woman

Why Do Women Feel Shame After They’ve Been Sexually Harassed?

me too

I’ve thought long and hard about whether I should write this post. It is going to be controversial, but I think it’s important to talk about these things.  There has been a lot of media coverage around the #MeToo movement.  We are living in a time when these kinds of things are no longer acceptable – and I think this is amazing.  It brings light to an incredibly dark situation that many women have found themselves in.

Before I go too far with this, I think you should understand where I’m coming from with my comments and opinions.  I have been the victim of sexual harassment – starting at a young age.  Even female family members would make comments about my body, even though I was really young.  Yes, I physically matured quicker than a lot of my friends.  Which meant, I got a lot of attention.  This kind of attention followed me throughout most of my life, and even became part of my professional life.  I have also found myself in situations where I had to say “no”.  That didn’t always suffice, so I had to keep repeating it over and over again until my date finally understood.

It was incredibly difficult for me to say “no”, in the first place.  I didn’t really give this much thought until recently.  I was talking to someone who made the argument that some good and decent people are going to get caught up in sexual assault and harassment allegations.  And that statement isn’t wrong.  I agree with that statement wholeheartedly.  The problem is that society has to take all allegations seriously.  It’s truly unfortunate when someone is wrongly accused, and I think people who do those kinds of things are despicable.  But that’s not something I can change.

me too

All of this is coming up for me, as a result of Aziz Ansari.  Please don’t get the impression that I am defending him because I’m not.  But I’m also not going to judge him because I simply don’t know what happened.  I wasn’t there.  Only he and his accuser know what happened, and unfortunately, they have two different stories.  I don’t want to come across as victim shaming either.  Being in a situation that you feel you can’t get out of is unacceptable.  Full stop.  But because I’ve been in similar situations, I think I can give my opinion without sounding biased.

In the Ansari situation, it sounds like he wasn’t able to pick up on the cues.  She said she gave him both verbal and non-verbal cues.  But is a verbal cue enough?  In my situations, the answer is no.  From my experience, you have to keep saying no and in one instance, leave.  I think that this makes me sound like I’m saying that she should have done more, but that’s not the case.  The real question is why are women afraid to say more?  I don’t typically like to stereotype from a gender perspective, but I can understand it from that side of things, so I will continue along these lines.

Ansari’s alleged victim claims that he performed oral sex on her.  Why did she feel that she couldn’t say no?  In the instances where I was faced with having to make a difficult decision, I immediately felt shame.  I felt like I should give this man what he wanted and compromise my own health and well being.  In both cases, I am glad I didn’t, however, at the time I felt like something was wrong with me.  I was also afraid to tell anyone because I thought my friends would judge me.  How did I get myself into that situation in the first place?  Maybe I was judging myself.

sexual harassment

The one situation that I found myself in actually escalated and the guy was quite angry with me for asking him to stop.  I won’t get into a lot of details because that’s not appropriate.  But my reason for stopping had a lot to do with him not listening to me.  He wanted to do something that I wasn’t into.  I told him that.  I was happy to call it a night, but he wasn’t.  Not only did he not want to stop, but he wanted me to do something that I didn’t want to do.  My options were – to do it or to leave.  He was pouting in a way that suggested he was used to getting his way.  Well, so was I.  So I started to get dressed, and he got angry.

At the time, I never felt unsafe, but looking back I wonder if I was.  I remember having a heated conversation with him in the foyer of his apartment.  The interesting part about that conversation was that I had to appease him.  I had to reassure him that just because I wasn’t feeling it tonight, didn’t mean that I wasn’t willing to go on another date with him.  Which was a total lie, but how else do you get yourself out of that situation?  I felt guilty for lying to him.  I felt guilty for not wanting to stay, but I felt shame for leaving.  The entire evening had been a lot of fun up until that point.  Never once did I promise anything.  Sex wasn’t a given.  We agreed to meet up, and hang out.  That’s it.

no means no

Did Ansari’s alleged victim feel these same feelings?  Why didn’t she leave?  Staying almost seems easier. As women, we often feel like we can’t leave.  And I don’t just mean sexual situations.  We don’t feel like we can leave bad relationships, or to speak up in certain work situations.  And why is that?  I think we worry too much about what other people are going to think of us.  How will it look if this information gets around?  Or maybe we just feel like we need to please people.

There is far too much of this kind of behavior happening in our world.  I am not trying to sound super feminist here, but I think it’s important for all of us to find that voice.  Like I said, I have been in similar situations, and sometimes I didn’t have the strength to leave.  I don’t think it’s fair to put this completely on either party.  Women need to be able to stand up for themselves.  I know that it’s an easy thing to say, and a difficult thing to practice.  But I hope that all of the attention that the #MeToo movement is getting changes this so we can make better decisions to get ourselves out of these situations.

One thought on “Why Do Women Feel Shame After They’ve Been Sexually Harassed?

Comments are closed.