On Oct. 16, 2017, I woke up to a deluge of #MeToo posts on Facebook and Twitter from my female friends. Some were brief and concise, others lengthy and heartbreaking exposés. I felt empowered to speak up as well—and I was determined to spread that courage.
Many people voiced their support after I shared my story in English on Facebook. There were also young women who got in touch with me in private. I want to say to everyone who responded back then that I am extremely grateful. I’m truly proud of you and proud of myself for going public.
But since then I’ve lamented the fact that the #MeToo movement never took off back home in mainland China, where most of my horrible encounters took place. That’s like being bullied at work and complaining to my boyfriend instead of confronting my boss. It’s not coming full circle. It’s not brave enough. But back then I didn’t have any faith at all in Chinese civil society. I thought anything I said would simply end up as part of the feeding frenzy.
Only later did I realize that even though the #MeToo movement hadn’t spread like wildfire in China, powerful sparks surfaced from time to time, popping up here and there every few months. People who genuinely cared took note, so the flames raged more brightly with each new story.
In the past six months or so, the fire has spread to the NGO and media sectors. I was particularly pleased and moved by a piece I read posted by a senior journalist. The post didn’t name a prominent industry figure, but rather recounted the various types of harassment she had suffered at the hands of all the men in her life, famous or not.
This is the real story. More often than not, young women aren’t violated by celebrities but by the ordinary men around them, the unbelievably cocky, self-centered, and non-empathetic men nurtured by a sick patriarchal culture.
So I’ve decided to step up once more and describe my encounters with the scum I’ve stumbled upon in my 27 years of life.
When I was around 4 or 5, my parents brought me along when they paid a visit to a relative. A distant cousin sat on his bed watching TV. He cradled me in his lap and started fondling me. I was too young to understand what was going on and quickly forgot the incident until a few years ago, when I recalled the encounter after being harassed again.
In university, two good female friends, their roommate, and I planned a weekend getaway. The two friends were held up at the last minute, but they begged me to go ahead with their roommate because she was looking forward to the trip. I agreed. When we set off, I noticed that the roommate, whom I did not know, had brought her boyfriend and another guy.
When I woke up in our room in a Beijing suburb the next morning, my face had been covered and a man was on top of me. It was the roommate’s boyfriend. I froze and went blank, unable to muster a response. A few hours later I called my friend, shivering. My friend urged me to bolt, which had never occurred to me until that point.
The next three months were a blur. Perhaps a defense mechanism had been triggered, leading me to denial—until one day, when a good friend shook me by the shoulders and said, “You were raped!” I broke down instantly.
It took me the bulk of the next year to come to terms with the fact that I had been raped. I barely accomplished anything else. I still don’t know the name of the man. So next time someone wonders why rape victims don’t contact the police immediately, this is why. Being raped isn’t quite the same as being pickpocketed.
Then I graduated and became a journalist. On a reporting trip, I ended up wining and dining a potential interview subject in a distant village. A good male friend was traveling with me, so I wasn’t too worried. Everyone ended up drinking too much, and we fell asleep on the floor at the home of the prospective interviewee.
I woke up in the middle of the night to find my pants partially removed. A stranger lay beside me. But it was too dark, and I couldn’t make out his face. I fled immediately. I had no means of transportation at that hour, so I snuck into the room of our female host and climbed into her bed.
The next morning, my male friend woke me up. He was furious because he could tell that something had happened to me. But I had no idea who my attacker was, so there was nothing I could do. I was in no state to keep filming that day, so we went back to the hotel together, and he stayed with me all day.
These are some of the worst attacks I have experienced. Other examples include the time the party secretary of the Communist Youth League branch at my university invited me to his home for the weekend via text message, saying his wife and kid were out of town; the time a man I had gone on two dates with tried to forcibly kiss me in public; the time I was crashing at a friend’s place and her husband’s brother started fondling my thigh when the entire group was chatting in the living room. I kept avoiding his hand, to no avail. In the end, I had to pry his hand away.
The sad thing is my story is hardly unusual. Sexual assault of girls is very common. Sexual violence in universities is very common. Being attacked by friends is very common. Bosses violating employees at work is very common. It’s very common for the men around us to say or do things that are out of line, disrespectful, and—frankly—disgusting.
I’m quite lucky. Three years ago, I started working with an excellent psychotherapist. Two years ago, I met my boyfriend, whose character is as solid as oak. My mother has been a rock since I summoned the courage to share my story with her a year ago. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve broken down and found myself engulfed in fear, rage, shame, and self-loathing during my nearly 200 therapy sessions, before pulling myself together bit by bit.
My boyfriend has been a tremendous source of love. He doesn’t simply let me vent—instead, he shows genuine empathy. He has never been the least bit chauvinistic, always the perfect gentleman who shows deep respect for women. He’s also willing to step up when he needs to. In him, I see how a man should behave.
I want to tell all the young women (and men) who have similar stories to share that you haven’t done anything wrong, not in the slightest. You can wear whatever you want. Do men have to worry about wearing loose shorts? If you want to drink, go right ahead. Are men suggesting anything by having a drink? If you don’t want to deliver a tongue-lashing, you can refuse advances diplomatically. The onus lies with those who don’t get the message, the men who have no sense of decorum, who lack empathy and objectify people, who hurt others with their words and actions out of blind self-confidence.
The trauma inflicted by sexual assault is huge. If possible, I encourage you to seek therapy. You have to take care of yourself first. The next step is to decide whether to simply move on, or to take legal action. This is a decision everyone is free to make. The most important thing is figuring out where fault lies (definitely not with you) and being aware of the options you have.
Lastly, to the men who have hurt others or condone such behavior, you are the worst. I so badly want to squeeze the grease from your slick ways and pour it over the fire that is the #MeToo movement.
This story was originally written in Chinese and translated by Min Lee for Chinarrative. You can follow Muyi on Instagram.