The #metoo campaign, where women who have experienced sexual assault are encouraged to share their stories on social media, has hit me a lot more strongly than I expected it to. I first saw the tag at the top of my Facebook feed yesterday, shared by a friend, and I had to Google to find out what it meant. Then I kept scrolling, and it just kept appearing. So many of my friends, and I had no idea. My own ‘worst’ experience (look away now if you don’t want to know) was actually when I was at infant school – a group of boys who used to bully me and my best friend once got me into a corner of the playground and made me take my pants off so their ringleader could give the rest of us a rudimentary anatomy lesson, with me as the model. Since then I’ve been groped at a club plenty of times (what woman hasn’t?), and when I went to Morocco aged 15 there were a few similar instances, just without the club.
And I’ve never been physically hurt, and I know it wasn’t my fault, and none of the incidents involved anyone I thought I could trust, but it was abuse, and it was real. And in the past 24 hours I’ve discovered that so many people I love, more than I could ever have guessed, have had that experience too. Of being objectified and degraded, in myriad different ways, at different times and in different places and by different people. I feel sick and helpless. I want to cry, but the depression means I can’t. There is a huge weight of hopelessness lodged in my chest because I want to hurt for all of these friends in solidarity, because what else can I do? It might not even be hopelessness, it’s just a kind of tightness and tension without a lot of actual emotion attached.
Also yesterday I discovered that someone I knew at school, who I actually had a bit of a crush on when I was fourteen, is now a convicted paedophile. His offences span several years. All of his victims are likely experiencing the same kind of crushing darkness that I feel now, and I want to be sad or angry or horrified but I can’t feel it, it’s just blank, like I’m trying to reach something on a shelf that’s just too high for me. And before this all happened I’d started reading A Handmaid’s Tale, so now I want to keep going but it’s really quite hard because it suddenly seems totally plausible and that would be horrifying if my exhausted brain had a setting for that but it doesn’t, I just know on an intellectual level that somehow the horror that’s usually only internal is coming from the outside as well now and there’s nowhere to go to get away.