When your “me too” voice is formed at high school

Every time I see the words “me too” my stomach lurches, panic rises in my chest and my vision is disturbed by specks that flicker before my eyes. As you can imagine, it’s not been a very comfortable period for me of late.

Not just for me but for thousands of other women.

As I read hideous stories of high-profile men accused of sexual harassment and assault and I feel my body trying to make itself invisible. I feel like I should be using my voice, but at the same time I feel I have no voice. It was taken from me long before I really knew how to use it.

Sometimes I wonder if my experience even counts at all because I don’t have a story about Harvey Weinstein nor any other high profile celebrity. Sure I have countless tales of experiences in my work career where men made ther power known through sexual advances, lewd comments and behaviour that would make their mothers (and wives) cringe, but my “me too” voice was born long before that.

My “me too” struggles to come out because it’s the voice of a young girl. It’s frightened no one will believe it or they wont bother to listen. It’s the voice of a schoolgirl confused about what’s happening and how she is meant to respond. It’s filled with shame and so it struggles to make itself heard.

I know I’m not alone. For thousands of women, our first experience with sexual harassment started within the school gates, well before we entered the workforce, well before we understood about gender imbalance or the patriarchy.

I went to an elite school where the boys had been brought up to believe they owned the world, they could take what they wanted and leave behind the remains without thought or care. These were straight, white, entitled and privileged boys and in the mid 1980’s they ruled the school.

The air of advantage and prerogative that suffocated the school, bred behaviour that rewarded the boys who acted with the most brazen acts of testosterone. Those who snapped the girls bra straps were awarded with laughter, those who made the girls feel unsafe with their advances were awarded with respect from the rest of their cohort. The boys who “went all the way” were the heroes.

It was 35 years ago and I can’t help wondering what these boys (who would now be men close to their fifties) remember of those years. When they hear the stories of sexual abuse and harassment flooding our news feeds do they feel shame? Do they think of their partners or their daughters? Do they think about how they behaved all those years ago?

Recently I heard someone say what happens when you are young and female follows you; it stays with you for the rest of your life. Sometimes it fills me with anger that my life has been sullied at the hands of others who earned respect and adulation. Other times I feel angry with myself that I couldn’t just let it go.

But it does stay with you, the shame stays with you in the same way the entitlement stays with the boys as they grow up to be men. Sometimes sexual harassment starts way before the big salaries and the prestige of a high paying job.

Every time I see the words “me too” I think of those boys. I wonder if they think of me.

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