At the end of last week, author Kelly Oxford posted the above tweet. When women responded, they used the hashtags #notokay or #notok. As NPR reported on Tuesday afternoon:
On Saturday, Oxford said that over the course of a single evening, a million women had responded to her call-out. The flood of stories still hasn’t ended. More than 13,000 tweets were directed at Oxford on Sunday and Monday alone…
If you haven’t yet, take some time to read through some of the tweets. It’s agonizing but important.
Even as someone who works routinely with victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, I was surprised by how painful and moving it was to see the unending stream of stories that were all too familiar — so common to become a seemingly mundane thread in the tapestry of the American experience.
I was also surprised by how difficult it was for me to respond with one of my own stories. As you can see below, I did, but it took a long time to actually publish it.
I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have at least one story that could be added to the stream. In fact, most of us have multiple stories. And while many stories involve strangers like the old man who assaulted Kelly on the bus when she was only 12, many of the stories involve men in our lives. Family members, friends, romantic partners, colleagues.
I still remember how scared I was that night I referenced in my tweet. How disgusted I was and how disgusting I felt. How shocked I was. How embarrassed I was. We were in a public place. Other mutual colleagues and his friends were close by. They could have seen us had they happened to look in the right direction.
And that’s the thing. These aren’t isolated occurrences and they don’t only happen in dark alleyways or locked rooms. They happen all over, all the time. So I also find myself angry and surprised and, frankly, incredulous of the responses of so many men who I believe are trying to be allies but who are “Shocked! Shocked!” by what they are reading and hearing. If these men were honest with themselves, they’ve witnessed some of these assaults. The numbers don’t add up otherwise. Again, these assaults are happening at all ages, in all sorts of locations and settings. No place or time is immune.
I’ll never know for sure if any of my assaulter’s friends saw what happened that night. But because one man, in particular, had been close by only moments before the assault began and because this friend returned immediately as I ran away, I suspect he had seen. Honestly, if I had to place a bet, my guess is the friend was monitoring the “action” to see how far his friend was getting. Was it laughed off as a failed attempt, a la Trump? Or was it celebrated as a success?
Expressions of outrage and condolence are flooding twitter and social media writ large right now. But that isn’t enough. Men have to do more than (1) not assault women and (2) express support for women who have. They have to intervene. They have to reject the conduct. They have to reject those who assault. They have to be willing to act on the outrage and disgust they so proficiently express online in #reallife. Because we sure as shit are experiencing these assaults in real life. And it’s #notokay.