For years, they felt their stories weren’t “bad enough” to mention.
Or they were too embarrassing, too shameful, too horrible.
About 30 people gathered on the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza this past week for a #MeToo rally, and for some, those reservations became a thing of the past.
Carrying signs demanding respect for women and justice for abusers, the mostly female crowd was out to bring local attention to the movement that has swept the nation, causing many powerful people to lose their jobs.
And the group caused a bit of a stir in downtown Prescott, eliciting honking horns from some drivers, as well as a shouted, “I love Trump” from another.
With Time Magazine’s recent designation of “The Silence Breakers” as the 2017 Person of the Year buoying them, the women spoke quietly of being raped on the job or on dates, of being subjected to humiliating tasks, and of being molested as children.
“I think a lot of people felt, ‘my story isn’t bad enough,’” one woman said, as she stood at the corner of Gurley and Montezuma streets, sign held high. “But the fact that we all have stories is the point.”
The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she is raising boys and wants them to get the message of the importance of respect for women.
Recalling the trauma of a date rape at a young age, she said she had long downplayed the trauma. “I didn’t think it counted,” she said. But with the #MeToo movement, which puts a spotlight on the long-term effects of sexual harassment and assault, she said she had an awakening.
“There are a zillion little stories of things like catcalling,” she said, maintaining that they all add up to a lack of respect.
Other women told similar stories. One who asked to be identified as Mary from Prescott Valley told of a pattern of sexual abuse and harassment.
“In just about every job I ever had,” she said in response to a question about workplace harassment.
As an 18-year-old working in a hotel in Michigan, Mary said she was raped when she took a room-service order to a customer’s room.
From there, she said she experienced harassment in everything from retail jobs to a job in a doctor’s office.
“It doesn’t do a whole lot for your self-esteem,” she said. “You always wonder what you did, what made them think they could get away with it.”
Another woman, a Yavapai County native, told of being molested by her father and his friend.
“It made me really careful about picking men to have relationships with,” she said adding that her outlook at the time was, “Boy, you have to be careful. It definitely has a lifelong impact.”
While she never experienced sexual harassment in the local workplace, the woman said she did see plenty of examples of intimidation. “Six-foot-4 men coming and standing right over you — they would not do that to a male employee,” she said.
Michele McFadden, carrying a sign documenting her experiences, remembers working as a 16-year-old in a Phoenix import store, where the owner’s son repeatedly made her work among the store’s sexually explicit items.
“I was a very innocent little Christian girl; it was embarrassing,” McFadden said.
After she told her pastor about how she felt about the task, she said he went to the store and “read the owner the riot act.”
That act of being defended also left an impression on McFadden. “Righteous indignation in action is really something to see,” she said.
The women, many of whom come out weekly to demonstrate for fundamental rights, said they hoped to bring attention to gender equality issues.
Rebecca Blankenship, holding a sign espousing “united we stand,” and “me too,” said taking a stand on issues is a way of life. “I’ve been demonstrating since 1969,” she said.
Added Becky Hayes: “We’re trying to get across that women matter as much as men.”
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