It started with a Tweet.
The #MeToo movement created a shift in the awareness of most people (read: men) about the level of sexual abuse that women face on a a daily basis. It has allowed women to unashamedly share their own deeply personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault, especially in the workplace.
I knew so many people who were shocked at the number of women sharing “#MeToo” on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. They wondered how in the world it was possible that that many women had dealt with sexual harassment and assault and that that many men got away with it unscathed – without so much as a warning.
It showed us the social burden carried on the shoulders, and in the hearts, of women who had suffered. It showed their inability to voice their experiences and gain some semblance of justice.
Most of the Muslim women I know have watched on with their own stories in their hearts. Stories their too afraid to share; stories that form a lump in their throats and a black stain on their conscience.
How could we, the women who guard our chastity and our sexuality so closely still be the victims of this treatment. Maybe we didn’t do it right? Maybe we led them on?
Maybe it was our fault after all?
Some Muslim women have used #MeTooMosque or #MosqueMeToo to share their experiences. Muslim women have even been sexually harassed in the most sacred of places, in Hajj. These stories show that even Muslim men – men who are bound by a religious doctrine to respect a women and told not to touch women not related to them at all – can take advantage of women around them in holy spaces.
Muslim women are hesitant to share their own #MeToo experiences because they do not want to add to the stereotypes about Islam and Muslim men. In our minds, the actions of those men do not represent our view of Islam; so speaking out about their actions seems like it will do more harm than good.
But for me – it’s a different issue. Just one of the #MeToo experiences in my life involved a Muslim man. The rest? They were non-Muslim men in positions of power that I trusted – men who pretended they respected the boundaries I drew, only to shatter them.
I’m grateful that my experiences have not involved sexual assault – they are better classified as sexual harassment. And to be honest with you, they’re not stories I think I could ever openly share in any detail with you, or with anyone. They sit as faded memories – faded lessons – that remind me that the physical hijab I wear does not protect me from the disgusting behaviours of men.
I’ve watched the #MeToo movement and I’ve wanted to share my stories but I couldn’t.
The school teacher who inappropriately touched us, only to for him to one day vanish without an investigation or explanation about where he went.
The academic advisor who tricked me into a date under the guise of a professional meeting because apparently our cultures would ‘make a cute couple’ and I wouldn’t have agreed to meet him if I knew what he really wanted.
The international student who was older than my dad that I was mentoring who trapped me in the corner of a cafe one afternoon so that I would agree to marry him.
The colleague who couldn’t accept ‘don’t touch me’ and chose to instead to try and ‘stealth rub’ my shoulders from behind when he could.
That was the only timed I ever complained.
I’ve felt a great amount of guilt for not having the courage to share my experiences so that you may feel comfortable sharing yours – especially when I’ve had the courage to talk about so many other sensitive topics.
But even as I write this, I feel a great shame and guilt that these things happened to me. I am telling myself over and over again that sharing my experiences with you will bring home the message that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, no matter who they are and what they’re wearing.
If you keep feeling like you want to share your experience, but can’t, know that I completely understand. I am sorry that you had to experience what you did. Know that it was not your fault.
If you are a Muslim (or non-Muslim) woman who needs to get your experience off your chest, feel free to contact me.
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