“Me, too.” 24×30, oil on canvas. Buy Now

“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” … It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.”  C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I saw the first #metoo post on a friend’s feed and didn’t think much about it. After seeing several, I learned what the status meant. Last week, if you’d asked me what percentage of the women I know had been sexually harassed and/or assaulted I would have said 100. But still all the “me too’s” led to my gut reaction of “no, not you!”. My former students, my friend’s moms, my dearest friends, acquaintances I’m not even sure how I know. As much as I recoil from social media trends, this one, at least for me, was effective. What I knew to be widespread, relatively impersonal, became incredibly personal. My studio time was marked by sadness and reflection.

When I was about twelve, one of my best friends got her first boyfriend who lived in another city. He was older. She attended one of his basketball games. I distinctly remember her telling me about it because she said when she walked in the gym she heard the coach and some of the other players say how beautiful she was and that they would like to rape her.

I remember being impressed with her story. I was not struck not by the horror of a man looking at a young girl and using those words as a “compliment” but by jealousy– how could she create such desire just by walking into a room?

Decades later that memory haunts me for different reasons. We spoke about it in the same breath as getting our driver’s licenses, the new store that had opened at the mall, and the pepperoni pizza hot-pockets we were later going to consume at the bowling alley.

I thought about writing about all the ways I’ve encountered demeaning comments, uninvited grabbing, and victim blaming over the subsequent twenty+ years, but when I look to just last week, I have enough, perhaps better material to make a point.

Last week I had lunch with a friend. We had a brief conversation about victims of rape and she, a victim herself, asked me, “Well, who isn’t one? I hardly know anyone who isn’t. I’m surprised when someone’s not.”

Last week I met someone interested in me doing a live painting for a charity event. He randomly asked me if I was a single mom and when I said yes, he repeatedly insisted (I’m sanitizing here) that anyone who would leave me was a moron. He made comments about my body to justify his position. He said he wanted me to do a half price painting so he could help me out.

Last week as I finished an eight mile run I was quite proud of, a man literally stopped me to share some advice– he used to wrap his stomach in cellophane before a workout and he got very “trim”. Since he sees me running so much, he thought I should know.

In light of physical assault or overt harassment these instances might read as innocuous. I share them for that exact reason. We think of a few perverts in the shadows and not a cultural norm that bats not an eye at women being spoken to as though their worth is completely tied to their bodies.

I do not know how to respond to any of this. I often smile (even as I am told to smile more) so as not to offend. Yes, I don’t want to offend someone who has no problem offending me– his attitude is the norm, my discomfort over-the-top. Where did I learn that? Why do I do that? I have said thank you when screw you was more appropriate.

I have been called too sensitive, too intense all the while I was desperately trying to shrink into myself, make myself take up as little space as possible.

Painting has been and will forever be my mediation in taking up space. It has allowed me more “you too?” connections than anything else. Yesterday, as I saw all the “me too’s” I felt not so alone. Instead of listening to the voices that say “you make too much of nothing” I heard “We stand together in immense (and I’ll add unfortunate) solitude”.

I can’t say much about today’s painting except that it is made of tears and hope.

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