Trigger warning: sexual harassment
I have been a victim of sexual harassment.
This is difficult for me to say.
I considered it to be a minor form of sexual harassment. In fact, in order to shield myself psychologically, I told myself it was just a misunderstanding. But deep down, I knew what it was.
Why did I want to tell myself that it was not sexual harassment?
Well, as I discussed last week, society has some really messed up ideas about sexual purity. While it’s easy for me to reject these ideas academically, rejecting them when it’s personal and I feel vulnerable is not so easy. It felt that, if I admitted, even to myself, that I were a victim of sexual harassment, that it would be some kind of horrible, shameful stain on myself.
And that’s rubbish.
The fact that I was the victim of sexual harassment? That says nothing about my character. That says absolutely nothing about my character. It does say something significant about the character of the harasser.
And this is a characteristic of rape culture – it’s the victim who gets ‘dirty’, is blamed, shamed, etc … and the perpetrator stays ‘clean’, as people either ignore the perpetrator, or ‘splain away the perpetrators actions. I did this myself in my head ‘oh, he probably wasn’t aware that he was making me uncomfortable…’ (yeah, let’s ignore the fact that he was in a position of authority over me, which meant I was hesitant to confront him directly, and he would have had to have been astonishingly clueless to not know that his behavior made me uncomfortable).
I think this might be the single most messed up thing about the way society perceives sexual purity. Though I think it’s wrong to shame consenting adults for doing harmless things, at least consenting adults have control over whether or not conform to society’s ideas. Victims of sexual harassment (or worse) don’t have that control … and this ‘sexual purity’ even lets the perpetrators off the hook.
I had assumed that I was alone. Then I overheard that he had sexually harassed some other people. I hadn’t realized that I had potential allies. If I had known, maybe I would have handled the situation a little differently. Then again, he was in a position of authority, so maybe not.
The more I read about cultural change, the more I think that people telling their stories is an essential part of the process. My story is not nearly as horrible as many of the other stories out there … but no matter how ‘minor’ the sexual harassment was, it was still unacceptable. And if adding my own little voice dislodges rape culture by even a thousandth of a hair, then post will have been worth writing.