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Break the culture of "It's only me"

- By: Meena Seth -

Is there any woman who goes her entire life without being sexually harassed? I don’t think so. Whether it’s verbal harassment, rape, or unwanted touching, every woman has experienced something. For me, it was the last one. When it happened, it felt as if something had broken within me. I got a fever that day and had to stay home from school. My friends knew me as somebody who never cried, but I began crying all the time. For months I was terrified to walk in the hallways alone, and I would always casually ask one of my friends to come with me. My behavior changed drastically, even though I’m probably the most prepared out of anyone.

My parents had always reminded me of what to do: first, yell (I hadn’t done that.) Second, tell somebody (I did that.) Third? Remember that it’s not your fault, but the offender’s. But even knowing all of that, I wasn’t prepared for what I would feel.

The best way to describe it is chaos. There was a shame I knew was illogical, burning anger, a sort of shattered, broken feeling-and the worst of them all: doubt. Had it been on purpose? If it had been an accident, why hadn’t he apologized? -was he just embarrassed? Was I victimizing myself in an ugly bout of selfish teenage girl hormones? If that was true, it didn’t explain how when I talked about it, I had a sudden urge to cry. It didn’t explain how when I thought about it, I felt an amount of hatred I didn’t think I could feel.

The funny part? It had only been three seconds.

Three seconds, and I was a chaos of emotions with an intense anger and a terrifying guilt. I felt that I shouldn’t be feeling all of these things just because of three seconds of my life. It didn’t make sense, and I thought I was doing something wrong.

The reason I can talk about it now (on the internet, no less) is because I have a loving family, who has given me an identity of value and courage. I have friends who care about me and teachers who protect me. I have a community that firmly advocates I’m not a worse person because of what happened to me.

But there are women without these things. They’re taught that all their value disappeared because of what happened to them; that they should be ashamed. Their parents despair in them, and their authority figures do not protect them. They have to live with guilt over their emotions because they’re told that what was done to them wasn’t a bad thing. They do not tell anybody, and the secret lives within them their entire life.

It had not been seconds for them, but hours.

I was filled with pain, shame, guilt, hatred-all in a few moments. What must they be feeling? My experience can’t compare to theirs, but it did provide me with a much deeper understanding of what these women go through.

It made me realize that the culture we grow up in is vital in healing. We need to create a culture that tells these women they are valuable, that they are not at fault, that, as simple as it sounds, what was done to them is a bad thing. We need a culture that breaks the lie of “It’s only me,” by speaking out about our experiences because, as I have said before, I think every woman gets sexually harassed in her life at least once. But I also believe every woman can heal.

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