Like many, as I scrolled through my feed and saw #MeToo post after #MeToo post after the 10-year-old Me Too movement took on a new life in the form of a viral hashtag earlier this week, I was overcome with just about every emotion under the sun. I felt solidarity, sadness, and so much admiration for every woman sharing a difficult story — but I also felt enraged. The number of #MeToos that came out of this is by no means surprising, but the fact that just about every woman I know (and you know) has been sexually harassed or assaulted is by no means OK.
I bring up consent, catcalling, and sexual assault with my close friends, male and female, and sometimes people I hardly know, all the time — sometimes to the point where someone will say, "Um, can we talk about happy things now?" So to see it being talked about so openly on social media felt like progress. Finally. But as I got ready to hit "post" on my own #MeToo story, which shared the street harassment I face every time I walk in the city alone (aka every day), how horrifying it is to be groped by a stranger, and what my experience with stealthing was really like, I paused. Why should I have to do this? I've already dealt with far too many men who don't treat women like people, who think women owe them something — and I've had to deal with the effects of it. So why is it our responsibility to open up about something difficult in efforts to educate men? What initially felt like catharsis quickly turned into frustration, and I decided not to post on principle alone. Where were all the men apologizing, or even simply acknowledging their mistakes? I love that #MeToo brought so many women together, but at the same time, it let the men who've harassed, assaulted, or put up a wall of silence, take no responsibility for it — and stay quiet on the issue once again. (Except for the #NotAllMen crowd, which once again, missed the point).
On one hand, I have some regrets about not posting a #MeToo story. Unlike some women who couldn't post because of their careers or the fact that they still had ties to the men who assaulted them, I could have posted. I was moved by stories from people I hardly know. What if my post could have had that effect on someone? On the other hand, since I have been vocal about these issues before, maybe it's better for me to put my efforts in taking more actions IRL to fight back? And when a male friend asked a few days later where I had been in this whole conversation on Facebook, I was instantly reminded why I opted out: I don't have to tell him — or anyone — my story.
"Survivors have the right to share their stories and help to break the silence around these issues, but they also have the right to withhold their stories and determine when and where and with whom they wish to share what has been done to them. Or not." Janell Hobson, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University at Albany, tells Bustle.
But what about other women who chose not to share? Whether it was because of their job or because the viral hashtag was too aligned with white privilege, there were tons of reasons for women didn't choose to participate in #MeToo. But it wasn't because they don't have a story about sexual harassment or sexual assault. Here's why some women chose not to post:
1. Savannah, 22
"In the summer of 2016, I was raped by someone I knew and trusted. When I let him into my home, I didn't imagine the hurt and pain that would come from my decision to invite him in. The next day, I felt guilty and ashamed, but over time realized what happened to me was not my fault whatsoever. I have shared my story with a few people, and was compelled to share it again as part of the important #MeToo movement. However, I use my social media a lot for work, as I'm in the PR industry. I didn't want my clients, coworkers and supervisors to see my story and view me differently. Though some may see this as weak or cowardly, I made a purposeful decision for my career. There is still an unfair stigma surrounding victims of sexual assault, and I'm sad I wasn't able to share my story because of it. I am so grateful to all the women who shared, and I hope one day I have the strength to do so as well."
2. Philippa, 43
"I was never sexually abused or assaulted as a child. In fact, in hindsight, I see that my parents were exceptionally vigilant about my protection. As an adult, I was never forcibly raped. As a teenager and young adult, I was sexually curious. I've not bothered to post because I don't want to be disrespectful of the stories that deserve the attention. A lot of people have had it a lot worse than I have. I also see that I made mistakes that got me into bad situations so I can't say that I didn't have a part. I also was able to make sure what happened, never happened again.
"What I find interesting is that I worked in Hollywood in both New York and Los Angeles since I was 15 and never found anyone acting inappropriately. They were flirtatious but there was always professional boundaries that no one ever crossed. Then I became a paralegal in my late 20s and started working for attorneys and that was the most untenable working environment with rampant sexual harassment. The most uncomfortable was a boss of mine who was married with children plied me with alcohol at a neighboring hotel bar and the next thing I knew we were in bed together. Several other men tried and I could be assured I would be made uncomfortable by unwanted advances each and every day I went into the office. The most uncomfortable situation was when I was viciously and repeatedly accused during the course of a month of downloading massive amounts of porn on the computer I worked on three days a week. It didn't even comprehend for me what they were talking about as I thought I might have accidentally clicked on a pop-up or something. It took them a while to figure out the male accountant who was in one day a week on the same computer was the actual person downloading the porn. He got a slap on the wrist and I never got an apology. Needless to say, I didn't last in that field very long. I just thought it was morally abhorrent, as all of these men were married, and among them were those outraged about porn, yet not hesitating to want to take me to bed. I put it behind me and moved on with my life. Maybe it's not surprising I don't touch alcohol and have a 2nd degree black belt in kung fu."
3. Maya, 39
"I spent days with a knot in my belly thinking about whether I should participate in the #MeToo [movement]. With the Trump presidency, I've felt compelled several times to share how I had my pussy grabbed by a stranger in a movie theater when I was 20. There are countless other jeers and leers I could enumerate but that one stands out to me. I felt conflicted for a number of reasons about posting. For one, I use my social media for my business and keeping friends and family updated on my kids' adorable moments. I am not usually one to jump on a [hashtag] bandwagon. I also like to sit with things and not make snap decisions.
"As the days progressed I also found out more about the movement and it's formation by a black woman several years ago and I didn't want to participate in something that was feeling more and more like it aligned with white privilege. Ultimately what kept me from posting was that this groundswell caused me to spend days with a knot in my stomach remembering the feelings of the assault and the shame and guilt that I didn't speak out at the time. When I was assaulted, I just moved my own body away, I didn't want to inconvenience anyone in the theater. Staying silent now was empowering because I was making my own decision about my body."
4. Anonymous, 23
"I chose not to post a #MeToo story for a few different reasons. First and foremost, a lot of people I'm friends with online would know my abuser if I named him or told the story with any identifying details (at all) and I didn't want to have to deal with the backlash that comes with that. Secondly, I used to be good friends with the ex-girlfriend of my abuser and she now has a family, including a child with him, and I don't want to disrupt her happiness and/or ruin her memories of her ex as he is now passed away. The third, and probably most controversial, reason of all is that I chose to forgive the person who assaulted me and we were friendly for a long time after it happened as well (no, I'm not kidding or trolling) so, while I acknowledge that he did something horrible (whether intentional or not), I don't think his entire life should be defined by that choice, the same way mine should not defined by the fact that I've been a victim of sexual assault."
5. Caryn, 47
"As someone who is over 40, who grew up in the time Weinstein and all the others claim was 'a different time' (and it was) I think just for the sake of self preservation I needed to dismiss or block out or purposefully try and forget so many of these 'incidents' over the years. Reading so many other women's accounts has been upsetting, reassuring, infuriating, re-traumatizing, and brought up many other emotions. The reasons I didn't post my story is part lack of recollection (I am pretty good at deleting bad memories) and part that putting it in print makes it real. In black and white, all the trauma is less likely to be discounted or brushed off as a silly thing that happened and highlights either how poorly I've taken care of myself or how little I thought of myself to not report any of these instances. I'm afraid to admit or maybe even recognize how much I've been traumatized over the years as an ex-boyfriend frequently raped me. The worst part about that was that I didn't even realize it was rape.
"Until years later I was recounting the story on stage at a 'depression open mic in Chicago where on stage i had the realization that since i did not give consent, in fact, I'd frequently say 'no' or 'Please stop' that that was in fact rape. At that mic (which unfortunately is long gone) the 'worst' stories would win a free shot. That night I won a free whisky."
6. Van, 28
"I did not choose to post my #MeToo story. In lieu of that, however, I did post this. I did this because, like so many people, I'm am not ready to share the hairy details at the center of my #MeToo story — but for me, simply writing 'Me Too' was not sufficient, and silence was also not an option. So I decided to write about some of the fears and anxieties that have pervaded the daily lives of myself and so many other women. Because the real damage from sexual assault and harassment isn't just limited to an isolated incident or set of incidents...it dismantles and disfigures all aspects of a woman's life."
7. Wendy, 47
"My story would have no effect. It was as though we were all 14 again and required to do the same thing at the same time. The only stories that will have any impact are the one told to the police directly."
8. Laura, 22
"First let me say that I support, love, and commend those who did — I believe that there is strength in numbers, that the hashtag has opened a door for many people to have positive (even cathartic) experiences sharing their stories, and that many eyes have been opened to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in our society.
"On a personal level, I couldn’t get past the idea that I was, once again, being asked to prove my pain in order for people to care about the wrongs that have been done against me. It strikes me as odd (though not necessarily surprising) that tragedy has to happen en masse for people to care about it. Despite its good intentions, my belief is that the hashtag ultimately perpetuates the issue of requiring survivors to do the work — we shouldn’t have to out ourselves on social media for people to give a sh*t."
9. Anonymous, 24
"Both of my sexual assaults were not violent or overtly physically harmful. And, rape #1 happened with a man I found attractive/was in to, and rape #2 happened with a couple who were, and still are, friends of mine. So I always felt kind of guilty about even calling them rape. It's taken a long time to come to terms that they both were rape and I was violated, and in the case of the couple I knew, they have no idea. And only a couple people close to me know the truth. Posting a #MeToo story would put me in a vulnerable position I'm not ready for. Also — I feel like the #MeToo thing puts too much responsibility on survivors. Abusers/assaulters shouldn't have to see that people they know are survivors to know that violating people is wrong. The problem isn't the number of survivors — it's the number of ASSAULTERS and the culture that allows them to keep getting away with abusing people."
10. Anonymous, 25
"Like hundreds of thousands of other women, I have been sexually assaulted and humiliated by a man who thought he was above the rules, or whatever his lame, pathetic excuse is. My experience was in college, where a boy that I had once hooked up with grabbed my face and forcefully stuck his tongue down my throat upon my arrival to a frat party with NO warning. He was apparently dating someone in a different sorority than me at the time (had no idea) but she found out and freaked out at him. The boy aggressively called and texted me for days but I ignored it and really didn't tell many people about it because it was embarrassing. His friend (who I used to be friends with) then started posting photos of this stupid Homewrecker Burrito on my Facebook page to call me a homewrecker...and could only get him to stop after removing him as a friend and blocking him on Facebook..
"This happened roughly three-four years ago now, and it took me a long time to start telling my college friends about what really happened. He made me feel like I had made the whole thing up and I felt so stupid, especially because he was friends with lots of my friends, was in a 'cool frat' and so many girls thought he was 'hot'. I actually JUST told some of my best college friends who were part of that friend group about a month ago and they were shocked. I'm friends with my entire family and people from my professional life on Facebook/social media, and I just don't feel ready to share it with certain groups of my network. Even 'smaller' experiences like this take a long time to come to terms with, and while it was really powerful seeing how many other women were able to accept it publicly, I'm just not ready to do that yet."
11. Mari, 30
"The reason I didn't post a #MeToo story is because, while I realize that most women at some point of their lives have been sexually harassed or assaulted, I didn't want to trivialize the more serious stories that other women shared. Sexual harassment is complex, in the workplace title 7 laws are looked at on a case by case basis, there are a lot of gray areas. Harassment can be subtle, I didn't want the conversation to turn to a ridiculous extreme, i.e. when people start asking if men should just stop talking so that women feel safe. I wanted to leave the floor open to other women who have been more seriously affected."
12. Anonymous, 38
"I choose not to participate in #MeToo. If I'm being honest with myself it was a little out of fear and judgment from others. I'm 38 now and have been in very uncomfortable situations with almost every man I have ever worked for since I was 16 years old. I have seen this happen hundreds of times to my female co-workers and I'm embarrassed to say that I never stood up for them. As a woman in business I have learned to dodge the men that get a little too close or deflect when there are inappropriate comments. I have even gone as far as making myself look less attractive in the workplace to keep away the creepy men. Eventually I started my own business and now work from home so I am completely removed from workplace harassment. I'm a little bit torn about having the courage to speak up on this topic in my own social circle but I feel that as a parent to two boys and a girl that my power lies in teaching them how to be strong, how to treat others and how to defend someone when they are being treated poorly. I am thrilled for this topic to come to light but don't feel drawn to participate."
13. Anonymous, 25
"Why? Everyone knows it happens. I don't know a woman that hasn't been harassed. Men aren't going to stop doing it. The men who supported the online moment probably don't participate in the actions. The ones that do more than likely don't care. Or some how think their actions aren't considered sexual harassment, or feel that woman are playing hard to get. I expect nothing to change. You want the bullsh*t to change? Start teaching men to be real men and stop leaving their sons to figure it out."
14. Veronica, 32
"I wanted to share that I had a close call, and thanks to another woman, I was saved from losing my virginity in rape. But writing #MeToo (almost) with no further context sounded like it belittled the other #MeToo posts and offering more context in a non-anonymous way was an uncomfortable platform for me. I wanted to make the point that it doesn’t have to end in #MeToo if 1). Men change their behavior and 2). Until they do, we watch out for each other, and have each other’s backs. That can be by stopping a sexual assault in the moment — like my friend who busted in the closed door to get my inebriated/blacked out self out of there and save me from being taken advantage of — or it can be by listening to other women who share their stories and BELIEVING them."
15. Nicole Prause, Ph.D., Sex Researcher
"I chose not to post #MeToo because I post about these issues constantly already. I feel people know the misogyny, sexism and harassment in my field well. I have been attacked for speaking out about it many times. There are several 'hate' websites dedicated to claiming I, for example, imagined it or had it coming. Only one colleague ever spoke on my behalf when this false stuff was being posted, and I have had multiple investigations that found in my favor supporting my accounts. So, frankly, I found a sudden willingness to disclose a reasonable effort, but it is too little too late. When you have been on the front lines fighting these issues, little social media blips like this come and go. You know people will do nothing different, because they were never consistent in their support in the past, even when we made it easy. It is a case of good people remaining silent."
16. Anonymous, 31
"While I found the aim of the hashtag to be wonderful — the point is to unite voices of those who have experienced something equally awful and traumatic, to show everyone who has been impacted that they are not alone, and to show that sexual assault is a lot more common than any of us would like to think. Clearly we have an issue on our hands that needs to be remedied.
"Why I didn’t participate comes down to two specific reasons: 1) I didn’t want there to be any misunderstanding of the tone of #MeToo. I didn’t want it to take on this air of blame. The point isn’t to punish abusers, it’s to unite and empower victims. However, things can always take a life of their own on the internet as we all know, and I didn’t want to be a part of anything that turned the message to blaming abusers. That doesn’t work. They should be accordingly served justice by the law. 2) I am a very open person, and am very active on social media. That said, I still am cautious about everything I post and look at it through the eye of my employer. I work at a male-dominated, competitive, conservative business. I doubt anyone would actually say anything if they did find a #MeToo posting on my social channels, but I am so hesitant to give anyone a modicum of my vulnerability. With that, I say I add to the problem. I add to the male power play that essentially scares women into being voiceless."
17. Hayley, 24
"On Facebook, everyone detailed their 'Me Too' stories. I wanted to share, but I was afraid... afraid because I'm a retired actress (because of a Me Too story) and an influencer who is a role model to young girls as well as an anti-bullying advocate. I posted the words 'Me Too' but not my story. The first time it happened I was 19. I was naive, and I walked into Hollywood alone. I was a target for an unattractive middle aged man who went by the name of 'Don.' We were at a private residence at a networking thing I was invited to. I had never drank alcohol before. He had me drink wine, which I found bitter. Then said he wanted to talk to me in private about a role in his office. I didn't know any better and followed. All I wanted was to be an actress, but he had other things in mind for me. He told me he wanted me to make similar sexual faces as Kate Upton who was pretty famous at the time. Then he said, I'm going to take you to the Playboy mansion to meet high Hugh Hefner. I started to get nervous and he asked if I knew how to give a lap dance and I said no. In one swift movement he lifted me off the ground and placed me on his body straddling his erection than grabbed my head and shoved his tongue in my mouth. I was terrified and left shortly after. I didn't book the role because I refused to give my virginity to him and wasn't sexual enough. I mentally blocked out this incident and after I was very cautious in Hollywood.
'The second time, I was 21. My brother fell asleep and my mom was away for the weekend. My brother's drunk friend Mikey came in my room three times. climbing on top of me, shoving his tongue down my throats and putting his hand in my bra and panties. Every time he came back I was absolutely terrified. He told me to be quiet and not tell anyone. I didn't sleep at all that night. Three months later, I told my family. All I wanted was an apology. His family said I asked for it. It was 102 degrees that day and I jumped in the pool to cool off for five minutes in a swimsuit. Because I walked in a swimsuit, I asked to be sexually assisted is what they said. The first incident I could block out, the second stole my confidence in three five-minute assaults.
"I didn't originally want to publish this story, but now that I write it, it gives me confidence and closure opening up. Since I was assaulted, I have trust issues, but no serious psychological damage. I gave up acting and dedicate my life to my anti-bullying awareness work and working with victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Knowing that with the evil people in this world, there are also good people like myself. In this world, you can be assaulted by just about anyone. It happened to me by a producer and a family friend."
18. Liz, 27
"I chose not to post a #MeToo story because I feel like it's a social media trend right now and posting a story is not helping solve the problem... it's more about gaining attention and sympathy/empathy. Social media is a form of attention. On the flip side, it's showing the world how many women have been affected by sexual harassment and it's overwhelming. I guess, I just didn't want or need the social attention. I don't want eyes on me or people to feel bad. I just want women to stand up for themselves and feel powerful enough to be able to do that. I'm a strong, confident, independent woman who was sexually harassed when I was younger multiple times and sometimes let it happen."
19. Amber, 31
"Over the past few days, I've really been struggling with my decision to not tap on the "Post" button after typing the seemingly simple, 6 syllable hashtag heard around the world. I know all too well about the need to address the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, as a victim, myself. I 100% support and admire the brave voices that have come forward to raise awareness of this issue that has repeatedly been "swept under the rug." I've written blogs on sexism in certain industries, attend women's empowerment events, regularly post or tweet articles about gender equality, so it would only seem natural for me to engage in this movement. But, I chose not to.
Why? It's not because I'm not embarrassed or ashamed. I'm not. It comes down to wanting to protect the people who have worked so hard to help me become the confidant woman I am today.
If this was 2005 and my social media presence was regulated to my fellow college freshman class, I'd pour my heart out, but I'm "friends" with my parents, in-laws and childhood friends' parents. These are the people who have encouraged me to pursue my passions, paid my college tuition, helped me write my first resume. I don't want them to know that the same resume, which landed me my first job eventually led to the first time I got felt up by a much older co-worker. In a sense, I feel as though I'd be letting them down. Honestly, I feel cowardly and really don't know if I'm making the right decision. Maybe I'll share the story with my parents next time I see them, but for the time being, I'm just keeping it to myself."
20. Rachel, 41
"I chose not to post a #MeToo story, even though I definitely had a big one — I was raped when I was 16 by a boy I had a crush on. I've had other experiences too (strangers fondling me on public transit) but just didn't feel comfortable writing "me too."
Why didn't I share? I think partly the #MeToo movement seemed so sudden; it caught me off guard. Sure, I know the Weinstein [allegations] had been building for a while, but the idea of women everywhere sharing their story seemed to happen like the flick of a light switch. It started innocuously enough — I woke up Monday morning to a #MeToo post by a friend and "liked" it. I noticed several "me toos" in the comments of her post. My first thought was, "well, duh — everyone knows this happens to women, like all the time. People may choose to ignore it, like institutionalized racism, but of course it's there."
As the day wore on, it was a gentle trickle and then a serious downpour of "me toos." I felt a bit bombarded, and under a weird sort of pressure. By not sharing, was I letting women everywhere down? By sharing, was I inviting any sort of invasive questions from family/friends that I just didn't want to answer? It was weird — I consider myself to be mostly "over" being raped, in that it doesn't pop up in my daily life and I rarely think about it. And yet now, I felt forced to think about it, over and over again, every time I saw "me too" and instead of finding solace or strength or anything else positive, I was just annoyed. Sure, I understand that ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away. But I didn't like the idea of feeling pressured to share something--even as simple as a hashtag — without any warning or preparation.
When one is raped or assaulted, the victim's "choice" is taken away. And so part of getting over that and getting your life back, is feeling like you DO have a choice again. And so my choice was to not share #MeToo. Maybe someday I will. Some of my friends know, and I'm not ashamed to tell them--it just isn't a topic of conversation that comes up often. And I certainly didn't want to share it because I felt forced to."
So What's Next?
As you can see, these women's reasons for choosing not to share a #MeToo story vary, but they don't have do with not having an experience with sexual harassment or assault — or not thinking that it's a widespread issue. In fact, many of the women told me that sharing this felt like lifting a weight off their shoulders, even if it wasn't shared on social media as part of the movement. So where do we go from here?
"This is the time for women, men, and gender non-binary people to organize, resist, and actively work to dismantle rape culture, which has enabled an environment that normalizes and trivializes sexual assault." Dr. Hobson says. "The #MeToo has been helpful in highlighting just how pervasive sexual harassment and violence is in our culture. But we need to now have honest dialogues and action that promote consent, mutuality, equality, and respect."
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.