On the “#MeToo generation,” per the president

“We have to do it gently because we’re in the #MeToo generation, so we have to be very careful.”

Can we just pause for a minute?

I don’t know which demographic, exactly, the President of the United States has decided to grace with the title of the #MeToo generation. My best guess is my generation—millennials (what a surprise)—but regardless, labeling a single set of folks in this way is both misleading and actively harmful. It belittles all the brave individuals who have stepped forward to share their stories, their moments of sheer terror and dissociation and all the fallout that goes with being a victim or survivor or casualty or what-have-you of sexual assault.

And those people don’t fit into a generation.

We have mothers and grandmothers who have been sexually assaulted. We have neighbors who have had to endure catcalls and harassment their entire lives. We have teachers who stand with us when we’re fighting inappropriate comments in the workplace and at school. We band together because we have no choice. And our lives span centuries, millennia.

But maybe the President of the United States doesn’t see this. Perhaps he hasn’t taken the time to listen with the intention of understanding. I get that—it’s difficult to have your world turned upside down in such a radical way, to realize that many of the women around you have endured trauma and that many of the men don’t always realize how damaging their behavior can be. It’s not a simple thought process, and I think it takes time for everyone to work through for themselves.

It’s been a decade and a half since my assault, give or take a year or two. I didn’t even know sexual assault was a crime until high school (a luxury and curse those half a decade behind me do not have). I’ve been catcalled in church, and I can’t say that didn’t affect my relationship with religion. I’ve had moments on dates when I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to say no or get away if I needed to. I’ve been sexualized by my peers. Each of these moments, though, has been colored by my assault—the one event I’ve carried with me for most of my life. And I didn’t even talk about it until about a year and a half ago.

When I did decide to start talking about my experiences, I started with music. I wrote, extracting myself and weaving me, weaving her into a story that did not match my own but was a reflection of my own bitter sympathy for those who are assaulted at an age when they understand what’s been done to them, when they seek support and companionship and are met instead with disgust and “you should have known better”s. Once I had a piece that served as an introduction to my feelings about assault and rape culture and the whole nine yards—not wanting to talk about it, warning others, being angry that I am targeted because some men see me not as a human worthy of respect and curiosity and good conversation but as a vessel for their own sexual gratification—I brought it to the concert hall. That was an incredible personal risk in itself (a female composer presenting a piece about assault? That’s got a place in classical music, my self-deprecating voice says); however, I’ve been fortunate it’s been well received thus far. Ultimately, even though I’m angry and frustrated and scared, my storytelling almost always chooses to set people in the middle of that and see what happens instead of telling them what I want them to do. And that’s because I don’t speak for all victims/survivors/casualties. The only story I’ve lived is my own.

So when the President of the United States says we have to be gentle and careful because of the #MeToo generation, I hope he’s talking about the rapists and the perpetrators and the guys who think that because she didn’t complain, the sex wasn’t a problem (or vice versa). I hope he’s making an eloquent point that we have to be careful and articulate because those men are the last people who are going to listen and understand that their behavior needs to change. I hope he’s not simply dismissing millions of stories with a wave of his hand, saying that all you need is to not get caught. I hope this President, who has been accused of assault by at least a dozen women, realizes the gravity of his actions.

And even when he doesn’t, I hope his audience does someday soon. ♦