Feminism is currently a movement dedicated to and propelled by women, as it should be. Despite the fact that I am an advocate for "not all men," and feel that feminism needs men (read more here), I experienced a world shattering moment when I read the article about Aziz Ansari on babe.net. If you're unfamiliar, its a report about an anonymous women's date with the celebrity and how it went wrong when he came on to her. You can read it here. After reading the article, I felt broken. I felt like it was me sitting there in that man's room, and that it was me experiencing everything she described. Although details of her story and my own personal experiences aren't exactly the same, the feelings behind this encounter and many of my own encounters are the same. This was the moment when I realized that I am a victim, and that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements involved me on a significantly more personal level. I wasn't just a supporter for women who experienced heartbreaking encounters with men, I was one of them. My fight became stronger and my fire fueled.
Up until this point, I never felt like I had been taken advantage of. I never knew that aspects of my dating or sex life were tainted with misogyny and that I was so disrespected by men I thought I could trust, even if only for a night.
Ansari is described to have accelerated the process of "doin it." He quickly began kissing her and undressing after entering his apartment, moved her hands to his dick multiple times, and later asked her for oral sex. She complied but felt forced to, as she had verbally and nonverbally communicated to him she felt uncomfortable.
"I wasn't just a supporter for women who experienced heartbreaking encounters with men, I was one of them"
Reading these aspects replayed intimate moments of my own, like a movie and I was glued to the seat. I was frozen, watching myself be uncomfortable and forcibly conducting sexual acts without ever knowing it was happening forcibly or that it was wrong. Even worse, when I shared this with a close friend, all he had to say was "Well I'm not like that." How comforting.
I felt angry. I felt violated, taken advantage of, and cheated out of good, meaningful intimate moments. I felt like I had been wronged. How had no one ever told me that these things weren't okay, and I was allowed to say no? No one told me these experiences shouldn't have happened, and in the moment I felt like I had to because that's just what happens. I thought it was normal. Time had passed since these moments I'm describing, and when the #MeToo movement sparked, I never felt like it was something was affected me directly. I stood with other women in the movement because I was a woman, a feminist, who supported them and my heart went out to women with tragic stories. After reading the report, it was clear that my involvement was more than just a supporter on the sidelines. I was actively involved in the fight now, and my feelings of anger and isolation were my weapons, along with the strength that came with this experience.
I had to let these feelings exist in my space for about a week or so. I allowed myself to feel all of the emotions that came with learning I was a victim. I let myself sit in the angriness and the guilt, and connected with close women in my circle to talk it out. I even talked about how my friend's not so comforting words made me feel alone, and enhanced my anger. Looking back, I feel so blessed to have so many strong women behind me, and me behind them.
It was in these conversations of connection and vulnerability that I found strength. I was able to feel my emotions and reactions, talk the experiences out with trusted women in my circle, and come face to face with the realization of things that had happened to me. Recognition was what allowed me to grow into a women with a stronger heart, and more agility in the fight against men like Harvey Weinstein. I blossomed into someone who could connect with other women on a deeper level, and truly be there for them because I knew that they needed a listening ear to support them. Acceptance of what happened, and what continues to happen to women daily brought me strength, because I could forgive myself for simply not knowing, along with forgiving those boys who did me wrong. I forgave them in my heart with the hope that they knew better now. It wasn't my duty to call up someone I talked to or dated years ago. I know that some women benefit from having that conversation and perhaps need it based on their apology style, but I was able to forgive from a distance after accepting the facts of the matter. I believe this is what gave me strength, because they no longer had power over me.
I don't want to sit here and write about how it is a woman's duty to teach boys how to be men, or even how to just be decent people. I don't think we should feel obligated to, and women are not free therapists. But I truly do believe that people are good in their hearts, and education can lead to more understanding, growth, and strength. When a situation that is wrong arises, or when someone makes a sexist comment, I believe in speaking up about it (keep in mind your safety while doing so). I do believe that as our society moves forward and grasps closer onto equality, that men should not be left behind and it is okay to correct them and stand up for yourself.
I also know that every woman's story is uniquely their own. I found familiarity in the anonymous woman's story, and experiences between my friends and I. I was able to move on and become a better advocate for women's rights relatively easily, but I know that my story is not other women's stories, and not the one reported on babe.net. I’m not attempting to give a guide on what to do if something happens to you, but instead offering a shoulder to rest your head on, as I understand how it feels and made it through. And even better, I’ve found myself with a boyfriend who knows how to communicate and treat me right, which is the greatest gift I could have received after some not so happy experiences.