By: Chava Tombosky, Contributor
writer/recording artist/filmmaker

“Me Effing Too.” That’s what I wrote on my Facebook status. Many people chimed in with comments like, “Please tell us what happened to you, I’m sorry, can you write more?” The truth is, the notion of having to wear my scars and awful experiences in public makes me feel even more uncomfortable, even more victimized. Uncomfortable for so many reasons. Uncomfortable, lest I be judged for my stories not being traumatizing enough. Uncomfortable for feeling judged that I am not modest enough, not appropriate enough, or even for being too modest, too private, too dramatic, too anything. The idea that more judgment should ooze into the zeitgeist because of my own personal narrative, feels violating. And in the wake of women speaking, I wonder how much courage I actually have inside myself to share my stories. I wonder if my stories matter, if they are even worth stating. I don’t feel abused enough, hurt that bad, or adequately fit to call myself a victim.

And just the same.

My personal self inflicted judgments have been clearly engrained in me from childhood. The burden that my modesty was meant to be my protection, and that if that protection failed, it was my cross to bear, my blame to harbor. I will admit, it is this very tragic and twisted notion that has been the irrational argument floating inside my head, that has made me feel timid to speak about my own encounters on a public platform. It’s as if the vulnerable moments I have absorbed in private have become enhanced by the blame and shame game I keep running from, as my “Shame Companion” courts me with resolve.

So I decided to do what any sane person does when they are experiencing a violent storm of shame…. First, I took off to Palm Springs with my bestie.

Then, I went to see my therapist, Dr. Dan. Finally, I called other women and men who have survived harassment and sexual shaming and commiserated. Then, I cried, wrote a song, took a bath, hugged my kids and drank some wine.

No. I cannot allow the religious shame that has permeated my life to take over in this moment. I must find my voice. I must find it. For me. For you. For us.

The judgments that I have inflicted on myself, that have swirled around my head, as a result of my own encounters are felt by many. I am not experiencing anything new as my little “Shame Companion,” rears her silly head, as she has done for so many other women who can’t find the word victim to define their lives. As my dear friend, abuse survivor, Chaim Levin put it, “It is an act of courage to be a woman.” For the first time hearing that statement from a man, I felt a sense of validation, that being a woman, has yes, indeed, been a harrowing yet bold and heroic journey, and so I began to feel my voice emerge and my “Shame Companion” take a seat.

If it’s one thing I have learned over the years, it is that our stories make us stronger. While they can sometimes torment us, they can also make us alive with the audacity to become the elixir for charging new waters into creating mountainous change.

A flood of memories have emerged over my years of carrying this female body. My first memory manifested from the age of 6, when I was waiting to be picked up at dance class. A group of teenage boys began mocking me, getting a little too close and asked me “Hey are you free?” I had no idea what that meant, I just new the look in their eyes seemed dangerous and frightening. Finally, my mother saved the moment as she drove up to get me. I remember asking my mother what that meant. She responded with, “Don’t worry, I will never be late again.”

There was the time I was stalked, screamed at, grabbed, mocked, sneered at, laughed at, sized up, and not paid equally as my male counterparts- on purpose, “Why would we pay you the same, you’re not the main breadwinner?” And of course shamed. Always shamed.

When I was newly married, I remember a Rabbi calling my husband. “I saw your wife walking on the street today and I noticed her slit and I saw her legs, very inappropriate,” he said.

“Funny..” my husband responded, “I walked my wife to the subway today and I am her husband, and I didn’t even notice her legs, but you, you who are not her husband, you seemed to notice them, why do you think that is?” The Rabbi was left speechless.

I have lost jobs because of my femininity, which has been my favorite line of all “The Rabbi would have hired you to come perform, but he felt your picture was inappropriate,” – (a picture of my FACE, only my FACE.)

Or the time I became an advisor to high school girls and got called in from the Headmaster, a woman, mind you, who after looking me up and down, told me she had gotten calls and complaints from some of the mothers. Apparently I was not appropriately dressed enough. “Where are you from,” she asked… “Did you go to seminary, what Jewish affiliation are you?” She probed me like a rat experiment, trying to define me under a microscope of checklists she had created in her small boxed in mind. My skirts weren’t long enough, my v-neck t-shirt not high enough, my legs not covered enough. “We don’t think you are a good enough influence on our young girls,” she finished with.

My work saved a girl from suicide that year, and yet I was shamed for being my feminine self. I didn’t change my already modest and adequately conservative attire. The following year I was replaced and told the position, a position which I had created as a VOLUNTEER, had been given to a more “appropriate person.”

Good enough. Modest enough. Appropriate enough. My little “Shame Companion” has clearly been in charge here.

Although I was sexualized on several accounts as a child, still, I am one of the lucky ones, for I was never raped. I never had “skin to skin” touching. One of the lucky ones. I was demeaned and harassed as a woman and these personal accounts, which I have tried to block out of the medial temporal lobe of my mind have been chilling, sobering, and at moments, debilitating. But what has been debilitating MOST of all is the little “Shame Companion” who has followed me around, begging me to let her be in charge of my destiny, of my narrative, of my fate.

She has convinced me to measure my own suffering to other victims. She has convinced me to disregard myself. She has convinced me that rape victims whose suffering I am efficiently and calculatingly measuring against my own, as I discount my own, as I dismiss my own, as I reduce my own, is the normal speed to operate under. Because how can my own stories possibly measure up to those who have been raped? Because that’s what shame does, she forces you into a tailspin of measuring, discounting and ignoring your own pain.

And just the same.

There was the time I was groped by a man, screamed at, and told I was a “bitch” for not buying some $300 cream at a mall kiosk. I still can’t walk past a kiosk without shivering.

There was the time I was stalked on an airplane by a man whom I had sat next to on a flight several days earlier. He had confessed to following me- yes, stalking me, for 3 days, booked a ticket knowing I would be on that particular flight, and insist I date him, hopefully marry him, which I kindly declined. The sympathetic flight attendant moved my seat away from his, but unfortunately the seat she moved me to had another empty seat next to me, which prompted his harassment during the entire 6 hour flight. I was 18.

The time I was sexually demeaned by my first boss when a group of buyers had come in and I seated them in the conference room. Minutes later my boss came charging in screaming at me “You didn’t offer our guests anything? Offer them drinks- offer them food- offer them YOURSELF,” he barked. Which was then followed by collective male snickering and laughter. I was 19.

There is a movement happening in our wake. Femininity is finally getting a moment to be in this world without apologies, without explanation or justification. For the first time I am feeling empowered when I see another woman at an all male meeting when I show up to discuss my latest film project, as if to say, “It’s you and me baby, we are in this together- I got your back.” I am empowered when I get to create wonderfully moving films with other brilliant women, because they know we will respect each other as we hold a sacred space together nurtured in dignity and admiration.

We are living in complicated times, but we are not living amongst complicated principles. We are living amongst complicated personalities. And for the first time, I am finally shedding my “Shame Companion” for being born a woman. I am abandoning my “Shame Companion” for feeling guilty for wearing my female body, for leaving the house with my feminine charm and the gifts I was born with. I am done feeling remorseful or apologetic because I am relegated to operate in this feminine vehicle, this G-d given container, that I am meant to use as an expression to create holiness and expose beautiful divine innovation and inspiration.

In this climate of shame and blame I am grateful to my virtuous father, brothers, brother in laws, 2 sons and especially husband for being the greatest men of integrity who have always known how to treat a woman with kindness, gentleness and respect. I am grateful that when my 15 year-old son came home from High School recounting a discussion on sexual harassment that was lead by his teachers, he responded with, “I didn’t have much to contribute, so I just listened and stayed quiet, because I have never heard or seen such words being said to a woman. Mom, do men really speak to women like that,” he asked me.

In other words, the accounts he had heard being uttered as awful examples he was told to never repeat, were examples he had actually never witnessed, because he has never seen that disgusting behavior being modeled in our home or amongst our family members. EVER.

To those irrational and misinformed, judgmental women, who made me feel shame over my dress choices, lipstick color, neck line, hair choice, skirt length, or ANY other insane attack I received based on my looks; women, whom I imagine I share these EXACT traumatic moments with, that could not have EVER been prevented, no matter how shy I presented myself, how ugly, how invisible, which has made me distrust myself, forced me into self shame and blame, I had to say Me too. To my little “Shame Companion,” who has promised to “protect” me, but who has actually been systematically sabotaging me, I had to say Me Too. And to the innocent perfectly rational and faultless women whom I share these sordid harassing moments, like blood sisters, like soul sisters, like unspoken spirit sisters …I had to write,

“Me Effing Too.”