid someone stepping in unwantedly, like this circumference is the entire world and I shall not dance outside for fear of being captured.
I think that for every woman, there is a moment of clarity when things slip from “we’re all just joking around” to “now this is really uncomfortable… how do I extricate myself from this situation?” There’s no clear guideline between being friends to how someone else will take it an opening for innuendo. I can’t explain when it happens, but it’s almost like feeling the bottom of a pool with the tip of your foot and then slipping past your comfort zone, almost drowning and stuck in that moment of helplessness for one second, before trying to find where you need to be.
It infuriates me that I need the barrier. I’m a short thing but I like to walk around like I do have a stake in the world. It is frustrating because in my particular job, where I feel I have provide and support other people, on my off time, I need that additional back up from male friends. I am completely capable at my own job, perfectly able to manage for more than a hundred people, but the minute I clock out and have a little fun, I need a little more support.
Personally, I can manage myself just fine. I know how to drag out a conversation until it gets to the point that the interest cannot be revived because I can be so very dull. I have a back up name (Veronica, stolen from a cousin and does not look at ALL like me) and can either refuse to pick up a call or drop a number or two from my mobile number in case someone asks. I’m fantastic at boxing someone else out on a dance floor, though some persistent ones can manage to still come in and with few drinks in, are probably not too clear on how many times you’ve turned your back to them.
But what I’m not good at is just saying NO. It’s an odd combination of being Asian, Filipina, and being female but I can’t for the life of me just say no. Part of me feels embarrassed for the guy for trying so hard and for missing so many cues. Part of me is because it’s already in any woman’s arsenal, the many ways to show NO. The burden of both refusal and apology is on the woman.
What I am also not good at is the awareness of it happening to women (or men) who have less of the certainty or the power I feel I have. In my role, I feel my personal failure is when one woman feels stuck in the position that she can’t say no but she’s not really saying yes. To be oblivious to those moments, to not know this is happening under my nose, to not providing the space that another woman or man can tell me that they feel discomfort or even unsafe, that’s the failure of my #metoo. That I think it is so normal, it takes me a second to recognize it for myself, much longer for others. Too little too late, that they remember the experience for years or for life, or worse, that it has scarred them.
This is the reality of #metoo. It’s not exempt anywhere, it’s prevalent where I live, where I travel, where I work. It’s across more women and men than I thought. It’s not because I am beautiful or attractive. It’s because I’m a woman, it’s because it’s a possibility at any given moment, it’s because it’s status quo, it’s because no one has called it out, it’s because we raise our sons this way and our daughters the other. There’s a hundred thousand different reasons it happens, when the reality is that it needs only one that it shouldn’t, and that’s when someone says no and it’s respected.
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.