The concept of #MeToo is based on a harsh reality of men taking advantage of women and feeling superior in work environments. By now, I’m going to assume we’re all familiar with the recent movement of women (mostly celebrities and athletes) being courageous enough to speak out against sexual harassment and sexual assault.
It’s ugly, horrendous and, as a woman, deeply horrifying to read these stories. So when I saw an event titled “#MeToo: A Live Literary Event” taking place Tuesday in Volume One’s gallery, I was intrigued.
With her event, Jodi Arnold, a woman I’m not familiar with personally, turned the #MeToo concept into two things: 1) Extremely personal, as woman after woman (and one man) in my community got up to bravely share their own stories, and 2) something beautiful, which, she said as she introduced the event Tuesday night, was her goal.
“I wanted this to be a community conversation,” Arnold said. “I want all of these ugly things to be made pretty by us coming together and hopefully in the future we can make a prettier road.”
Around 15 people read poems and essays sharing personal stories to varying degrees of horror about sexual assault and sexual harassment. Some of them had never read their work publicly before, one had never even written an essay before, but all of them, no matter how nervous, got up and bravely shared their stories to a crowded room.
And I do mean crowded. I expected the event to fill the gallery (which, from my slightly-educated guess, is at least 5 chairs per row and at least 10 rows), but the crowd literally extended into The Local Store, with people listening among the shop’s various displays, right out to the front entryway.
It was also diverse — many groups of female friends, several couples, fathers and husbands, writers and several men who stood by themselves listening intently. Much of the crowd was, again, by my estimate, younger than 40.
They listened as Charlotte Kupsh pointed out both averse and subtle forms of sexual harassment are important to talk about. She shared her story of being a “lucky one” while hanging out in a local bar she was comfortable in, when a man she had barely said two words to “suggested” they hang out later by shoving his hotel key card into her bra.
Kupsh considered herself lucky because “it could have been worse,” and because she was surrounded by supportive friends and a bartender who “literally chased” the man out of the bar. Still, she ended her piece with, “especially if you are a woman, especially if you are a minority, you are never quite lucky enough.”
They listened as poet Heather Harkins wrote about the changes she and her body underwent after an incident of sexual abuse in her poem “The Lost Me.”
They listened as Sgt. Jane Doe, an honorably discharged U.S. Air Force veteran, shared “The Good Old Boys Club,” in which she talks about how women in the military aren’t viewed as women when they are doing their job, but as soon as they are off the clock hanging out, that all changes.
However, Doe argued the #MeToo movement hasn’t come to the U.S. military yet because women, especially if they are still actively serving, would fear to lose their job. She couldn’t share her own story publicly, but through her nerves shared their collective stories.
The U.S. Air Force had trained her to “do her job, and do it well,” but, she said, “They don’t train you for what to do when the people in the same crew as you hurt you.”
Through these and so many more stories, the speakers lifted a burden off their shoulders and placed it into the crowd, which willingly absorbed it as their own.
I left feeling empowered, not only for all of those women, but for this community. There’s something to be said for a crowd of more than 50 people coming together to support one another on a Tuesday night.