#MeToo is me, 11 years old, coming back from school and sitting on the Parisian metro. i am tired and daydreaming about…homework? making sure i study for my upcoming test? what someone at school said or did ? don’t remember.
there is a man sitting next to me. old. bald. 50ish. that’s old for me in those days.
and then i remember a hand slipping underneath my butt, fumbling about the side of my right hip, my right buttock. fingers moving about.
the memory is vague. me sitting still, not really understanding much. nobody around. good, that’s good. otherwise, people would see and i would be ashamed. i don’t look at the man next to me. waiting for the next stop. will it ever come ? fingers fumbling. the train goes on. the light is an endless glare, like this endless trainride that never gets to the next stop.
finally. stop. doors open. am out of here. don’t look back. just keep going. change compartment. done. safe. exhale.
i don’t tell my parents.
pretend it didn’t happen.
later, much later, i mention it casually to school friends. i shrug it off, like they shrug it off. this is just the way things are.
how old are we ? 12, 13, 14 ?
#MeToo is me, 12 years old, coming back from school and sitting on the Parisian metro. i am tired and daydreaming about…a boy in my class i like. does he like me? should i tell him ? how ? what if he wants to kiss me ? i’ve never kissed anyone. what if don’t know how to kiss properly ?
it is rush hour, and i am all bunched up among tired adults.
i look like a boy in those days. wear my hair short, loose clothes, swaggering walk. hang out with the boys. try to spit like them. i already have my periods, but i wasn’t ready for them. i don’t want to have breasts. at least not yet.
perhaps dressing up this way makes me feel safer ? i don’t remember.
but i do remember the man standing next to me. dark hair. not that young, not that old. bodies everywhere. and then fingers, a hand, groping my inner thighs until they reach my crotch. hard fingers, pushing, searching, twisting.
does he think i am a boy? is he looking for my cock?! i clearly recall asking myself this question, as i stand still, not really understanding, petrified. so many people around. i look for a face, someone to look at me, to see the terror in my eyes, to rescue me. nothing. shit. so many people and no one to look at me. shit.
i don’t look at the man next to me, whose angry fingers are still fumbling about.
waiting for the next stop. this endless trainride. will it ever come ? and then, stop. doors open. am out of here. don’t look back. just keep going. change compartment. done.
my legs are trembling. my crotch hurts. burning.
so much shame and fear.
i don’t tell my parents.
pretend it didn’t happen.
later, much later, i mention it casually to school friends. we shrug it off. compare our ‘pervert stories’. for one friend, it was something similar, but on a bus, not in the Metro. and another one, it was a bunch of young men surrounding her and grabbing her breasts, on her way back from school.
we move on. after all, these things happen all the time.
we have to be careful is all.
we’d rather talk about movies, gossip about classmates, and the boys we fancy.
some of us have started having boyfriends. just about. but really, most of us are still waiting for our first kiss. waiting to fall in love. just like in the movies.
and yet we’ve already been molested, groped, pushed and rubbed against and attacked.
#MeToo is me, 14 years old, sitting outside the Modern Art Museum in Paris.
i look like a young woman in those days. wear my hair long and wild. make up. jewellery. Bohemian clothes. open to the world. looking for adventure.
it is summertime. Saturday. noon. i am meeting some friends in a few hours for a sleepover. my parents know where i am going. the museum and then a sleepover. what can go wrong ?
i am enjoying the sunshine and looking at the crowds, when a man engages me in a conversation about art, literature and life.
he is tall, in his 40s, rather handsome. looks a bit like Lambert Wilson- (i just saw the famous actor in a school play, and i have a massive crush on him).
my Lambert Wilson lookalike is from Amsterdam. i like the sound of his voice. he asks me my age. i tell him. i thought you were 18, he says. i smile back. so proud to look so womanly.
he suggests going back to his place so he can show me his photography work. alarm bells ring in my head. this is foolish, dangerous, they tell me. but it feels like an adventure. i have time before meeting my friends, and right now i feel tall, free, adult. i can do what i want.
so we go. a short walk and up an attic flat by the Seine river. there is a couch, and a modelling studio. he locks the door. i pretend not to notice.
we talk. the meaning of life. journeys. poetry. i look at his photos. artsy. i kind of like them. it feels ok after all. i was right to come. feel so grown-up.
and then there is this big erect penis in front of me.
i don’t know anything about sex, but i know enough to understand that i’m sitting next to a man who is jerking off centimetres away from me.
my hand is held and placed on his testicles. i remember them feeling soft.
a hand grabs my breast and then groans, a sigh, sperm. i look away.
he cleans himself, and comes back to the couch. and carries on talking about the meaning of life.
i have not moved an inch.
back in the street later on, i feel dirty. strange. unreal. stupid. dirty, again and again, dirty.
how long was i up there ? i have to hurry. meet my friends for our sleepover. and i do, and somehow we gather and we have fun. play music, dance. sleep late. as requested by my parents, i call them in the evening to let them know i am ok.
and i do, i’m ok i tell them.
inside i am screaming with images of the tall handsome stranger who took me to his flat, screaming with guilt and shame. and fear. but the words freeze. i’m ok. good night. will be back in the morning.
i don’t tell anyone about this until many years later.
it was my fault, i tell myself. i was totally crazy. should have left. should have stopped him. taken charge. done something, said something. in fact, i was just plain lucky, nothing horrible happened to me, i tell myself.
actually i don’t even know what to think and what to feel about this.
and when i do talk about it, i end up making jokes about my paedophile encounter.
it’s easier this way.
there is no one around to tell me that this was a sexual assault, and that i was a victim. not stupid. not reckless. but a victim. and that i am not to blame. in any way.
#MeToo is all the times i have been groped in crowds in Paris, as a young and older adult, groped in crowds in India where i would go for family visits, like that time a man spent an entire bus journey trying to feel me up, until i had to barricade myself with my luggage, and people could see him but did nothing, or like that time another man spat at me, leaving a trail of red betel juice on the back of my white dress, right on my butt- i was 16.
or like that time a man stalked me in the Metro; it was late, i was in my 20s, there were not many people about, and i was scared enough to approach the first person i saw; asked him to walk with me because i felt unsafe- he did, no questions asked.
or like that time i approached a group of young men (boys really) surrounding a petrified young Japanese tourist incessantly asking for her number : i just stood next to her, told them to back off, and was met with insults and aggressive gestures. throughout, the young woman next to me didn’t move a muscle, her gaze steadily locked to the ground.
or like that time i was walking back home at night, and an older man sidled up to me, and asked me to have sex with him for 30 Euros.
or like that time and that time and that time, i was ambushed whilst walking out in the streets, day or night : ‘hey can i have your number ? hey can we go have coffee? hey, do you have a boyfriend ? hey, why don’t you stop ?’. not charming. not flirtatious. just pure harassment.
‘NO’ did not get you peace and quiet. if i was lucky, they would give up quickly. many times i was told that clearly ‘i am a lesbian and i don’t like men’.
#MeToo is the enduring shame i have carried within my soul and my belly and my sex ever since: after all, why did i not speak up? why did i not shout, and scream for help? make a fuss ? fight back ? report them ? ask for help?
why was i such a coward ? why did i put up with it ? why did i not stand up for myself ?
#MeToo is the unspoken trauma these early experiences left within my mind, my soul and the depths of my body; the silenced words, the unanswered questions, and the cynical acceptance that ‘this is how things are’ and already, at age 14, i knew i had to watch my back every time i took the Metro, every time i walked alone at night, and be prepared to… what ? run ? shout for help ? hope for the best…in case something really bad happened.
at least, i told myself, i have been ‘lucky’ so far.
after all, i told myself, nothing ‘really bad’ ever happened to me.
#MeToo : me too. like you, and you, and you.
we have been victims of sexual harassment, molestation, assault and violations.
the blame and the shame : they belong to the perpetrators. not me.
it has taken me 37 years of living to accept this simple truth.