I’m still waiting for the #metoo version of bullying. While I’ve written about the horrors that have been exacted on me by men, I’ve left out the larger story. I’ve remained silent for years, sharing with very few the truth of my formative years: I was bullied for years that felt like eons, primarily by women (though then they were merely girls). The hurt that I feel now as I walk as one of the wounded in this world is largely the effect of words that women have wielded against me like weapons. I never had a shield; each verb, each noun, each excruciating adjective pierced directly into my heart. I walked with the blood pouring out of me from the age of nine through sixteen. Those were seven of the longest years of my life, and I still haven’t recovered.
What I want to ask of the #metoo movement, is what about the ways we as women have inflicted earth shattering horrors onto other women? The psychic toll of bullying inflicts trauma too that can take years to erode.
I remember the cruel taunts, the intentional exclusions, the ever so sleight put downs, the words and gestures that were meant to make me turn away in tears, how many times I bit my tongue. I remember the name calling, including but not limited to a cruel nickname that lasted years, that one girl told my mother about, and that made me want to die right then and there in shame. As I think of it, I still do.
I still have not recovered. I still wince at the sight of other women in groups, feeling automatically excluded. I still recoil at the casual remark of another woman or man that is just oh so slightly suspect. I still bite my nails at phone calls unreturned and texts unanswered, fearing that this time will be the last because of something I don’t realize I’ve done. And yes this is all insecurity, but it runs deep after years of bullying excavated all my bones and gave it a garden to flourish in.
I remember hiding in bathroom stalls eating my soggy lunch, not wanting to be marked as a target because I was alone. I remember pretending not to hear. I remember walking the other way. I remember vague threats over imaginary hostilities. I remembered being touched and having to hit back and the teacher turning the other way. I remember being sold a friendship only to have it turn to dust and termites shortly thereafter for no other reason than the day of the week had changed.
This mostly occurred in elementary and junior high, and yet there were the occasional instances in my later years when grown and nearly grown women reenacted the cruelness of girlhood on me, claiming I didn’t belong, that I could never be one of them.
And then again in my thirties, when two older women bullied me in my job in ways I had never even imagined. I cried; again I hid alone in the stall.
Beyond #metoo, what needs to change is the culture of treating each other toxically, of creating false hierarchies, of deeming someone not “good enough” to belong. Of treating each other like disposable beings without feelings and thoughts and emotions.
Being social is a struggle now. It’s hard to go out sometimes, it’s hard to call the friends I do have. It’s hard to share my feelings. Making new friends is like climbing Mount Everest. It’s hard to go to parties, and I can’t do social media. Sometimes I never want to leave my house again. Sometimes I want to give up altogether, and surround myself with a house of cats and pretend that’s enough. Because the inclusion and love and belonging that I yearn for seem to be floating so far away in the stratosphere that I might never touch them.
But then I think of women like Brené Brown, who reminds us “you are enough”. I think of women like Busy Philipps, who announces to other women “you can sit with us”. Through these small words, I find hope, I pick myself up, I carry on. I glue a little piece of sparkle back on my heart.
So while the #metoo movement is important and critical in a myriad of ways, all women, including myself, must examine how we treat other women. And change how we do that. And stop bullying, stop shaming, stop endlessly criticizing. We don’t all have to be friends, but not one of us has to be dragged down for the sake of another to get to the top. And it’s time to rearrange that whole bottom to top system anyways. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.