In discussing the #MeToo movement in the office, we realized that every single one of us has at least one, if not multiple stories to tell. What this movement demonstrates is the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault. It’s not a symptom of just one industry; it’s everywhere. Despite considering only sharing one blog post, we soon realized we had too much to say. This blog post is one in a series of our stories, all of which can be read here.
Us too. Too much.
Looking back on events, spurred by recent news, I can feel one thing most strongly: anger. I don’t think about what the guys did so much as I do about how it made me feel, how–so wrongly–it still makes me feel. In fact, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I recalled instances of my own violation and identified them to be harassment; such is the influence of society on my own normalization and suppression of these events. This is direct evidence of the effect sexual harassment has on the victim, a seeping dread that never seems to leak past our own experiences and into the perpetrators’.
When I was in second year of university, I took a theory course on science and technology that required attendance in small, twenty-or-so-people tutorials. The first day of tutorial, while we, the students, waited outside the door of our designated classroom for the previous class to vacate, a boy comes up to me. I recognized him from lectures, and figured he was also in my tutorial section. He makes small talk before he asks for my number, explaining he wants to get a study group together. I decline, saying I don’t give my number out to people I’ve only just met. He presses, makes sure, and when I stand firm, he introduces himself, and offers his hand. I shake it, and he slowly raises it to his lips to kiss it. I then laugh, while pulling my hand away, because what else was I taught to do to diffuse situations? We file into the classroom, and I make sure to place many seats in between us. This is the beginning of what I would call his obsession with me.
He waited outside the classroom for me when lectures would end. When I began having my boyfriend meet me after this specific class, and having my friend from class walk out with me, he would pretend to leave out one door only to come back in through another to see if I was left alone yet. I remember once leaving my tutorial, my friend and I parting ways, and seeing out of the corner of my eye the creep lingering again. I turn abruptly and run, moving down through the stairwell to get outside and away, faster than I have ever run down stairs before. Above me, as I’m hurrying, step by step, I can hear the door to the stairwell burst open and footsteps running, matching my urgency. I never looked back to see who it was, but I’m sure it was him.
I ended up reporting him to campus police, name and all. I say disappointedly that nothing ever came of it–it was more a formality, an effort to ensure his name and my account were on record. I will credit the officer, however, who recorded my account, for making me as comfortable as possible in order to get it out.
About a year later I pass him on the subway platform; I’m heading downstairs, he’s heading up. I find my spot to wait on the platform, and suddenly he’s there. He asks if he knows me. I say no. He asks if I’ve ever taken a theory of science and technology course. I have, but I lie. He asks me my name, and I lie again, “It’s Sarah.” He leaves. I believe I told him to have a good day as he did so.
These are all details that I deliver factually. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that during that disturbing time, I would often see him and be filled with rage, resentment for his making me feel so small and alarmed, when in reality I could have laid him flat on the ground, no problem. But he got inside my head, and he dismantled my sense of security that I had, up until that point, considered so stable.
I have a notion that if I passed him on the street again, I would feel that same anger, that same stomach-dropping, that same fear mixed with the odd raising of fists that would signal otherwise. That feeling, no matter the distance that time or space can achieve, sticks with me.