A couple of years back we took our rage to social media over the 276 girl children who were abducted from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. We designed placards, wrote poetry and lost sleep weeping over the thought that in this world that has no regard for women’s bodies and lives, those girls were our sister, our children. Were us. Yet all those songs, and poems, and marches, and tears, and gut-gripping heartaches later, our sisters are not back yet.
This is where my loss of faith in the power of social media began. I haven’t quite been able to watch the sunrise since. Each waking moment is a hurricane of terror for my black and woman body. This is the tide we wrestle with to show up for our lives.
Recently, through the #menaretrash hashtag, women and men spoke out against the war on woman bodies. It was something of magic for me. Much like everything else, you had those who are affected, those who stood by them, those who couldn’t be bothered as long as you knew (and they imposed this on you) that they weren’t trash. And that this is yet another thing to tweet about and shrug off because, well, hashtags don’t save lives.
In many spaces, it seems, this #menaretrash hashtag hasn’t been easy for a lot of our brothers (and some sisters) to understand. I have also been cornered into holding a trash radar. “But Bomi, you’ve known me a long time. Am I trash?” Too many men seemed to want to be acquitted of their manhood because, well, they love women so they surely can’t be trash. And in trying to bring them into the conversation, I haven’t quite been able to explain it without using examples from my own life.
I recently took to social media about a sexual harassment incident that happened at work. A few days later a friend (oh, and trust, I use this term loosely) asked about it. I didn’t want to talk about it – for a cocktail of reason. I made this clear. But he persisted. Until I thought, hey, maybe this is someone who actually cares, and blah blah blah, and all the things we try to remember when we are trying to suck faith out of dead and dry bones. So, with a heavy reluctance, I relayed him what had happened, beginning with the lighter words, the ones my lisping tongue could carry and still close off sobbing.
The story is still a nightmare for me to retell because this specific incident was only just a kind of beginning, and the passage down which my office stands has become a hall of terror. After listening with an intense look on his face, as if he is trying to find just the right words for the heaviness of this moment. Just the right ones, and just the right energy with which to carry them. As if with all the understanding of sages these words – well fed and eager warriors – would swoop into the battlefield of this war my story has waged and declare a truce. Wave peace flags and let the guard I had been carrying in the days preceding that moment, drop. And allow me to find balance, and laughter, again. This, my oh-so-caring friend responds in shock, “How? But I haven’t touched you.”
That is his response to sexual harassment. He’s bummed that he didn’t get to grope me first. That I haven’t let him. So, essentially, he was saying, “it’s ok for anybody to grope you all they want as long as I’ve had my fair share”.
His words sounded like an army of spiders down my throat to the bottom of my belly. But I still stayed for the rest of the conversation. Because that’s what happens. It’s crippling. It always catches you off guard and you are left with no strength to carry yourself out. Until it is often too late. I imagine this is what women who stay in abusive situations experience. I imagine it isn’t just about staying. I imagine it is trying to find the courage to relinquish control. And strength. All the things that are now bloodied and on the floor – like your humanity, and pride, and self-love. Then, there’s dealing with yourself. And all the kind of bleeding, and dying that happens.
Now, at the height of the #menaretrash hashtag, was my grope-envious friend, championing the #notallmen agenda. Not engaging constructively, throwing in a joke here, and meme there. It was something of a pestilence, actually. He was there, on the comment thread of every. Single. Post. That army of spiders came to life. I spent that night throwing up. Trying to rid myself of memory – of this and countless memories. I got to work 2 hours late the following morning.
Some weeks later, my worst nightmare came to life. This man with whom I share a childhood, was a tornado of heavy breath and violent aggression, forcing his short-boned self on my body. That wrestle over my temple has left me wounded, and has clothed these wounds with shame. Because I should know better, right? But these are not conversations I have been able to have. Until only recently. I now am part of a community of woman soldiers who show up for battle. And it is through this community that I have found a language for the crimes committed against my personhood.
Now, hashtags don’t save lives. But it is likely that #menaretrash, as a hashtag, may have saved mine. It has given me a language I haven’t always had. But it has also given me space to show up for other women. Especially the younger ones – to be the woman I needed when I was younger. More interestingly, I have men in my life engaging me on #menaretrash. Tyring to find solutions and ways of showing up differently. Men whose lives, too, are beginning to change – even through the niceness of male privilege.