When the #MeToo hashtag began sweeping social media earlier this week, I was both horrified and comforted. I was horrified at the sheer number of women coming forward, and that so many of my friends and colleagues had experienced assault and harassment. I was, however, comforted by the messages of solidarity, of support, as well as the fact that it proved that neither I, nor anyone else who has experienced sexual harassment or assault, is alone.
But after the waves of support and solidarity, inevitably come the "hot takes". And the one that I cannot bear is the claim that women speaking out about the everyday harassment they've faced are in some way detracting from or trivialising the experiences of women who have experienced physical assault or rape.
It's not helpful to rate experiences in terms of "seriousness". Different things affect people differently and everyone's experience is valid. Trauma is trauma. Instead, I'll use criminality to explain my #MeToo experience and say if it was a spectrum, it would be in the higher regions.
But despite this, my heart breaks for every women who shared their story this week, or even simply said "me too", from the lewd remarks to the workplace harassment to the appalling illegal acts.
Wherever your experience sits on that spectrum, I want to say this to you: However minor anyone might judge your experience to be, it is valid. It is not "not serious enough". You do not have to forget it. You do not have to laugh it off. You do not have to get over it. No one has the right to tell you how to feel about it. If you are able to brush it off, then great. But you do not have to. You are not trivialising my experience. You are helping me understand that I am not alone. That I do not have to be ashamed. That I do not have to stay quiet.
This idea of something not being "serious enough" is poisonous. I spent years telling myself that what happened to me wasn't that serious. That it wasn't what I knew, deep in my heart, it really was. People in my social circle knew about it and talked about it as a funny drunken story, so that's how I talked about it too. Only in recent years have I started speaking about it for what it really was.
Because, ultimately, these things are difficult to confront, both personally and as a society. We have a problem with consent, we have a problem with workplace behaviour, and we have a problem with a culture of entitlement. Confronting these is uncomfortable, hence why it's easier to just focus on the criminal stuff, to say "why are we bothering with talking about a guy who made an off-colour remark in a meeting? There are paedophiles out there! There are rapists! Sure, Joe Bloggs from sales put his hand on someone's leg, but he's never hurt anyone".
But you can care about it all. No, a wolf-whistle in the street isn't physically going to hurt you. A suggestive comment is not the same as rape. But all of it contributes to a society in which women are frightened. And make no mistake, we are frightened. It's all part of a culture in which women are made to feel again and again that they are worth less than men.
Instead of telling women that speaking out about their experience is trivialising the "real issue", maybe ask yourself why they are speaking out now - and why they may have waited so long. Perhaps it's because they've already been so afraid being judged "not serious enough". Listen to their stories.
I don't care if your experience is "not serious enough". You are allowed to share it. You have given me strength.Suggest a correction