Social media has been alive and active with the status “Me Too” – largely posted by women. Some have just typed the words “Me Too” or #metoo, while others have put a longer explanation under the words.
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
Followed by the appeal: Please copy/paste.
I understand it. I support those who have typed in the words and I am convinced that every one of the women who have typed “Me Too” know that this is much bigger and harder than two words on social media. But I still can’t do it. Because for me, it trivializes the massive problem and because #metoo can be a painful trigger. As my friend Sarah said “Women should not have to expose themselves as survivors for this to be noticed as an issue.”
I grew up in a place where every girl and woman I knew just saw this as a byproduct of living where we lived. We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t discuss it. But while I was writing Passages Through Pakistan, I knew that this would be one chapter of my journey that needed to be written.
I can’t type the status, because the memories come back of the first time, and then more memories come of the second, then the third, and finally, so many that I truly can’t remember all of them. It threatens to overwhelm me, because mine is just one small story of millions on millions of others. I have friends who have suffered so deeply because of sexual assault that it is a fight for them to feel whole. #MeToo is not a social media status, it’s their living reality.
I didn’t know the bodies of women were meant to be a museum of tragedies, as if we were meant to carry the ocean without drowning. @ijeomaumebinyuo
So my response is to tell part of the story that I wrote in my book. When we tell our stories, we open ourselves to criticism and misunderstanding, but we also open the door for others to tell their stories. So I offer it here. It’s not the hardest story you’ll hear, and it’s not the easiest story you’ll hear – it’s simply my own.
At thirteen I was fairly well developed. My chest had sprouted breasts, and I had begun to show my inheritance of a curvy round body, the gift of generations of women before me. I was walking with a group of people along a busy street when a young Pakistani man first challenged me with his eyes, and when I quickly looked away reached out his hand and grabbed my buttocks, squeezing as he did so. I felt a mixture of shame and horror. The thought of telling anyone never occurred to me. That’s not what we did. We bore the inappropriate touch of men, whether Pakistani or foreign, because we were conditioned to bear it. We now call this sexual harassment, but we thought we had no name for it. In retrospect, we did have a a couple of names for it: “No big deal.” And “It’s nothing.”
As girls growing into young women, no one ever talked about being grabbed or touched inappropriately. We all figured this sort of thing happened to everyone, that being touched or treated poorly was just a by-product of being raised as a female in Pakistan. This was not reflective of my life at home, where a father and four brothers were solicitous for my well-being. Nor was it reflective of the men I knew at the church we attended during our school vacations or the Muslim families we visited regularly. This was the behavior of strangers, men and boys who didn’t know me and would never see me again, taking liberties that were completely inappropriate. Ironically, if it had been other men or boys touching the women in their families, they would have been justified in violently attacking the man who wronged their women. But I was not one of the women or girls in their family – I was fair game.
The idea that I would acknowledge, much less fight touch, would never have occurred to me. How does that affect a young girl who was becoming a woman? I speak only for myself when I say that it sets a dangerous precedent for suffering shame in silence, for believing I was ‘less than,’ my body an object instead of an integral part of me as a woman, as a person. In the tapestry that makes up my life, this was one of the pictures woven into the whole. It is a picture that was never discussed, and so I dismissed the feelings, put them aside, telling myself they were unimportant in the bigger tapestry.
I would learn that God’s image is powerful, that though they would try over and over, mere men are no match for those who bear his mark, for those who are called “beloved.”
There would be other incidents when I was subjected to unwarranted and unwanted looks and touch, where I averted my eyes quickly, my face burning in shame. That day, on the Mall Road in Murree, was the first and it set a pattern of bearing shame in silence. Had I told my mom, the shame and lies might not have penetrated so deeply. I believe we could have talked about it; that talking could have opened up a door into some of her own struggles. But I never mentioned it. I was silent.
There are many lies that permeate the world of women and girls, and one of those lies is shame and perception that our bodies are at fault for inappropriate touch. In dismissing these events in our own lives and the lives of other women, we begin living by a lie instead of by the truth of God. Truth that tells us we are made in the image of God and our bodies are to be loved, protected, and cherished.
I crossed a threshold that night. I entered a world I did not wish to enter and came of age in a way I did not choose. I adhered to the unspoken code of silence that dictated our lives when it came to being touched inappropriately. Through the years the memory would heal. I would learn that God’s image is powerful, that though they would try over and over, mere men are no match for those who bear his mark, for those who are called “beloved.” God, in his limitless creativity, would find ways to remind me who I was that far outweighed the message that I was an object.
Wrong and evil may threaten to overpower that which is good, that which is beautiful, but it will never truly win.
So to all of us who claim #metoo, whether we type the status or not, I say this: God saw what he created, and called it good. Man can distort that, twist it, repackage it – but the truth will never die. God saw what he created and he called it good. The beauty of those words are a healing balm. Every wrinkle, every laughter line, every stretch mark, every mole – my body is made in his image to be used for His Glory.
Blogger’s Note: Here is another article that I wrote a couple of years ago: On Harassment and Freedom from the Silence of Shame.