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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commentary: Finding strength in saying ‘Me too’

Megan Rowe and the rest of her Tin House workshop group, eating pizza on the lawn outside of Reed College, in Portland, Ore., in summer 2013. (Thaddeus Gunn / Courtesy photo)
By Megan Louise Rowe The Spokesman-Review

The summer going into my senior year of high school, I attended a summer journalism camp at University of Missouri, a decision I made in large part because my teacher at the camp was a copy editor for a national newspaper.

The teacher was incredibly encouraging of the work I was handing in. He gave us a narrative journalism assignment, and I realized through this assignment that I would like to try my hand at creative writing as well as journalism. Everything came into focus: I would be a journalist, and I would write novels.

When the camp was over, he kept in touch with me. He had me send him anything I was working on. He provided me with extensive notes.

The summer going into my junior year of college, my teacher was on campus once again to teach journalism to high school students. He suggested we grab a beer while he was there.

We sat on the rooftop of a campus bar, Heidelberg. He told me I had blossomed into quite the young woman, someone to be taken seriously. Then he put his hand on my inner thigh, told me he was staying at a bed and breakfast in town. He had always found this little college town so charming, he said.

I didn’t take his hand away. He squeezed my thigh and smiled at me. About 15 minutes later, I said that the sun was getting to me and I left.

He called the following day, asked if he had done something wrong. I said no, I was just extremely busy with my coursework, and I apologized. I wracked my brain: Had I done something to mislead him? I accepted I had, but cut off all contact.

After that encounter, I felt gutted. He had led me to believe I was talented, and once he violated me, I fell into the reality that his interest in me was something else entirely. He had been grooming me, not to be a better writer, to be a thing he could use.

My roommates, who partied just as much as any college student, expressed concern. I was hardly attending classes. I was drinking too much. I told them I was just having fun, isn’t that what college is for?

I wish I could say that I pulled it together in college, but in reality, I barely squeezed by. I took many creative writing classes, and my teachers were wonderful and encouraging, but I wasn’t ready. It took me many more years to fight for myself. By this time, I had a young child. We went to the library together for story time, we checked out some books, and, on a whim, I picked up one for myself.

I remembered how much I’d loved reading. One of my creative writing teachers, Nathan Oates, had said that his favorite literary magazine was Tin House. That led me to “Glaciers” by Alexis Smith. I purchased a copy and read it in one sitting. When I finished, I cried. It was exactly the type of book I would have loved to have written, so long ago. She was the writer I had wanted to become.

I thought about how I ended up on the path I was on. Not working for a newspaper. Not writing. I pinpointed it to that summer, that teacher.

After reading “Glaciers,” I found out everything I could about Tin House and discovered they had a summer writing seminar. Another summer program, dare I? I applied and was accepted. My teacher was to be Jim Shepard, whose books I had so admired. I was excited. I was terrified.

One of the last days at the seminar, I had Jim Shepard sign one of his books for me, and he wrote: For Megan, who kicks ass when she tells the truth.

I went after my MFA, which is how I ended up in Spokane, at Eastern Washington University’s program. In one of my first meetings with Greg Spatz, the director of the program, we talked about my application. He told me my letter of recommendation from Jim was one-of-a-kind, that he had never read another like it. Of course, I asked to see it, and Greg had to remind me that these letters must remain confidential. Of course Jim knew this, knew that I would never see that letter, but he was my advocate, who never expected any credit.

At the end of my first year in the program, my teachers announced that our visiting teacher the following year would be Alexis Smith. Glaciers Alexis Smith.

This was my path, I know that now. How could it not be? When she first came to campus, she had a reading at the Spark Center, and the reception for that reading was at my house.

Soon after she walked into the door, I said, “This is weird, but I kind of love you.” Then I apologized for being so awkward and she hugged me, looked over at Greg and said, “Are we allowed to hug students?” He shrugged. I think, just upon meeting me, Alexis understood perfectly.

This happens in the journalism industry because it happens in every industry. Recently, we’ve all been reading the sexual misconduct allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein.

On Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted that women who had been a victim of a man’s predatory behavior should simply say, “Me too.” That night and the following day, my Facebook feed lit up with this call to arms: Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. I lost count. It was devastating, but not surprising. I think a lot of male allies were taken aback by the response, but we women are hard to shock. We know the world we live in. We know the culture we have to breathe every day.

It’s a crushing lesson that most of us have to learn at one point or another. It’s the cupped-hand whisper in the hallway. It’s the note passed in class. It’s the patio beers after a long day. Sometimes, it’s just a look one woman exchanges with another, a flash: We know. Me too. Me too.

My mother once told me that a man had exposed himself to her on an elevator. Her saying this felt like an initiation: This world is not safe for a woman or a girl. It is not safe to be a part of the LGBT community. I remember wanting to ask her at the time why he did that, but now I realize the more important question is why do we live in a world where we allow people to do that.

I wish that this teacher incident was the entirety of my incidents with despicable men, but like many others, it is not. This is just the story I’m telling today. But on the night “Me too” was dominating the internet, I couldn’t even say this. I wrote, “I get what we’re all doing right now but I can’t.” I couldn’t say those two words. I wasn’t ready. Words have power. The teacher who told me I was someone to take seriously while touching my inner thigh held a great, corrupted power.

I am trying to be strong. I am trying to be the woman who kicks ass when she tells the truth. So this is the truth, as I see it: There will always be the vulnerable women and there will always be lecherous men. There will always be lifelines: Strong individuals who extend a hand and pull someone off the ground.

There will always be books to remind us that we can never be completely alone: the shiver of light in a pitch-dark room. I laugh when people say the written word will become obsolete. Not as long as it keeps bringing people back to life, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon. And sometimes I say, “Why don’t you read ‘Glaciers’?”

When I was in the process of building myself back up-all of these small steps leading me to writing this sentence: I thought I was working toward who I used to be, but that’s not the case. I carry myself with the confidence of a woman who knows what it’s like to feel small. Sometimes that means I still feel small, but I am writing, I am working for a newspaper. I am doing what I always thought I would do.

There will always be vulnerable women, and I will always be one of them, but I believe that needs some clarification. Vulnerability is too often confused with weakness. Too easily, we can forget that vulnerability breeds compassion and empathy. Our world sorely needs compassion and empathy. Vulnerability allows us to open up our life to other people in meaningful ways. As far as I can tell, connecting to other people is the whole point of this existence. If the people who take advantage of that vulnerability also cause us to lose that, that is a great loss. Writing this, I know I am being vulnerable, and it feels a lot like strength.

I am proud to work for The Spokesman-Review, not just because I think this is a pivotal time for journalism, but also because this workplace has proven that there are places where women will be given a seat at the table. We are respected here. The women here are powerful and equal to their male counterparts. Our voices are valued. The Spokesman-Review has given me the opportunity to say the two words I am now ready for: Me too.

Megan Louise Rowe is a copy editor at The Spokesman-Review. She can be reached at (509) 459-5382 or