At age 10, I went to a sleepover at a friend’s house. Her father sat in the living room while we watched Remember the Titans. Halfway through the movie, he told us we could sit on his lap while we watched if we’d like. My stomach flipped at the thought. I decided the best way out was to fake sick and ask my mom to pick me up. On the car ride home, my mother asked if everything was OK. I told her that I must have drunk too much soda.
At age 14, I bought a pair of white Limited Too shorts. They were short and had blue sequins lining the pockets like all the best early ’00s clothing did. I was so pleased with my purchase, I decided to wear them out of the store. Afterwards, I stopped to get an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. As I leaned up against the counter waiting for my pretzel, I noticed an older man’s eyes scan up and down my legs. I looked at him confused, and he smirked back. I decided not to wear the shorts out again after that.
At age 15, a substitute teacher named Mr. Rosenthale filled in for my teacher. He picked on all of the girls in the class, asking us questions we hadn’t yet done the reading for. When we inevitably didn’t have the answers, he told the girls he was going to take them upstairs and spank them for not doing their homework. The boys in the class laughed along with him.
At age 16, I got my first job at a mini golf shop scooping ice cream and handing out golf clubs. One day, my boss (who was in his early fifties) asked me to restock the ice cream fridge. As I carried cartons of ice cream from the freezer downstairs to the freezers upstairs, he sat at the bottom of the stairs in a chair, watching me walk up and down the stairs in my jean skirt. I wore jeans to work for the next two weeks.
At age 16, I went to my first party. Kids sipped mixed alcohol stolen from their parents’ liquor cabinets and smuggled in water bottles. The boys at the party sat in the corner, ranking the girls by their boob size. I crossed my arms over my small breasts and counted down the minutes until a friend’s older sister picked us up.
At age 17, a boy invited me over to go swimming. We got into his pool and he immediately started trying to pull the top of my bathing suit off. I held my hands over my breasts, mad and embarrassed, while he laughed. I got out of the pool, put my jeans on over my wet bathing suit, and drove home in tears.
At age 18, my college boyfriend’s friend put his hand on my thigh while I was passed out. I woke up to him rubbing my exposed leg. I wondered the next day if I had cheated on my boyfriend.
At age 19, I went to a bar with a fake ID for the first time. At the dimly lit bar, a man grabbed my butt as I walked to the bathroom.
At age 19, I was the only woman alone on a train car with a man. He pulled out his penis and started touching himself in front of me. I got out at the next stop and moved into a train car with other passengers on it.
At age 20, I went on a ski trip with friends. I got too drunk and passed out in a room alone. When I woke up, a male friend was pulling down my top. When I questioned him, he explained it was “a joke.”
At age 20, my phone died while navigating to a friend’s house at night. I stopped at a gas station to ask for directions. The gas station employee pulled out a pen and paper to draw me a map of where to go. I stared at the map confused until I realized he was drawing me a map to where he lived. I got back into my car and drove until I finally found my friend’s house.
At age 21, I went on vacation with my friends. On vacation, I met a guy. That night he asked to go back to my room. I said no. The next morning, he called my hotel room and asked to come have coffee with me. I agreed. I told my friends in the room next door to knock on the door in 20 minutes, "just in case." When he arrived at my room, he immediately started kissing me. I kissed him back at first. Then he took off his pants. I stopped him and told him I didn't want to go further. He took his dick out, pointed to it, and said, “What are you going to do with this then?” I started crying until he got so frustrated he left. I sat on the bed for 15 more minutes until my friends knocked on the door.
At age 21, I went out to a bar with one of the first women I dated. Minutes after she kissed my cheek, a group of men approached us and asked us if we would kiss for them.
At age 22, I went on a Tinder date with a man who asked if he could come in for a glass of water afterwards. When I said he could, he tried to force himself on me. He only stopped when I told him that my roommate was in the next room.
At age 22, an HR employee at a company I worked for asked me to get a drink after work. After I said no, he scheduled a meeting with me the next morning. In the meeting, he noted how chilly it was in the room, took off his coat, and put it on my legs.
At age 23, a drunk man on the street grabbed me by my leg and pulled me onto him. I got up and ran into the parking structure where my car was. Immediately after, I went to the police station to report it. They asked me how many cocktails I'd had that night.
At age 23, I met a man at a bar. We exchanged numbers. The next morning, I woke up to unsolicited pictures of his penis.
At age 24, a man followed me down the street until I pretended to pick up a phone call and went into a store.
At age 24, an Uber driver asked for my number in the car. I refused. He told me how much he hated driving stuck-up bitches around. I asked him to drop me off four blocks before my intended destination.
At age 25, An Uber driver asked my girlfriend and me a series of inappropriate questions about our relationship, including who was more dominant in bed. My girlfriend cut him off and watched the minutes count down until we were dropped off at our destination.
Last week, a man yelled at me from his car window. Two days ago, a man on Twitter told me I was a disgusting bitch.
The stories above are only a handful of memories; they are a blip on the radar of an epidemic that women have learned to live with and society has allowed.
This week, women are writing “me too” as their social status to show the magnitude of sexual assault and harassment women face daily. The movement was originally started by Tarana Burke ten years ago, but re-popularized after it was tweeted by Alyssa Milano and other celebrities. Since then, thousands of women have taken to Facebook, Twitter, and more to express their solidarity (44,000 people responded to Milano's tweet alone). And while the intention behind this call to action is noble, these two tiny words cannot begin to encapsulate what the two words mean for the people writing it. Those two words are weighted, and they are likely not just referencing one story — they only skim the surface of how it feels to go through life in a world that has decided your body is for the taking.
As girls, we’re taught to hide. We’re taught to make ourselves small, to not take up room. We notice men’s lingering eyes on us from an early age. We cross the street at night, and walk with our keys between our hands. We try to be polite in work emails, but not so polite they get the wrong idea. We kiss guys we don’t like because we’re afraid to feel the terror of what it’s like to be physically forced to kiss a guy you don’t like. We let men down easy, and repeatedly, until they finally get bored and leave us alone. We ignore inappropriate work emails. We skim over online threats. We double-check to make sure our doors are locked at night.
While I can say "me too" — I think it’s important we fully talk about how hard it is to write those two words, and what those two words mean. We must acknowledge that this problem is not just with a couple bad seeds, but with a bad system.
These are not just two words or one instance — this is the world women have been conditioned to live in, and it needed to change yesterday.