Disclaimer: I feel the obligation to express that I'm well aware that the story I'm about to share doesn't even begin to compare to stories about rape and molesting. I have so much respect and admiration for people like Loraima from Lorriento who are brave enough to share their heartbreaking stories in order to empower other women to do the same. That's why even though I didn't believe I was worthy of being part of the #MeToo campaign, I'm sharing my story in the hopes of raising awareness about the importance of speaking out about men using their power to sexually misconduct.
I was 23 years young, starting my career in the communications industry. It was christmas season and one of the clients at the agency I was working for had a meeting/ christmas party among their business partners in a very well known male predominated industry. I was excited for this event because it would be a chance to network and meet some cool people in my field.
When the meeting ended, I went over to the self-serving catering counter to get some food, just like everybody else. While I was serving myself some arroz mamposteao, a middle aged man came uncomfortably close behind my back, grabbed me by my waist, slowly moved his hand across it and whispered in my ear "What is the menu for today, sweety?". This man, who I had never even been introduced to or talked to before, was a partner at a very well known advertising agency. An advertising agency were I hoped I would one day work for.
During the 5-10 seconds that moment lasted, which felt like ages, I remember feeling overwhelmingly powerless and ashamed. So ashamed that I didn't look at anyone in the eye for about an hour.
Sadly, this is not my only story about staying silent after being inappropriately touched or feeling uncomfortable around men. Most of my stories are from my teenage years, from being honked at and cat called by men in cars who saw me wearing my school uniform (let that sink in for a minute) to being touched with the index finger in the opening of my pant "to let me know that my pant's fly was open" by the father of a very close relative's friend. I was 16 years old.
The worst part? Almost every single woman in my life has gone through a similar or a worse situation than I have. From being abused as a child by a family member to not being able to get a promotion at work because she won't sleep with her boss. It is so common and we are so used to it, that we speak about it as a normality. Complaining but not doing anything about it. Because either people won't believe us or if we speak out it would affect us in some way.
Breaking the Silence
Now, it's 2017 and even though the political status is the opposite of adequate, we have a huge feminist movement that is empowering women all around the world to speak up and not only fight for our rights, but to call out all the men who have gotten away with their inappropriate behaviors without consequences. Which is why I was super excited about Time Magazine choosing their Person of the Year as the Silence Breakers. But this morning I saw this top comment on Facebook and felt immediately triggered and disappointed with humanity:
Let me tell you exactly why I didn't speak out right away:
- I thought I was overreacting.
- I thought people would tell me I was overreacting. Turns out this was the case in the rare occasion I did speak out as a teenager.
- For some damn reason I thought it was my fault.
- Was it the clothes I was wearing? Did I wear too much makeup? Did I invite him in some way? No, no and definitely no.
- I had the delusional thought that people would automatically asume I was this man's mistress.
- I was raised to believe that women who argue and speak up for themselves are not likable.
- I was so embarrassed and in shock that I just stayed there motionless and completely mute not knowing what I should say or do.
- I thought if I said something I would've made a fool out of myself.
- I didn't want to embarrass my current employer who had just recently employed me.
- I didn't want to miss my chance of working for this disgusting man's advertising agency. (Oh, what a fool I was!)
- I didn't want to be labeled as a trouble maker in the industry.
- I really thought speaking up would end my career.
- I was embarrassed.
- I felt disgusting.
- I felt powerless.
What I would've done different if it had happened to me today:
- I would've told him right away that I felt uncomfortable.
- I would've spoken to my employer about the situation.
Feeling uncomfortable is enough reason to speak up. I repeat: Feeling uncomfortable is enough reason to speak up. FEELING UNCOMFORTABLE IS ENOUGH REASON TO SPEAK UP.
None of the excuses I had for not speaking up would've been valid if we didn't live in a patriarchal society. A society that blames the victim and not the predator. The truth is: I felt uncomfortable, powerless and thought my career would be over if I called out this man for his inappropriate behavior.
That is enough to make us question how we are raising our children. It's 2017 and a woman is still being blamed for their rape and sexual assaults, for the plain reason of being too pretty to go out alone at night, for dressing however the fuck she wants, for wearing makeup and for being herself.
Finally, I really wanted to write what I would've done as a kid or teenager if any of the situations I lived through would've been worse. But I felt clueless. Who would I spoke out to? Who would believe me? Would I be blamed? And my heart breaks, because I know how many of you have gone through the worst case scenario. So please, speak your truth. You will be saving future generations from shame and suffering.
María Elena Rodríguez