While looking through FB, I stumbled upon a couple of posts with the hashtag saying “Me Too.” Out of curiosity, I took the time to research the story behind the hashtag. Activist Tarana Burke started the #MeToo campaign to help raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault towards women. Recently, actress and producer Alyssa Milano tweeted “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” In a few hours later, the hashtag had been tweeted nearly half a million times. Most of the “Me Too” hashtag gave us a glimpse of the unfortunate reality that women and men have endured.
What is sexual assault and harassment?
According the U.S. Department of Justice, sexual assault is defined as, “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”(Sexual Assault)
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is defined as “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” (Sexual Harassment).” Sexual harassment does not have to only apply to the workplace but in classroom environment and public places. Only a few number of women actually report sexual harassment and most of the time, no action had taken place.
Some of my experiences of sexual harassment
The earliest sexual harassment experience I had was during my freshman year in college. I had a software tools for productivity course (it was basically a glorified computer applications class) in the mornings. One of my classmates, BJ*, was having issues with his computer. As a good Christian, I decided to help him and give him some pointers to operating Microsoft Word 2007. After class, we walked out of class and talked a little bit and then we departed. In the following weeks, I became very skeptical about BJ. Outside of class, he would say some left-field comments that caused me to raise my eyebrows. He would eventually call me asking me about things unrelated to software tools for productivity. One day in class, I was able to get my work for the class period done earlier and BJ asked me to come to his computer, I said, “No.” He again said “Come here, I need your help.” I asked him what did he need help with and I ended up going to his computer to see what the problem was. I showed him where he needed to go and referred him to the textbook. After his “problem” was solved, he thanked my while putting his arm around my hips and I resisted his hug. A few days later, he tried calling me again and I ignored his messages. The next day, he was signaling me in class wondering why I didn’t respond to his calls and messages and I responded with the signature eye roll. Every time I would be around BJ whether in class or on-campus, I would always have that gutty-gutty feeling. I wish I was able to shut him down when I was able to, but during that time I felt like I might have been overreacting.
I can definitely say that my seminary experience was a great experience, however, there has been some moments that caused me to be on guard. During my matriculation in seminary, I was aware of the issues relating to sexual misconduct in the seminary. I heard stories of women seminarians being hit on by male counterparts. I remembered when I was taking an evening class, I met Bob. Bob was an international student. He was very friendly. One day, I stopped by a bookstore in the seminary since they sell snacks and water to those of us seminarians trying to survive classes. I was going to buy a water bottle and Bob insisted that he was going to buy it for me. I was pretty stunned and didn’t want to turn down a random act of chivalry. The following week I was going to my car after class was dismissed and he asked for a ride home, since his apartment was around the corner for me, I agreed to give him a ride home. Upon dropping him home, he prayed with me and asked if I would like a drink or fruit, and I politely declined (my house was literally a minute away) and he begged me to accept it saying that it’s a part of his culture to do so. He ended up giving me a water bottle and an orange. I decided to brush it off that night while having that awkward feeling again. The next week (this class meets every Wednesday evening), while I was finish typing a paper, Bob once again asked me for a ride home. I reluctantly agreed (again) and decided to take him him. This time, he asked if I could take him to a nearby grocery store since he needed to buy a few things, I agreed. While at the store, he wanted to buy me groceries and again, I politely declined as I had shopped for groceries the previous weekend and once again he insisted that he picks something up for me. I sternly told him not to worry about it and he went around the store mopping around that he felt bad not buying me anything. I gave in and picked up some packzis (doughnuts). At that moment, that gutty-gutty feeling became intense with mixed emotions. All I wanted to do at that moment was to get this dude home ASAP so I dropped him home, brought his groceries in his apartment to expedite the process. I met his roommate when I brought some of the groceries in the apartment and Bob invited me to take a seat. I informed him that I had an assignment due by midnight (which was true) so I had to get going. I jumped into my car and drove home in the snowy weather.
I was highly annoyed by Bob and decided to vent out to my group of friends on FB messenger. The response that I was getting from my friends disgusted me even more because they mentioned that I wasn’t being opened to Bob’s culture norms and that the reason why I’m single is because I wouldn’t allow a guy to be chivalrous. I eventually mentioned to the group that I was going to refrain from saying much anymore because I felt like my feelings were invalid. That night, I couldn’t think straight. That was one of the loneliest nights throughout my seminary experience, I couldn’t even sleep or finish my class assignment that night. I didn’t even go to my morning class the next day because I was completely vexed and I didn’t want to see Bob. I remained silent for sometime because I thought I was overreacting. I kept a very low profile the next day because I felt like I was manipulated. I eventually spoke to my parents about it a few days after and they confirmed that the guy was manipulating me. If only I knew that my parents were more understanding than my group of friends a few days beforehand, I would have just called them earlier. One of my girls sent me an apology and reassuring that God gifted us ladies with intuition aka the gutty-gutty feeling and that my feelings were valid to her.
The following class periods, I ended up sitting closer to the back of the class since I normally sit closer to the front with Bob. I opened up to my fellow woman seminarian and she was empathetic about the situation, she even signaled me when to leave class to avoid taking Bob home. From that day on, I kept my interactions with Bob to a minimum. I didn’t confront him about how he made me feel, but I wish I had the guts to do so.
From hindsight, I wish I was able to be more assertive and held male counterparts more accountable of their actions. We are in a society in which girls are taught to have a higher standard than boys. The phrase “boys will be boys,” give men permission to not grow up. To be sexually harassed in the workplace, classroom, and in public is one of the most violating feelings to experience. That man (or woman) could infect one’s peace of mind when going to the store alone or even attending classes. There are many more instances in which I remained quiet because I felt like I wouldn’t be taken seriously and would be that overly-sensitive person that doesn’t know how to take a joke. I was hurt when the one whom I’ve subscribed as friends did not take the time to listen with understanding. When I needed someone to talk to, I was criticized for taking things out of proportions, being culturally insensitive, and putting myself in that predicament. I didn’t want to hear that. All I wanted to hear was that I had every right to be upset and hurt. If you want to know why many women are silent, this is why. Another thing to consider is that sometimes, not all the time, international men would use the culture card to justify their aggressive actions towards women. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about that cross-cultural life; however, if it’s causing my intuition alarm to go off, I am going to follow my gut and get out of the situation.
From these experiences, I have learned to embrace that gutty-gutty feeling called intuition as an asset and not a liability. God gives us intuition to help us immediately discern whether or not the person, place, or thing is safe. I eventually realized that when I hear other sisters telling their stories, I become inspired to tell my story to others. For that, I realize that I’m not alone. #MeToo
*The names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.