For the most part, Tuesday's Twitter-trends sidebar isn't too surprising. Terms like "MacBook," "Pulitzer" and "#PrimaryDay" are there. Then, up near the top, is #WhenIWas. Click on it and you enter an unexpected world where women across Twitter are coming together to share their experiences of sexual harassment from childhood.
The hashtag originated with the Everyday Sexism Project, a website that lets people record real-life examples of sexism. "The Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalog instances of sexism experienced on a day to day basis. They might be serious or minor, outrageously offensive or so niggling and normalized that you don't even feel able to protest," the site notes.
The stories pouring out on Twitter cover experiences at all ages. Some are maddening. Some are chilling. All make you pause and think. Many women are talking about how they were catcalled or propositioned or groped, even in their preteen years. One women tells how she was molested at the age of 8.
The avalanche of stories is growing as the hashtag tops 20,000 tweets. One theme that reappears again and again is how the rest of the world failed to stand up for some of these children. Bystanders laughed. Friends and family denied any molestation took place. Girls were told they were overreacting.
Some women are sharing their stories for the first time. Some tell of how they were too scared or ashamed to speak up as children. They're not scared anymore. There are thousands of these narratives stretching across the Twitter community, encouraging strength in numbers.
The tweets take the sort of stories shared on the Everyday Sexism Project's site and distill them into short, powerful missives. Why has this topic so suddenly gained steam? Probably because it lets women know they're not alone in this struggle. It also illuminates a dark part of our culture that many would say has been hidden for too long. Twitter user Reetaza Chatterjee tweets, "this is so painful and upsetting but it's so important that sexual harassment is not normalised and that we speak out #WhenIWas."