Me too (a collective responsibility)
Something is happening in the Netherlands. It is extremely painful and at the same time, I feel a relaxation in my body that it is being put in the spotlight. I am talking about sexual harassment. It happens everywhere and every day. It happens to women and men. It happens in power dynamics, families and on the street. Numbers do not describe how often it happens, as many people that have the experience don’t press charges. Including myself. This is my “me too”. It is not meant to receive pity. I have done my work and I learned from it in many ways. The purpose of sharing this is to contribute to awareness. To give acknowledgement to every person that recognises themselves in those stories.
I was travelling and doing voluntary work in a city in Guatemala. After work, I walked back to the house of my guest family, which was only 5 minutes away from the bus stop. There was a guy walking behind me. My intuition was telling me that he was following me, yet my mind said “no, you are just making that up, just continue walking”. I passed a little shop on the corner with guys from the neighbourhood that already knew me. From the shop, it was only a hundred meters to the house. Seeing the guys I thought I was safe, so I relaxed a bit more. Just after passing the store and walking around the corner, I noticed his footsteps going faster. Before I knew it, there was a hand between my legs. I swept my arm to the back to hit him. He jumped back. He laughed at me while I was running away. With pain in my heart, I changed my stay to another family the day after. I wanted to protect myself from this happening again.
I was working in a restaurant in the Jordaan in Amsterdam. It was a wonderful place with lots of friends and laughs. I often finished late and went back home on my bike through the city. I never felt unsafe, as Amsterdam is full of life and people almost 24 hrs a day. My route went over the Prinsengracht, toward the Amstel, where I lived at that moment. There was a car with 4 guys driving behind me. It didn’t pass which was surprising me and therefore caught my attention. The car started driving next to me and they opened the windows to speak to me “Hi tasty thing (lekkertje), how are you doing?”. I stopped in the hope they would continue driving. They stopped the car right in front of me and waited for me to pass again. About two hundred meters away there was a traffic light with a busy road. I knew when I would be there I would be seen by others. I decided to start biking again and go as fast as I could. They started driving next to me and all of a sudden I felt a hand on my but. It was one of the guys sticking his arm out of the window and touching me. I biked even harder and ended up in front of the red traffic light. I screamed “get your hands off me”, hoping they would feel seen by others and leave. When the traffic light was green they started driving. I waited to see where they were heading and took another road. I never biked home as fast as that day. For months after, I was looking over my shoulder.
Running in the park
I went running in the Rembrandtpark in Amsterdam. I enjoyed the many options and tried different paths and routes every time I went. One day I was running on a path where two guys, around 18 years old, were walking in front of me. One of them looked over his shoulder and saw me coming. I was expecting them to move aside, but instead, they stopped and looked at me. My intuition alarm was on, but I told myself “don’t makeup stories, these are just two guys taking a walk”. When I wanted to pass them one of the guys grabbed me between my legs. The other one laughed while looking at us. The big path with bikes and other runners was not far, so I started screaming in the hope someone would see me. The guy let go of me and I ran away. I could hear them laughing behind me.
A guy in a bar
I was in a bar after a beautiful intimate piano concert in the city centre of Amsterdam. With a little group of people, we decided to go and have a drink in a bar afterwards. I was sitting at a high chair at the bar when a guy approached me. It was nice to chat with him, we were laughing and I was having a good time. At a certain moment, he said “why don’t we kiss a little?”. I told him I was not interested in that. “Oh come on, just a little bit”. He was stroking my hair and neck. I felt uncomfortable and asked him to stop. “Oh it’s probably because I am older than you, well you will find out later in your life, that age doesn’t matter”. I told him it had nothing to do with age, that I wasn’t interested and I asked if he could stop touching me. I walked away and went to sit on another chair. He followed me and grabbed me at my hips. “You know you want to!” and started licking my ear. I had to use some force to get out of his hands and told him I would go to the restroom. When he turned around for a moment, I grabbed my stuff and ran out to my bike. I biked away as fast as I could, I was terrified.
The stories above are clearly physically crossing a line, but I have many memories of moments that might not appear to belong in this category. And where afterwards I realised they were beyond what I consider to be comfortable and respectful. When I was fifteen years old I went to study engineering in a school with ninety-five percent men. Playing soccer and having a father who worked in the transport sector, I was used to a certain type of language, so at first sight, I didn’t notice how painful it was. I was feeling very much at home at the school, always making new friends and laughing and chatting with everyone. The guys in my class were observing me and would sometimes say things such as “Tamara clearly needs a good fuck” or “ah now she is going to visit the toilet, well we all know what that means”. I laughed about their comments. And truly, I believe they had no idea of the impact. I did feel uncomfortable, and I did feel shame. But I remember putting that aside. I thought that was just part of life, that was how guys talked. I can see clearly now how those moments, and there were many, planted seeds in me. I was “a dirty girl”.
I am grateful to have found a path for myself. To have had the capacity to work through those experiences and come out of them with more awareness, self-connection and confidence. I believe I have a healthy relationship with sexuality and my body and I am not afraid anymore in a dark street. I love flirting and I love myself. From most of my friends, I know they have at least one experience in their life that fits in this category. I am happy to be able to listen, acknowledge and support them. With my story I hope to encourage others, that benefit from it, to share their stories. To open up to people around them that can listen and support.
Even though the impact of the people that are labelled as the “sexual harassers” is painful I want to also acknowledge that we live in a society where not everyone is educated to understand what it means to care for one another. Where not everyone has awareness of what impact they have on others with their behaviour. Where, painfully enough, the line is not clear. It is a collective challenge, it is a patriarchal pattern and we can only solve this together.
We have a choice in how we show up and connect to others. And we can take responsibility for expressing ourselves and acting in a nonviolent way. We are responsible for our behaviour, for our intentions. When what we say or do stimulates pain in the other person, we can choose to act in a different way. We can change our behaviour at any given moment. And we can ask for support to change our behaviour when we recognize it is challenging to change.
I believe that there is pain on both sides of the story. And I want to believe that behind every tragic action there is a deep longing that wants to be fulfilled. Let’s find out what it is that we really need. And let’s support each other in that. We are interconnected, always. And the easiest way to heal this is in togetherness.
I would love this to be a space for engagement, exploration and connection. Please practice nonviolence in your comments. If you have a request (for example, because you would like support or collaboration), you can send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org