by Sang Kromah
“You would be so fine if you put a little meat on your bones.”
“No man would resist you if your butt was bigger.”
“If your face were on her body, I don’t know what I would do with myself.”
“You need to tone it down a little. You’re too much.”
“I saw a photo of your hair done another way. You should do your hair like that again.”
“I think you should worry about acquiring a husband before considering going back to school.”
No, these aren’t the words of some catcaller or the words of an abusive ex. These were the words of an old boss. These words and others like them were my reality at a job that I grew to hate progressively with the passing of each day. It was easy for others to tell me how they would react in the same situation, but as each day went by, I became more detached from the confident woman I had grown to be. Looking in the mirror, I no longer recognized the person I had become. He broke me because I knew that if I were to speak up, I would have been villainized or blacklisted, so I silently walked away from the job for the sake of my own sanity and self-respect. While I have never disclosed the details of my departure, I often find myself thinking about what happened, wondering if I could have handled things any differently.
With all of the brave #MeToo stories emerging from Hollywood and government, I have become more contemplative, thinking about the women, girls–and sometimes men–who remain silent out of fear of not being believed or the stigma the comes with accusing someone in power. The playing field isn’t exactly even and while we have made some strides toward equality, we are nowhere near where we need to be.
The struggle for the equal rights of women is as old as the concept of time itself. For centuries, women have been treated as second-class citizens, prisoners in society, their own homes, and sometimes, their own bodies. Claustrophobia is a word that comes to mind when stories of the ill-treatment of women are told. The feeling of being trapped, with no escape. Add being a woman of color to the equation and you get a whole new layer of drama. When we speak our minds, we’re angry. When we express ourselves creatively, we’re too much. When we’re in disagreement with people who “look like us,” we aren’t woke enough or we are sell outs.
News Flash: contrary to popular belief, we are individuals. We aren’t one superbrain with shared opinions and synced periods. We don’t all bleed during the same week in a month. Some girls like boys, some like other girls, and others like both. Some want to get married and start a family, some want to be free spirits and see all there is to see, others want to focus on careers, and some want it all. I know most people are reading this and thinking, “duh!” but this must be said because the current narrative surrounding the #MeToo phenomenon has shown that some people are as clueless in real life as they are online.
If I sound angry, it’s because I am. As a matter of fact, I’m pissed. You should be angry too if you’re paying attention. Read the comments under any #MeToo article, and if you aren’t mad, hurt, or sad, then, you’re probably a member of the judgmental peanut gallery that deserves the level of shade Rihanna distributes daily to those who dare sully her comment section on Instagram.
“Why did she wait until now to come forward?”
“Look at the way she dresses. She was asking for it.”
“This is getting ridiculous now. That’s enough.”
“Hey! Stop focusing on only the bad guys. Talk about the good guys like me.”
“She wanted a job and when she didn’t get it, she cried rape.”
And no, all of these comments aren’t just from men. Like I said before, all women don’t share a brain. We differ in opinions. We react differently to situations. And that’s great because we should all be for diversity, but when your opinions become accusations and victim-blaming, then we’ve got a problem, sis.
Trauma affects people differently. Some people lash out immediately, while some keep it to themselves and it slowly eats away at them. It could easily happen to you or someone you know and love, but until it happens, you don’t know how you’ll react. Have you ever had an argument with someone and after it ends, you think of all the good comebacks you should have said?
So imagine being groped by a powerful man, who could make or break your career. Or imagine, being verbally intimidated daily by a boss who has the power to ruin your life. Now imagine being terrified of what that person could do to you or your family if you speak up. Imagine replaying the situation in your head over and over again, becoming increasingly angry with yourself for not doing more or fighting back, and feeling completely and utterly alone.
I know, some of you are still thinking, “that couldn’t happen to me,” but I’m here to tell you, yes, it could happen to you. Even the biggest mouth can be silenced in a vulnerable situation.
When I first moved to New York, I was in college and had a job at a great magazine, and in my downtime, I used to freelance as a commercial and print model. I had booked a few gigs and I was feeling great about myself, until I went to one audition that wasn’t quite like the other crowded casting calls I had been to previously. It was just me, in a small office. No secretary. Just a creepy guy, who was supposed to be a casting director. Well, after a round of interview questions that seemed rather odd, I didn’t like the way I was being looked at and then he asked, “how bad do you want to be famous?” and I didn’t quite know how to answer that question. Before I could open my mouth to answer, he was trying to pull his crusty genitalia out. I laughed and ran out of the office as fast as I could.
For a long time, I thought about that situation and how I should’ve responded. This is something that has haunted me for years and I’ve never discussed with anyone. I didn’t want to be chastised by friends, telling me I handled it wrong. I knew if I told my mom, she would have probably wanted me to move back home and she would have called the police or sued. My brother would’ve probably beat him beyond recognition, and my dad would have done the same or started some social justice campaign, making me the poster child for something that I wanted no parts of. But I felt guilty for not speaking up, stupid for laughing, and angry at myself for not kicking him in his nubby little balls.
Now that I have grown, found my voice, and know exactly who I am, I know if that were to happen to me today, the situation would be handled differently, but this was ten years ago, and even though I thought I was grown, I wasn’t equipped—mentally—for what I encountered.
Fear has the power to silence the loudest voice. It robs you of time and takes away a part of you that may never be restored. Fear of no one believing you. Fear of judgment. Fear of being blacklisted. Fear of a repeat offense. They’re all relevant and understandable, so let no one tell you otherwise.
You know the part of a wedding when the officiant says, “Speak now or forever hold your peace?” Well, this is the case for victims of sexual abuse or harassment. At this moment, victims are ascending and rising as survivors. #MeToo is providing a platform for survivors to vocalize long-kept secrets of abuse or harassment, and it’s pissing off the guilty and the “yes men and women,” who don’t want to rock the patriarchal boat that most of us are hell-bent on dismantling piece by piece until the system and people change.
If you are upset by the women coming forward and not upset with the perpetrators of the crime, you need dismantling too. If you’re wondering why all the Rihanna GIFS, it’s because trolling the victim-blaming trolls with Rihanna’s level of savagery is cathartic and I highly recommend it. It annoys the hell out of the said peanut gallery.