We Have Multitudes of #MeToo Stories

It is rare that a woman has only one #metoo story to her name.

Posted Dec 12, 2018

My guest blogger today is C. B. Winterborne. I am so grateful to all the women who are coming forward to share their #metoo experiences.

Everyone knows if the witch dies she was innocent.

I was already nervous at this particular intersection. Only a few weeks before, a man had tried to yank me into his car. I managed to get away and run home. When yet another car had slowed down to follow me on my walk to work, I got agitated very quickly. When I did not engage with the driver, he yelled obscenities out his window. I have forgotten what he said now, but it was violent enough to have me making a beeline for the local diner that I frequented half a block away. I knew that standing my ground meant risking a physical altercation I could not win. The owner of the diner recognized me immediately. He was a gruff man in his fifties, but he quickly softened when he saw how distressed I was. I taught English at a community college only a five-minute drive away; when I asked him for a lift he quickly agreed.

We piled into his car. He asked about what had been so upsetting. When I told him what happened, my reluctant rescuer in his old Cadillac chuckled, “Well, what were you doing to get his attention? Twitching your hips or something?” A lecture followed about how the driver didn’t “mean to scare me.” How saying hello “wouldn’t have killed me.” Obviously, since I was able to walk away it wasn’t “that bad.” When we pulled up to my work, I thanked him for the ride. He was judge, jury, executioner, and I had been found guilty. It was my fault. Just another situation where I owed a man my smile, my attention, my time, my acquiescence, and was punished for not acknowledging my debt.

The debt all women are burdened with, but rarely ever acknowledge—to be grateful for the attention we receive from men, to readily acknowledge it is our obligation to always be attractive enough to warrant attention, but to apologize for our complicity when that attention turns violent.

It’s 2018 and women are still on trial. If we endure the gauntlet, if we are resilient enough to survive our society, then we are guilty. If we survive or even thrive, obviously what we have endured wasn’t that bad, right? But if we die, as so many of us have… then we are innocent. Although, it is a tainted innocence. Along with the drawn faces and shaking of heads, they always ask, “Why didn’t she leave sooner?” or “She knew that was a bad neighborhood. Why was she walking there?” or “Poor girl. She shouldn’t have fought back.” There’s no winning, you see?

We are witches and they are drowning us at trial.

The incident at the intersection happened years ago. I wish I could say nothing similar has happened since. A few short months after this incident, I was date raped. Again, I wish I could say this was the first time I had been raped, but it wasn’t.

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

Sexual violence has been a constant in my life from a very early age. Unfortunately, out of the dozens and dozens of women in my life, I know only two (maybe three?) who have never been sexually assaulted. This is our normal. Not “if” a sexual assault occurs, but “when.”

A few months ago, I went on a date with a man I had been seeing for a few weeks. He was charming in a strange, offbeat kind of way. We had terrific conversations. He was more conservative than I was used to,and I was stimulated by learning from his perspective. He worked in the movie industry and, inevitably, the #metoo movement came up. He wasn’t convinced it was as bad as everyone claimed. Obviously, “those actresses go to a producer’s house and know exactly what’s going to happen.” The date took a very dark turn. He was getting increasingly agitated that I kept pushing back against his beliefs. Mentally, I was already working out my exit strategy. Thankfully, experience had taught me to always drive myself to and from dates. The debate turned angry when I would not agree with him that “if men and women are truly equal, then men should be allowed to put a woman’s face through a chain link fence.” His words exactly.

Something snapped inside me. He wanted me to bend, to agree, to acquiesce. He continued to raise his voice, started slamming doors and throwing things across the living room. I knew he had a handgun in his house. I knew he could beat me, rape me, and there was nothing I could do to stop him. My accumulated history was trembling beneath my skin. I remembered every mark that had been left on my body, every moment of violation, every time I was blamed for what I had said, what I was wearing, where I was walking. Every time I had burned myself at the stake before society could do it for me. Taken on the responsibility before their fingers were ever pointed. All of it came bubbling to the surface. I started screaming back at him, openly engaging a violent man regardless of the consequences. I didn’t care that he was twice my size. I was beyond caring. I had been pushed too far, for too long. Blood was rushing to my head and all I could think was, I would rather die fighting than be raped again. I would rather die fighting than have another man put his hands on me.

We are witches, and they are burning us alive.

We are faced with impossible choices. No matter the outcome, the price for survival is extracted from our bodies, our autonomy, our psyches, and our sense of self. When a sexual assault occurs and we die fighting, at least our innocence is proven…albeit at the ultimate cost. If we do not physically fight, if we negotiate, if we run, if we bargain, if we flirt, if we freeze, then we have “let it happen,” and obviously, it could not have been that bad to begin with…and perhaps we shouldn’t have been wearing that dress anyway. In this particular instance, through the haze of fear and anger I decided this was not the hill I wanted to die on, so I calmed my own temper, de-escalated the situation, and thanked him for dinner as I quickly exited his house. I was forced to block his number when I woke up the next morning to half a dozen increasingly devolving text messages. I am grateful to this day that he does not know where I live.

The veil is being lifted more forcefully now. The truth is emerging one excruciating story at a time. Women are coming forward, one-by-one, to recount their truth with nothing to gain and everything to lose. My story is just one out of the multitudes, but too often, the most marginalized of us do not have the privilege to speak our truth. Now is the time for us to listen. There are so many of us. So, so many. As painful as that reality is, this truth will be our salvation. They cannot silence all of us. They cannot stop this tidal wave of retribution. We are rising up together, united. For the first time in my life, I am hopeful for our future.

From Dr. Hamby:

I want to thank Court for sharing her story and also for her cogent social analysis. Court is a former student of mine, and her story has also reminded me that you cannot know people's histories just from seeing them in professional contexts. She's strong, outspoken, beautiful, and I had no idea about her history before she shared these accounts with me. Probably the single most common request I get from my colleagues is help figuring out how they can tell their stories and keep their professional status.  We need to do more to solve that problem, so that it is not so easy for perpetrators to get away with violence (I'm writing this as the story is breaking about another rich male college student getting away with rape). 

If you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one, then the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence has contact information for several hotlines that can offer you someone to talk to and help you find resources in your own community. RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) does the most with sexual assault specifically. I have also been impressed with the work of many others, including ChildHelp, National Dating Abuse Helpline, National Domestic Violence Helpline, Trevor Project, and StrongHearts (all links available at NCDSV website).

You may not get the response you want from every disclosure, but there is help out there. Many people support survivors. Sexual assault is never the victim's fault, and although it can be hard, don't let one cruel response keep you from getting the support you deserve.

  • Courtney Butler graduated from St. Andrew’s University in North Carolina with degrees in English and Creative Writing. She earned her master’s in Creative and Media Writing from the University of Swansea in Wales. Now, she works in the non-profit sector by day, does special effects makeup and writing at night. Her first book of poetry, Season for Season, and her first anthology, Gravity Hill: Volume III, are available at St. Andrew’s University Press. Her second book of poetry, Wild Horses, is available through Swimming with Elephants Publications, as well as an upcoming anthology, Light as a Feather. Learn more at TheCourtRose and Un Bel Mondo.
  • Sherry Hamby, Ph.D. is Research Professsor of Psychology at the University of the South and the Director of the Life Paths Research Center. She is founder and co-chair of ResilienceCon.