#meetoo: How A Gymnast Made Me Flip
I feel compelled to write this blog. Never before have so many words and thoughts flooded my synapses- like a blur of how the blog should look, what I need to say. It’s a tough subject matter and it starts with me sharing views I am now ashamed of, so please, please, please bear with me until the end before you get mad at me.
This is my story; I’m not a #metoo survivor. I’m lucky.
“In the last year there were 121,113 sexual offences committed in England and Wales, of which 41,150 were rape (ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales, year ending March 2017).
The number of rape cases recorded by the police has risen by 15% compared with the previous year (year ending March 2016).
One in five women in England and Wales has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 (ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales, January 2013) and women are nearly five times as likely to have experienced sexual assault as men (ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales, year ending March 2016”
[- from www.victimsupport.org.uk, DOA, 21.01.18]
ONE IN FIVE. I mean, I’ve had a few guys in clubs grab my butt and for some ridiculous, abhorrent, vile reason I seemed to think that qualified me to comment. As little as a few weeks ago you would have heard me say I mean yeah, so there’s sexual assault and then there’s being offered sex for a movie role isn’t there. It’s not right – but totally not the same as being raped. I would just have said no.
Firstly. Genuinely. Sincerely. Sorry.
Secondly. I’m not the only woman to utter those words. Why do some people feel that way? I’ve done some hefty searching of soul and I believe it’s a combination of;
⦁ Society. From a young age as females we are conditioned to tolerate ‘boys’ who apparently will be boys.
They can’t help it. It’s a complement really. He only grabbed your arse. Don’t be frigid.
Remember school? I was constantly badgered about being a lesbian until I had my first boyfriend. My first kiss. There’s clearly nothing wrong with being a lesbian but that wasn’t what was implied. What was implied was that I couldn’t possibly be attracted to males if- by FOURTEEN- I hadn’t had a boyfriend. Already I was being hounded because pleasing or being pleasured by a male wasn’t a priority for me.
⦁ Self-preservation. Is it human nature to relate everything to ourselves? If I make it the victims fault, then it is less likely to happen to me.
I am stronger. I would say no. It isn’t worth it. [coming back to this one]
I could talk much much more- but this is in danger of becoming an academic essay and not a blog post. Happy to do a follow up, or answer comments if needed but no I’ll address my ‘flip’.
What made me change my mind?
A 23 year old woman. Who- at 5 feet 2- stood taller than I’ll ever stand when facing her abuser in court. Wow. If you haven’t watched it- please do; [At the time of writing, it’s now been a few weeks]
Every bit as powerful as her tumbles, and flipped me over metaphorically. I cried. I’m not a Cryer. As I wiped away the tears I realised that I was feeling proud of a woman who is not quite young enough to be my daughter but at 11 years my junior carried more wisdom than me. I felt sadness that the wisdom came not only from an evidently astute mind and well decorated career but from the strength of rising above abuse. I felt ashamed because in the instant I was ugly crying for a 23-year-old gymnast speaking out against her abuser I realized that I was distraught about her abuse because her passion, dedication, determination to succeed in her sport left her extremely vulnerable to abuse from a man in the position of extreme power. It seemed to much more of a violation that a young, but not always child, sportswoman should be abused by a Doctor than – let’s say a young desperate to be famous actress was left vulnerable by lack of opportunity in a cutthroat industry and a famous director would exploit that in much the same way. I realised- to my disgust that I put a higher value on the pain of the gymnast because I myself place a higher value on the ability, desire and pathway to becoming one than I do on becoming a celebrated actress. Don’t get me wrong, we can all have preferences in terms of career and such but that’s not what led to my internal revulsion. My thoughts were exploding like fireworks on bonfire night. I was previously grading sexual abuse.
It’s worse if it happens to a gymnast- they train so hard and if they speak up they’ll be kicked off the team- so they’re so vulnerable. Actresses often give up their previous life to move to places where there might be work. Take knock back after knock back. Work several jobs. Take abuse. Develop eating disorders after one too many casting director calls them fat. Then someone dangles a nice juicy carrot and says ‘if you sleep with me’. The gymnasts were so young, it’s so much worse. They are so vulnerable. The vast majority of sexual abuse comes from someone known to the ‘victim’ (Survivor) someone in a position of authority- someone who is abusing their trust. Adults are often vulnerable too. They could just say no. Never. Ever. Ever judge a situation you’ve not been in. What isn’t worth compromising what I truly believe to be right in MY heart depends upon what is at stake. Who am I to judge that.
After my internal debate it all came back to a memory I had (human nature again I’m afraid). When I was 19 and lived in a slightly rougher than I’m used to sort of area in my University city I was burgled. They stole a laptop. My laptop. I felt violated and it took a long time to get over it. The next day when the police were taking a statement a neighbour walked passed.
What happened love?
We were burgled, stole my laptop.
Where was it?
(NOT, is everyone OK, where was it)
On the floor there *pointing at the carpet where it was, in plain sight*
Oh – that’s alright then. You were asking for it.
I was utterly incensed. She was making it MY fault. If I’d only put it away, if I’d had it in my bedroom, or even if I just didn’t have one at all. That’s when the penny dropped for me.
It doesn’t matter who the girl or woman is. It doesn’t matter whether they didn’t run kicking or screaming. It doesn’t matter what they wore. It doesn’t matter that they might have been naïve to meet in ‘his’ bedroom/hotel room/alone. That they may have accepted drinks, gotten tipsy or even legless. It doesn’t matter than the no ‘could have been clearer’. It doesn’t make any difference whether she flirted with him mercilessly for months. It doesn’t matter about any of that, because the person in the wrong is not the person who leaves the laptop in plain sight. It’s the morally impaired arsehole that takes it! Honestly- why was this ever difficult for me to see? We don’t tell black people to paint themselves white so that the KKK like them more.
So, it is once more- with sincerity- that I hold my hands up and apologise for every scathing ‘oh its not really sexual abuse’ comment that I have made. If I’m not with you, I might as well be against you. I see that now. I understand now. I’m with you.
I might have the privilege of not needing to say #metoo but I am able to stand wholeheartedly with and for anyone who does need to say it. I stand with the people who could say it, but choose not to because they are coping in their own way. I stand with the people who fear idiots like me from two weeks ago and I tell you that there is hope, in telling your stories as Aly Raisman did that dumb f***S like me from two weeks ago will learn, and jump right up there with you.
So, to Aly- once again. Wow. Ask my mother- not many people ever change my mind. Far fewer ever get an apology. The sight of me doing a real flip would be pretty horrendous – but thank you for making me take an ideological 180-degree leap.